9 Books That Were Written While in Prison ...


Would you believe that some of the best stories of our time were written or created while the authors were in jail? Does that change your opinion of them? Well, let's see. Now, there are plenty of truly amazing non-fiction books written by more contemporary authors, books about their time in prison written after the fact or started while they did their time. This list, however, focuses on novels that don't necessarily have anything to do with prison life. Although these are all books that were written while the authors were in jail, I imagine that the writers used their tales to take them out of the reality of their circumstances. What do you think?

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Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Read it here: amazon.com

Don Quixote is such a beloved character – chivalrous, romantic, idealistic, brave, maybe a bit naive, perhaps just a teensy bit bumbling. The point is, he's notorious – and so is the novel bearing his name, which is thought to be Europe's first modern novel. Although Cervantes did not write the entire book from prison, he wrote part of it while he was behind bars. The charge? Money problems. He had a few issues with debt.


Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr

Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr Read it here: amazon.com

Having you ever read MLK's book? Because you should. He was jailed because he organized a non-violent protest aimed at fighting segregation in Alabama – jailed for standing up for what he believed in without raising a hand, jailed for daring to fight for equal civil rights. While he was in jail, MLK also wrote his deeply meaningful, still relevant quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


The Travels of Marco Polo by Rustichello Da Pisa

The Travels of Marco Polo by Rustichello Da Pisa Read it here: amazon.com

Funny story – well, okay, the part of the story where Venice and Genoa were at war isn't funny, but still. Marco Polo did not write this epic book himself, even though it describes his many adventures along the Silk Road. He did, however, dictate it – while he was in jail – to a gentleman named Rustichello da Pisa, who was also in jail. He took the stories Marco told him and created the book we all know and love today.


De Profundis by Oscar Wilde

De Profundis by Oscar Wilde Read it here: amazon.com

Oh, I adore this for oh, so many reasons. Compare it to the things Oscar wrote when he wasn't in prison, for example, and you can see the clear differences in tone, content, and emotion. And why was Mr. Wilde in prison? “Indecency with men.” De Profundis, which wasn't published until after Wilde's death, is basically a spiritual, philosophical, and regretful apology to Lord Alfred Douglas, with whom Wilde was “indecent.”


Short Stories by O. Henry

Short Stories by O. Henry Read it here: amazon.com

O. Henry isn't as mysterious as everyone always seems to think. The man responsible for “The Gift of the Magi,” along with countless other witty, ironic tales, was William Sydney Porter. He started writing those little tales while he was serving time for embezzlement, a crime for which he may or may not have been guilty.


Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela

Conversations with Myself by Nelson Mandela Read it here: amazon.com

This is one of the most powerful books written from prison that you will ever read. It's different from Mandela's autobiography for several reasons, including the fact that this book contains diary entries, letters, and other things that Mandela wrote during the 27 years he spent in prison.


Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet

Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet Read it here: amazon.com

This book … this book is just Divine. Jean Genet had a gift with prose. Every line of this book is lyrical, whimsical, and free, which goes quite well with the subject matter. However, it also stands in stark contrast to the life Genet lived while he wrote it. I'm always amazed at what he managed to capture in his writing while living in such an ugly place.


In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Abbott

In the Belly of the Beast by Jack Abbott Read it here: amazon.com

Abbott was definitely in the belly of the beast when he wrote this book, which includes some exceptionally interesting correspondence with Normal Mailer. Abbott spent 25 years in jail – and then got sent back six weeks after he was paroled. Everything you need to know about the cruelty of the prison system, you'll find in this book.


The Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings

The Enormous Room by E. E. Cummings Read it here: amazon.com

If you've only ever read Cummings' poetry, you will love the prose you find in this book full of detailed character sketches and lively writing. Cummings wrote The Enormous Room during WWI when he was detailed for four months in French. The charge? Displaying anti-French sentiments. The result? This fantastic autobiographical novel, which lets us experience what he experienced.

Like the little cliché goes, two men stared out of prison bars – one saw mud while the other saw stars. There's no telling what your own personal set of circumstances might inspire.

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Just want to add, Salo, erotica novel was also written in prison.

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