OVERVIEW: If last week what we looked at the "creative" side of creative nonfiction, this week's focus is on the "nonfiction" side. Albert Woodfox's story is an autobiography. It spans his entire life and, with the help of a co-author, is written from his perspective and in his voice (The Autobiography of Malcom X was co-authored by Alex Haley, author, most notably, of the book Roots).
There is an idea in Rhetoric called "kairos" which essentially is Greek for "time". In Rhetoric, it refers to what I call appropriateness. It's the right thing to say for a particular occasion--the right content, tone, voice for the particular historical moment. Sometimes the easiest way to see that something is not in harmony with the moment is when it goes horribly wrong--of course, the perspective of the audience plays a significant role in in determining this. Different audiences will view different rhetorical moments in different ways. That's the relationship between audiences, "texts," and speaker/authors.
PROMPT: In some ways, Woodfox's story, does not feel entirely new. I'm asking you to consider Solitary through a kairotic lens: consider the historical moment of this autobiography, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize last year. Why is this story important to tell? In what ways does it feel new, add to our understanding of race and racism in our country? How does it affect you as a reader? Can you imagine a different reaction?
BONUS QUESTION; What does it take to write this autobiography? I'm not asking for, like, courage and mental stamina or a typewriter. I'm talking about the kind of research that goes into a book like this--because even though it is his story, there is quite a bit of archival material in the piece. What does a writer do with the people named in the piece, particularly the people at Angola responsible for much of what Woodfox endured during his time at the prison--or some of his lawyers? How does Woodfox manage himself as a character? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself when you are writing stories where you are the focus, but not the only character, in a long and complex plot.
Please post roughly 300 words in response to the prompt; read and respond to your classmates as you see fit. Connect what they say to your experiences reading the text and/or your reaction to their observations about how the text was constructed.
4/2/2021 10:43:52 am
Reading this novel came at the right time. Especially with the trial going on now. I personally found the story educational. One example is what the Black Panthers stood for. When in school or a Hollywood movie, they are portrayed as being the ones causing the violence.
4/2/2021 11:07:55 am
Oh I totally agree with your thought that this novel was educational. So many aspects of this book were so new to me, like the Black Panthers, that it was eye opening and shocking to read. I also really liked how Woodfox fully discussed the Black Panthers and their efforts to provide safety and salvation to those who needed it, and it was really interesting to read how they were able to expand throughout the prison through words of mouth before it was eventually run to the ground.
4/2/2021 11:46:15 am
4/2/2021 10:45:15 am
Systemic racism is unfortunately ingrained in the American system, and perhaps now more than ever, people have begun to take action against the unjust treatment of Black men and women around the United States. Albert Woodfox’s story is so important to share at this moment in time because people’s eyes have been opened to the harsh reality of racism in America, and I feel like people are now more receptive than ever to understanding the plight of the Black man. There are so many forms of invisible racism present in our society, and the American prison system is undoubtedly the most broken institution of them all. If we as a nation are to achieve any sort of progress towards racial equality, then then prison reform must be taken seriously. Prisons are already overcrowded and overpopulated, often with Black people who committed a minor crime or who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Judges and juries seem to doll out these lifetime punishments to Black men without considering the magnitude of their decision; they are effectively taking the life away from innocent men, a life they cannot get back. The fact that Woodfox survived his imprisonment, and essentially torture, is an astonishing human achievement, and is such a strong example of spirit and strength of will. We need this story now because society needs to learn the damage that the backwards prison system can cause, and can essentially rob a man of his life for a crime he didn’t commit. Woodfox’s strength in the face of severe adversity is a shining example of the resolve of Black men in America.
