Photo by Tony RinaldoPhoto by Tony Rinaldo
Bunting Fellow
University of Michigan
Cultural Studies
"The Underground Book Railroad": Cultures of Reading in Women's Prisons

Megan Sweeney is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan with a joint appointment in the Department of English and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies. She specializes in African American literature, critical race studies, transnational feminist and gender studies, and cultural studies.

At Radcliffe, Sweeney will complete a book titled “The Underground Book Railroad: Cultures of Reading in Women’s Prisons.” Drawing on individual interviews and group discussions with women incarcerated in three states, “The Underground Book Railroad” explores the creative ways in which some imprisoned women use reading to come to terms with their pasts and reach toward different futures. Foregrounding the experiences of African American women—the fastest-growing yet least recognized population in US prisons—the book illuminates how racial and gender ideologies, as well as shifting conceptions of rehabilitation and citizenship, have shaped reading practices in prisons.

Sweeney earned a BA from Northwestern University, an MA in English from Pennsylvania State University, and a PhD in literature from Duke University. Her project has been supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Duke University’s Women’s Studies Program, and the University of Michigan’s Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She was also offered a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2007–2008. Sweeney won the 2003 Feminist Studies Award, for “Prison Narratives, Narrative Prisons: Incarcerated Women Reading Gayl Jones’s Eva’s Man,” published in that journal. Her recent publications include “‘Something Rogue’: Commensurability, Commodification, Crime, and Justice in Toni Morrison’s Later Fiction” (Modern Fiction Studies, 2006) and “Beard v. Banks: Deprivation as Rehabilitation” (PMLA, 2007).

This information is accurate as of the fellowship year indicated for each fellow.
Photo by Tony Rinaldo