Assembling for Agency: Prisoners and College Students in a Life Writing Workshop

David J. Coogan


ABSTRACT: Rhetorical theorists have argued that agency is a communal experience, but material conditions in jail and society often prevent prisoners and college students from experiencing it in meaningful ways that embrace difference. Challenging those conditions by bringing both groups together in a writing workshop enables everyone to resist discourses that would name them and to inquire, collaboratively, about pressing social problems like gun violence. This essay shows how a prisoner and a college student sustained that inquiry in writing, moving from metanoia or regret into kairos, the seizing of their day, the experience of agency. The ultimate value of that experience transcends the here and now of the workshop to become the building block of a better public sphere.

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Publication of the Community Literacy Journal is made possible through the generous support of the English Department and the Writing and Rhetoric Program at Florida International University. The CLJ is a journal of the Conference on Community Writing.