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New Lit on the Block :: Iron City Magazine

Published March 30, 2018 Posted by

iron cityIf this data shared by Iron City Magazine doesn’t startle or sadden you, then you need to get woke: "The U.S., with less than 5% of the world’s population, has more than 20% of its prisoners, more people by raw number than any other nation in the world, regardless of size. Given that 1 in 135 Americans lives behind bars, U.S. prison complexes are like vast cities. If they were made into a state, it would be the 36th most populated."

Iron City Magazine: Creative Expressions By and For the Incarcerated  is an annual online and print journal devoted entirely to writing and art from the prison world, and one that we should all be reading. The name, Iron City Magazine ’s Marketing Editor Jacqueline Aguilar tells me, comes from the image the word "prison" conjures in most of us: "Even though most prisons are chiefly nowadays made of concrete more than iron, it’s still the iron doors, iron bars, and razor wire that most resonate with our image of prison life."

Publishing fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, one-act plays, and art, Aguilar explains the publication was started “to remind the general public that inmates can make meaningful contributions to their communities. So often, this potential is forgotten or overshadowed by their crimes. By validating inmates’ humanity through writing and art, we encourage a culture of understanding and transformation.

“It is our hope that through this creative platform, incarcerated artists and writers find value in their stories, fuel for personal growth, and pride in their accomplishments. Inmates are, first and foremost, people. They own stories worthy of remembering.”

Readers can expect to find these stories highlighted through “the creative and meaningful expressions of skilled writers and artists whose life choices and social situations have placed them out of the public consciousness.” Recent contributors include Dominic Murphy and Matthew Feeney, winners of, respectively, 2nd place for Poetry and 2nd place for Fiction in the PEN America 2017 Prison Writing Contest.

The publication's masthead is deep, with editors for each genre - Fiction: Jessica Fletcher; Nonfiction: Shavawn M. Berry; Poetry: Jacqueline Balderrama; Art: David G. Wells; and managing, marketing, assistant editors as well as a grant manager, all under the guidance of Editor-in-Chief Cornelia Wells. For more about Iron City Magazine 's start-up history, see this article.

Their work has not been without its challenges. “Our greatest hurdle,” Aguilar shares, “has been producing issues acceptable for circulation inside the prisons. They have very strict, ‘G-rated’ standards, and some stories cannot be rendered honestly in language or imagery suitable for children.”

But, to balance this, Aguilar adds, “Our greatest joy has been the outpourings of gratitude from our inmate contributors who express deep appreciation for being honored as artists and remembered as human beings.”

Looking ahead, Iron City Magazine plans to publish both a “Core Edition” and an expanded “Outliers Edition” of future issues. “The Outliers Edition will add edgier pieces for circulation among the general public,” Aguilar explains, “which includes the 95% of all prisoners who are released at some point. The Core Edition will follow Department of Corrections standards for circulation among current prisoners, most notably the 5% permanently incarcerated.”

For writers, the submission deadline is April 15, 2018 for Issue 3. Iron City Magazine accepts typed or handwritten submissions via traditional mail and email from current/former inmates, current/former prison volunteers, and current/former prison staff. Their website has full guidelines and cover sheet forms available as PDFs. There is no submission fee and payment is two print copies.

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