School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies

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Olivia Wright

PhD in American Studies, Faculty of Arts


Research Summary

Current Status

PhD (full-time) - currently registered

Research Topic

'We Asked For Life!': American Women's Prison Zines as sites of Art and Protest 1900-2016

Research Summary

My thesis examines the unacknowledged and under researched world of women's prisons zines in the United States. Establishing the genre for the first time, my PhD traces women's prison zines back to the 1930s with the first known publication The Eagle and will discuss how this literary tradition grew through the latter half of the twentieth century and how it continues to have a presence in 21st century mass incarceration.

The enclosed world in which zines are produced provides a unique environment as incarcerated women are both physically and psychologically confined. In the literal sense they are denied spatial freedoms and restrained behind bars and cages. But more significantly, these women are stripped of identity and confined by stereotypes that label them as 'fallen women' and bad mothers. They are denied political influence and forgotten or ignored by larger society. In this identity vacuum the women can self-define through zines, writing about issues that concern them and give themselves a voice. But prison zines also have value for the larger community for a number of reasons. Sociologically and historically they can give a sense of the culture and concerns of distinctive periods in the way that they handle issues such as race, sexuality, motherhood, violence and the criminal justice system in ways that are both continuous and original. In doing so, they represent what imprisonment meant and means for women, not merely in prison but in the United States at large, and are particularly relevant in 21st Century America as issues of policing and the judiciary system are becoming increasingly prevalent. Most importantly perhaps, they represent the human desire to record, protest, engage and create: to gather, speak and refuse simply to accept the status quo.

Research Interests:

  • 20th C. African American Literature
  • The U.S. Penal System
  • Incarceration Literature
  • Zines
  • North American Slavery and Slave Narratives

Research Supervisors:

Professor Zoe Trodd (The University of Nottingham)

Dr Graham Thompson (The University of Nottingham)

Research Institutes and Clusters:

  • The Centre for Research in Race and Rights at The University of Nottingham
  • The Rights and Justice Research Priority Area
  • Print and Visual Culture at The University of Nottingham
  • The British Association of American Studies

Primary Funding Source:

Midlands3Cities PhD Studentship 2016-19

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Year: 2016

  • School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies and Graduate School funded research trip to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University

Year: 2017

  • Women's History Month Director for the Centre for Research in Race and Rights
  • M3C Funded research trip to Chicago, Madison and Minneapolis

Conference Papers & Presentations

Year: 2016

  • 'Radical America: Revolutionary, Dissident and Extremist Magazines', NAPs Symposium, 20th May, The Keep, University of Sussex

Year: 2017:

  • British Association of American Studies Annual Conference 2017, 6-8th April 2017, Canterbury Christ Church University

Additional Information:

Awarded School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies MRes Studentship 2015-16

School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies

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