Anna Deavere Smith is an actress and playwright. Her film Notes from the Field will be aired on HBO on February 24. (February 2018)


Ghost Whisperers

Jesmyn Ward near DeLisle Bayou, DeLisle, Mississippi, August 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing

by Jesmyn Ward
The men and women in prisons across this country have an American song to sing, a story to tell. Even as there is an increased concern that our society has become too punitive, few of us know what that song might sound like. Arts programs in prisons—rare enough to begin with—are often temporary and vulnerable to cancellation. (The same is true of schools.) Apparently the overseers of notorious Parchman Farm prison in Mississippi in the early twentieth century saw the value of music. Work songs and field hollers were at the very least tolerated, because they moved the work along at a pace, and toward a profit.