Incarceration Takes Center Stage at the Bay Area Book Festival

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The Bay Area Book Festival is expected to draw 35,000 people to downtown Berkeley. (Michael Hitchner/Courtesy Bay Area Book Festival)

In 1972, Albert Woodfox was wrongly accused of killing a white prison guard and sentenced to life in solitary confinement. In his memoir, Solitary, published after the courts overturned his conviction and he was released in 2016, the Black Panther Party member recounted his political awakening while incarcerated in a prison built on the former site of a slave plantation, Angola.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Shane Bauer, a reporter with Mother Jones, explores the connection between slavery and for-profit incarceration in his book American Prison, based in part on his experience embedded as a corrections officer. Bauer, who was confined himself in Iran, details a quintessentially American story “wherein white people continue to reinvent ways to cash in on captive human beings.”

Bauer will interview Woodfox on Sunday, May 5 during the Bay Area Book Festival, one of the event’s many author conversations and panels centered on incarceration in the United States. On Saturday evening, Woodfox joins activist Tony Platt and professor Lara Bazelon to imagine alternatives to imprisonment, while Bauer discusses American Prison earlier in the day.

There’s nearly 500 speakers and exhibitors at the Bay Area Book Festival, and other programming themes include immigration, children and women’s and black interest. There’s a new “Writer to Writer” series, pairing mutual admirers such as Ishmael Reed and Morgan Parkers in conversation, special events including tributes to Lawrence Ferlinghetti and The Paris Review and a screening of The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin followed by discussion.

The fifth annual Bay Area Book Festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, in downtown Berkeley. Expected to draw 35,000 people, the festival recommends public transportation. Find details including venues, ticketing options, accessibility and a full list of talks and vendors here.