Rachel Kushner in Conversation with Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods
Tuesday, October 26
5:30 p.m. PDT
Join Aperture and Crown for a special online event celebrating the recently released titles The San Quentin Project (Aperture, 2021) and This Is Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life (Crown, 2021) by Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods. In this discussion, moderated by Rachel Kushner, Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods will discuss the importance of storytelling and collaboration in the context of life in prison.
When Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods met, Poor was a photography professor volunteering with the Prison University Project, and Woods was serving thirty-one years to life at California’s San Quentin State Prison. Poor’s teaching work led her to a vast archive filled with photographs taken from life inside the prison that she began using in her classes. The San Quentin Project collects a largely unseen visual record, demonstrating how this archive of the state is now being used to teach visual literacy and process the experiences of incarceration. In 2017, with a shared interest in storytelling, Poor and Woods launched Ear Hustle, the first podcast created and produced in prison that features stories of the daily realities of life inside San Quentin State Prison shared by those living there. This Is Ear Hustle reveals the complexity of life for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people while illuminating the shared experiences of humanity that unites us all.
In This Is Ear Hustle: Unflinching Stories of Everyday Prison Life, Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods bring their storytelling abilities to the page, offering a unique window into the lives of incarcerated people. In an era when more than two million people are incarcerated across the United States—a number that grows by 600,000 annually—Poor and Woods share a poignant narrative that is all-too-often left out of the conversation: the lives of the people at the center of prison life. Poor and Woods’s incisive interviews go beyond the sensationalized representations of prison life, allowing outsiders to connect to “the inside” in surprisingly relatable ways. Focusing on the everyday, This Is Ear Hustle restores much of the humanity that the prison system so often strips away.
In 2011, Nigel Poor began teaching a history of photography class through the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison. Neither books nor cameras were allowed into the facility, so an unorthodox course with a range of inventive mapping exercises ensued: students crafted “verbal photographs” of memories for which they had no visual documentation, and annotated iconic images from different artists. When Poor received access to thousands of negatives in the prison’s archive, made by corrections officers of a former era, these images of San Quentin’s everyday occurrences soon became launchpads for her students’ keen observations. From the banal to the brutal, to distinct moments of respite, the pictures in this archive gave those who were involved in the project the opportunity to share their stories and reflections on incarceration.
Nigel Poor is cocreator, cohost, and coproducer of the podcast Ear Hustle. A visual artist and photography professor at California State University, Sacramento, her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and de Young Museum, San Francisco, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. In 2011, Poor got involved with San Quentin State Prison as a volunteer teacher for the Prison University Project.
Earlonne Woods is cocreator, cohost, and coproducer of the podcast Ear Hustle. In 1997, he was sentenced to thirty-one years to life in prison. While incarcerated, he received his GED, attended Coastline Community College, and completed many vocational programs. He also founded CHOOSE1, which aims to repeal the California Three Strikes Law, the statute under which he was sentenced. In November 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Woods’s sentence after twenty-one years of incarceration, and Woods became a full-time producer for Ear Hustle. Woods’s efforts with CHOOSE1 continue, as he advocates for restorative justice and works to place a repeal initiative on the ballot in 2022.
Rachel Kushner is author of the novels The Mars Room (2018), The Flamethrowers (2013), and Telex from Cuba (2008), as well as a book of short stories, The Strange Case of Rachel K (2015). Her most recent book, The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000–2020, was published in April 2021. She has won the Prix Médicis and been a finalist for the Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, Rathbones Folio Prize, James Tait Black Prize, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and twice for the National Book Award for Fiction. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and recipient of a Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her books have been translated into twenty-six languages.