About the Book

By Heart

By Heart

Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives
April 2010
Trade Paperback · 224 Pages
$20.00 U.S. · $22.00 CAN
ISBN 9780981559353
New Village Press


Recommended for These Courses


“A boy with no one to listen becomes a man in prison for life and discovers his mind can be free. A woman enters prison to teach and becomes his first listener. And so begins a twenty-five year friendship between two gifted writers and poets. The result is By Heart— a book that will anger you, give you hope, and break your heart."—Gloria Steinem

For most of their adult lives, since meeting as teacher and pupil at San Quentin State Prison, Judith Tannenbaum and Spoon Jackson have conferred, corresponded, and sometimes collaborated, producing very different bodies of work resting on the same understanding: that human beings have one foot in darkness, another in light. Moving stories of their childhoods and adult creative lives reveal both tragedy and beauty.

In alternating chapters—part memoir, part essay—By Heart reveals painful truths about prison, education, and which children our world nurtures and which it shuns. At its core are two stories that speak for human imagination, spirit, and expression.

Judith Tannenbaum is a nationally respected poet, educator, lecturer, and the author of Disguised as a Poem, among other works, including poetry, anthologies, and guidebooks for teaching arts in prison. She coordinates training at WritersCorps.

Born into an impoverished family of fifteen boys, Spoon Jackson was sentenced to life without possibility of parole by age twenty. He discovered himself as a writer for the first time in prison, eventually becoming an award-winning, internationally-known poet and essayist, as well as a facilitator of creative writing classes for other prisoners.

About the Authors

Judith Tannenbaum is a respected poet, writer, educator and lecturer, who has taught poetry in California public schools, state universities, and prisons throughout the nation. She is the prolific author of memoirs, volumes of poetry, and edited anthologies, as well as seminal guidebooks, including the Manual For Artists Working In Prison. She has coordinated training at WritersCorps since 1994.

Spoon Jackson is a published poet and essayist serving a Life without Possibility of Parole sentence since 1977. His writing has received awards from the William James Association's Prison Arts Project and from PEN American Center's Prison Writing Program. His poetry is known internationally, especially in Sweden. He facilitates two creative writing classes for prisoners at California State Prison, Sacramento.