4/2/2021 10:50:52 am
Rebecca E Monestime
4/2/2021 10:45:22 am
Woodfox’s story is important because he talks about the black experience from all time. He is showing us that it has not ended in modern times, racism is an ongoing problem and it is plaguing our world. Back in the days of segregation, we read that black people where getting arrested, killed, raped, ratioed and disadvantaged compared to the whites. We can see the unfair treatment throughout his lifetime from him getting constantly arrested even when he went to the hospital in a stolen car to help his sister. But we also see Woodfox commit so many crimes to the point where I thought while reading “is this man serious?” he was perpetuating the stereotype of the criminal black man. This did not help his cause until it was too late. He was already going on trial for all the things he has done since he was young.
4/2/2021 10:50:12 am
I certainly agree, and I sincerely hope that as you mention, people will start to realize that racism never left this country. Woodfox's experience in prison is merely an extension of slavery, and should highlight to people that though the official practice of slavery may have been abolished, the modern prison system still engages in some form of unjust servitude. Woodfox entered prison in a racist world, and left prison only to find a world just as plagued with racism.
4/2/2021 10:50:38 am
4/2/2021 10:46:45 am
Solitary by Albert Woodfox is an important story to tell because it provides personal details that Woodfox went through in his life. The beginning starts off small with his family history, then it leads into more important conversations about racism in our country. I feel like this story is important for us to know because it provides personal details about Woodfox’s family history to see how growing up shaped him into the person he become: before, in and out of prison. We learn that Woodfox did not have an easy life living with his mother or brothers. They had to take baths in the middle of the living room, while his mother had to heat up hot water. It was not like bathtubs that we had today. His mother seemed to jump from relationship to relationship without giving much thought or knowing the guy first. The first relationship that the mother had was abusive, not really setting a good example for her children. The next guy that his mother dated was the only one who called Woodfox called dad. However, that relationship did not last long either. Now understanding Woodfox’s backstory, after he met his dad once then never had a relationship with him after a laundry incident, we can understand the way how he reacts or reasonings for things.
4/2/2021 10:51:03 am
Good use of relevant excerpts of the text. One question I have is how does this apply to today's society?
4/2/2021 02:13:23 pm
As stated above, this apply's to today's society by giving us a personal glimpse by Woodfox into what life is like in prison. We can understand his actions from how he was raised. Readers are given true experiences of discrimination--problems that really occurred that caused him to end up in jail. Yes, it really sucks that Woodfox was accused for something that he didn't do. However, I feel like this happens to a lot of people in society today. People just don't care about others feelings or necessities to survive. This text as a whole apply's to today's society. Woodfox just had enough confidence to let his voice be heard in society. Basically, to end discrimination or racism. By knowing one's experiences, it will be a chance for the world to not fall onto that route. Like CJ was talking about in class, it might talk one out of being comfortable to have one's back.
4/2/2021 10:48:05 am
I think this story is important for Albert Woodfox to tell because it’s an inside look at his experiences of being discriminated against. He’s directly telling us about his entire life. It was written in 2019 and while that was a mere two years ago, just think of how much has happened since then in regards to the issue of racism that is still prevalent in the U.S. So it does, in a way, feel new. I think it adds to the discussion of race and racism in this country because there are many individuals out there who can connect with Woodfox’s experiences. For me as a reader, it shows me how he dealt with his experiences and educated himself throughout these four decades in solitary confinement. Because I understand the history of racism in our country, there were times in the book where I wasn’t surprised about something, as sad as that is to admit. For instance, when his boss at the car dealership let him take a car home and then he drove it to rescue his sister from being harassed, only to be pulled over by four detectives at a stop sign and subsequently arrested, I wasn’t surprised. Law enforcement has discriminated against African-Americans for a long time with unnecessary stops, so as soon as I got to that paragraph I unfortunately knew what was coming. Again, because I understand our history, I can’t imagine reacting differently.
4/2/2021 10:49:33 am
As I sit here in class, my father is checking in on the Derek Chauvin trial hoping for an acquittal. I would give him this book to read if I thought that he would, or that it would make a difference. I can imagine his reaction, thinking that the small crimes Woodfox did commit as a poor child struggling to survive in the sixties, to which the author admits, would be enough to condemn him as a criminal, that the egregious violence enacted by officers in the prison, to which they admit in their reports, was entirely justified. My father and people like him have stated explicitly that nothing will change their minds on certain issues. Prison abolition and police reform are some of those issues, and I don't imagine that Woodfox's account would have much of an impact on them. Again, I think many would refuse to even read it.
