READ // True Notebooks : A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall


READ // True Notebooks : A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall

Recommended Title

True Notebooks : A Writer’s Year at Juvenile Hall
By Mark Salzman
New York : Vintage Books, c2004
PS572.L6S25 2004


From Associate Dean Paul Holland:

White guy goes to the inner-city to do good. It’s been done, I know, so I wouldn’t blame you if you have passed right by True Notebooks in the bookstores, dismissively guessing who might play the author in the eventual lame movie.

So, why did I choose this book? For starters, the author, a thirty-something white novelist struggling with writer’s block, did not start to teach writing in Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles believing he could change the lives of the teens imprisoned there. Salzman candidly admits that he wound up in the Hall because he was struggling to develop a juvenile delinquent character in his stalled novel and he could not muster the strength to say no when a friend invited him to enter the lives of actual incarcerated youth. Salzman is equally honest, direct and perceptive in his nuanced observations of the kids in his class, the families they are now separated from, and the detention staff who spend every day with them. Part journalist, part anthologist, Salzman tells the story of his encounter with these youths in his words and in theirs.

In my first job after law school, I worked for a public defender office inside juvenile detention facilities. A colleague and I started that job together, breathing the righteous fire of new lawyers out to set the world right. Occasionally, we got results we could measure, but what kept us going back every day was the same thing that drives this book: and the need to bring the youths’ powerful stories to light. A lawyer’s professional life is written in stories – the stories s/he tells on behalf of the clients s/he represents. Salzman provides a model for writers and lawyers in how to find and tell the powerful stories easily lost amid stereotypes or clichés.

And the part where this white writer brings a jailhouse full of LA’s toughest to tears with his cello, that’s too much even for Hollywood.

From the Publisher:
In 1997 Mark Salzman paid a reluctant visit to a writing class at L.A.’s Central Juvenile Hall, a lockup for violent teenage offenders, many of them charged with murder. What he found so moved and astonished him that he began to teach there regularly. In voices of indelible emotional presence, the boys write about what led them to crime and about the lives that stretch ahead of them behind bars. We see them coming to terms with their crime-ridden pasts and searching for a reason to believe in their future selves. Insightful, comic, honest and tragic, True Notebooks is an object lesson in the redemptive power of writing.

About the Author:
Mark Salzman is the author of Iron & Silk, an account of his two years in China; Lost in Place, a memoir; and the novels The Laughing Sutra, The Soloist, and Lying Awake. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the filmmaker Jessica Yu, and their daughter, Ava.