In 1970, poet and former University of Arizona professor Richard Shelton received a letter from an inmate asking him for feedback on his poetry, which inspired him to teach a writer's workshops in the Arizona State Prison System. Since then, with support from the Poetry Center, the program has thrived, with many of Shelton's students going on to publish the works they created while incarcerated, including Ken Lamberton and Jimmy Santiago Baca. Shelton himself wrote a memoir, Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer, detailing his experiences. He also helped launch Rain Shadow Review, which features the work of current and former inmates. The project is currently funded with generous support from the Lannan Foundation. Copies of Rain Shadow Review are available free of charge in the Poetry Center's Jeremy Ingalls Gallery.
The Richard Shelton Programs for Writers who are Incarerated have been featured on a variety of news programs and outlets, and if you'd like to learn more, some of those features are linked below.
PBS NewsHour: Poetry Program Gives Prisoners Unexpected Voice
Huffington Post: The Prisoners' Professor
Arizona Public Media: The Prisoners' Poet
Arizona Public Media: Writing About Prison
Arizona Public Media: Man Finds Purpose in Writing After Prison
University of Arizona Press: Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer
Orion Magazine: How Long Has It Been Since You Smelled a Flower?
Shelton passed away on Nov. 29th, 2022. A gift from his estate helped launch a fund to the continue the work he started in these programs. If you'd like to contribute to the Poetry Center's work with incarcerated communities, make a gift in Shelton's memory. Gifts can be made online at give.uafoundation.org/RichardShelton or by check made payable to the “UA Foundation/Poetry Center” with “in memory of Richard Shelton” in the memo line.