4/2/2021 10:49:58 am
From a kairiotic perspective, I find that Solitary is a relatively current topic as racism has remained strongly prevalent. Especially during the last few years. To follow the life of a young black man as he faced scrutiny over the course of his life, it helps to have a visual sense of what had occurred personally. The books serves as a powerfully uncomfortable memoir that illustrates the struggled of poverty and racial objectification that have been consistent even by today's standards. Through reasons of bigotry, general hatred, or religious scrutiny, the main character does provide context for all sides of the argument while never shying away from personal hardships. While turning to crime at a young age, it is shown as a personal necessity but still gives light to general stereotypes associated with a poor upbringing. When writing a personal memoir like this, it requires a certain degree of background research in current events to help illustrate points in the topic and how similar events have effected other lives. There could be insight on how people in other parts of the world were effected by similar events and what others did in the face of racism. One's agrument would become more impactful when outside research is shown as a form of professionalism and could lead to further discussion on working toward a better good. Even from the perspective of people who have not been to prison, this could serve as a good cautionary tale in order to raise awareness to these heavy handed events.
Brittany Ann Oppenheimer
4/2/2021 10:50:17 am
This story is important to tell because it shows that anyone can be sent up for false accusations, no matter how good of a person you are. It also shows how Woodfox was easily set up due to his race and how easy it became to turn people against him for his color. He endured prisons where men on horseback was waiting to shoot people down when the prison consisted of mostly African American's. These prison guards were, of course, white males who had no sympathy for the other race an was practically ready to shoot them down at any time as if their lives don't mean anything to them. The story here shows that police officers had it out for African American's for many many years, it's just that the tortures' these people had were forced to stay hidden for a long time. It might be due to fear, it might be due to the fact that someone will come after them if they talk. The fact that no one spoke up back then about these situations and that no one would believe them if they did made everything so much worse.
4/2/2021 10:50:31 am
It's not like I didn't know that prison life would suck--and it's not that I didn't know that the justice system is inherently racist. And though sometimes I worry that us folks up north imagine we are immune to the kind of racism that feels blatant and obvious in the south, it was not a surprise that a prison in the deep rural south would be deeply cruel to black men. But there were things that I found important to understand more deeply. First, the legal process in general--particularly in their last years in the prison when they and a large collection of supporters were working the court system on their behalf. AlsoL reading about the beatings in prison, about how they were underfed, how they were mistreated in small petty ways and in larger, constitutionally fraught ways is important to see. I also think, and this is not new, but I want to always be thinking about it, seeing how poverty leads young black men to small, petty crimes sometimes that have no business screwing up their entire lives--and how sometimes just proximity to crime or even no proximity to crime can mean you get caught up in the justice system. I still don't think white America gets that. I also thought about how it doesn't feel like things are that different right now. I'm reading this the week of the George Floyd murder trial. I've been reading what has been happening in court each day. I think about the life path that put George Floyd on the ground that day and what life path put Derek Chauvin on his neck that day. That's what I mean about Kairos. This story weaves together so many strands of how systemic racism is evident in the lives of so many Americans. I would also argue that it is a call to action for me. Because Woodfox talks a lot about how revolution is painful and requires sacrifice. I live a very nice life that could be largely untouched by the kind of life Woodfox describes--full disclosure I am married to black man and I do see in ways I never would have thought possible how racist most people are --and are all too happy to put it on display. But what this book reminds me of is what the next phase of American life needs to look like for White America. And I think it will require some painful sacrifice for many folks--not because we are actually sacrificing anything, but because it will feel like that as we lose some level of privilege. Not to mention reparations, which I believe we need to give serious consideration to. I have other things to say, but I think that what this story does is bring together a lot of ideas that white america is just now understanding. Also: the story of who the black panthers are. Just really learning about that. Saw a movie called Judas and the Black Messiah about Fred Hampton, who Woodfox talks about in the book. It's inspiring and tragic at the same time.
