When Edward Ji was seventeen, he was sent to jail to await trial for attempted murder. To pass the time, he’d hang out in the “dayroom” with an acquaintance named Qiu, wearing shackles at a table that was bolted to the floor. One day, Ji learned from the date on a newspaper that Qiu’s birthday was approaching, and he decided to make a cake.
As Ji wrote on the website Prison Writers, he scrounged some ingredients from the jail commissary: Rice Krispies, chocolate, red juice. “Finally, I lay out three Oreo-like cookies and carve Qiu’s three-character Chinese name,” Ji wrote. “My tiny table is covered in crumbs, my back arched like I’m dissecting a worm. I make a microscopic tear in the drink packet and painstakingly fill the cookie grooves . . . Qiu Chang Qing—as bright as Chinese New Year.”
There are countless incarcerated writers like Ji, but most never reach an outside audience. Our newest project, A World Without Cages, aims to change that by bringing together the work of writers on the inside and on the outside. This might include poetry about ICE deportations, an essay about ankle monitors, or a comic about life in jail. We want to know: How does mass incarceration shape the immigrant experience? What have we learned—and failed to learn—from the historical detention of immigrants, such as Japanese Americans? How do the incarcerated fight the system that confines them, and what would a liberated world look like?
We’re eager for essays, nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and visual storytelling. We believe in the power of the imagination to cross borders and tear down walls, as it does in The Leavers, the 2017 novel by Lisa Ko. “Three hours a week I was allowed outside, in a cage inside a yard surrounded by tall walls,” says Ko’s protagonist, a young Chinese mother in immigrant detention. “The walls were a lie, a trick. I could pull them apart with my hands, gentle and determined, like pulling a shirt over a child’s head.”
How to Submit
If you know writers who are incarcerated or detained, please mail them a copy of our printable one-page call for submissions. Submissions should be limited to 3000 words or fewer, or about ten pages, one-sided. You may include up to five poems per submission. Don’t forget to include a one-paragraph author bio. Send your work using our online Submittable, or using our mailing address:
A World Without Cages
Asian American Writers’ Workshop
112 West 27th Street, Suite 600
New York, NY 10001
A World Without Cages will appear our online magazine, The Margins, and may be collected in printed portfolios. We want to highlight work by and about the incarcerated, including—but not limited to!—Asian Americans. We can pay an honorarium to all contributors whose work is accepted, and will mail copies to contributors who are incarcerated. If you are incarcerated and need your submission forwarded or returned, please let us know. We may contact some contributors with an offer of writing mentorship.