Saturday, April 13, 2013

Shakespeare Saved My Life

Laura Bates

Shakespeare Saved My Life, by Laura Bates
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: April 1, 2013
Category: biography, memoir
Source: NetGalley, for review.

What reader, or maybe I should say English teacher, can resist a book about Shakespeare, let alone one that concerns him saving lives?! When I found this on NetGalley, I knew I had to take a look at it and I'm glad I did.

The memoir describes Professor Laura Bates's decade long journey educating prisoners in Indiana's maximum security prison, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. It is especially telling that the prisoners of WVCF are also in solitary confinement because they are so violent, they are considered a danger to all others. Their topic of study: Shakespeare. 

She begins by giving interested prisoners a soliloquy from the last act of Richard the Second, which is given by the overthrown king who is now in prison. The prisoners are asked what they understand from the excerpt and are allowed into the program based on their answers (due to limited room). 

The one prisoner Bates had predetermined not to work with because of his extensive record gave such an insightful answer she immediately wanted him in the group. However, Newton was so restricted he could not participate with other prisoners in any way - even if they are all locked in separate cells, communicating through the food slot in the door. And so, Bates begins meeting with the most restricted prisoner in solitary confinement on a regular basis to teach him Shakespeare. How was she to ever know Newton would teach her as much, if not more, about Shakespeare and life in general?

Bates's story takes you through Newton's journey, which also becomes hers and that of many other prisoners. A truly amazing testimony to the ways in which literature's shared humanity can touch our lives and transform us.


  1. This sounds fascinating! Adding to my "to be read" list. Thanks for the review.

    1. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, hope you do too!

  2. I sooo run away from anything with Shakespeare on it. I have always wondered what Bates's book was about, now I know. Jeez what an interesting idea.

    1. This book is good for people who wouldn't read Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote for all classes...there were little bits of life that each social class could relate to. Of course, for us now, we have to get past the language barrier.

      I run from Shakespeare's historical plays myself.