4/2/2021 10:50:43 am
I think that it is a very unfortunate thing to consider that Woodfox's story doesn't feel entirely new. Even though this is an incredible and earth rattling story that should be told; is anyone who reads this book surprised that this country let this happen? We are currently living in a time where historical events that shake us to our core are happening more and more often. We are reading this text during a time where a lot of people around the world are suffering. I think this story is important because it sees some more light on the dark and cruel things that go on in this country. Woodfox has suffered greatly and this book has made others realize that there are so many people on this planet who have needlessly suffered. Woodfox's story may be the focal point, however, this story can also be viewed as a call to arms for people to fight for those who do not have a voice. Woodfox was able to be released from prison after about 43 years, and for 43 years he did not have a voice. He could've chosen to live out his life without bringing too much attention to his story. But instead he documented all of the horrible experiences he had to endure being alone in a cell; while also sharing the good things like teaching another inmate to read and write. I think that this story feels new because while reading the book the readers are able to, in a way, experience his life along side him. Of course a lot of people who read this book cannot relate to the racial, physical and mental hardships that Woodfox had to endure. But having his words and a recount of his experiences sheds so much light on how human beings in our country are being treated. I watched an interview with Woodfox at a bookstore; and in this video a woman said that the book inspired her to set up a foundation to help inmates in Maryland get better access to basic hygiene supplies and better communication with their loved ones. This book most likely inspired so many other people to want to make a real difference in the world.
4/2/2021 10:55:33 am
Solitary was published during a tumultuous time of “Black v Blue”, a time of a misogynist heavy political era and the beginning of more awareness of anti-racism as a movement. If it had been published a year later? I feel like it would be on more people’s bookshelves and performative lists to become the poster child for the prison industrial complex. That being said, it pairs well with the documentary The 13th and is important for those without context of the Deep South. There are aspects of this story that need to be told. My family is from LA and much of what is said is true. Before the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, I don’t think that many of my NE white friends would agree with me that racism still exists with the same level of ugly and danger that it once did. This book affected me as a reader in the beginning because I kept waiting for the traumatic/jarring and close your eyes moment of prison rape. About halfway through, I relaxed and began to do more than watch for a scene I knew could be coming. My favorite poems were Man of Steel and Echoes. I found that softness helped the onslaught of dates and names. By the time he got to Anita Roddick and her work on his case, I began to remember purchasing skincare that had its profits headed to his cause or environmental causes she supported. At the end, when he began his call to action, I was already thinking of how little I had done to even know what prisoners in RI deal with, what our stats on solitary confinement entail, and I worked briefly with juvenile offenders in a locked facility. How quickly we forget about those who are locked away.
4/2/2021 11:04:48 am
As I started reading this book, I was reminded of how it was one of the most popular books last summer when the protests were raging and people were looking to educate themselves on matters they had not been affected by previously. In terms of looking at this through a kairotic lens, this is the type of story that everyone who experiences white privilege needs to read, but the world may not have been ready for until more recent times. As a white woman who grew up in a suburban (predominantly white) tiny town in MA, the things that Woodfox endured seem unfathomable yet only happened just a few decades ago in the same country I call my home. Hearing all the different things that he had to endure while incarcerated really opened my eyes to how cruel the country was, and still is, to those who just don’t have white skin. Woodfox talked a lot about the crimes that him and other inmates were framed for, like the death of a prison official and conspiracy and more, and he also talked a lot about the excessive use of cruel and unusual punishment (like how he almost had to spend 300 days in the dungeon cell because he refused their attempts of excessive strip searches). These events are very real and very current and more attention needs to be brought to them, but only now is the country ready to have these difficult conversations because the generations have grown and are able to question the practices of previous generations. As unfortunate as it is, I don’t think the kind of civil unrest we see now would have been possible years ago, and only now are people ready to fight back for equality.
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