Project History


In 2005, Ray Hsu and Marianne Erhardt, graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, started teaching a poetry writing workshop at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon, Wisconsin. In 2008, Laurel Bastian, a poet and teacher in Madison, restarted the class with help from poet J.D. Nordell. Over several years, Laurel and many others continued and expanded the range and scope of the course offered, and Laurel eventually founded the Writers in Prisons Project as a loose umbrella organization for the several courses being taught at Oakhill Correctional Institution. From 2009 to 2012, several graduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison began a variety of new class offerings at Oakhill with a focus in the Humanities. In 2013, Judith Kornblatt of the UW-Madison Slavic department received several grants to secure the future of Humanities programming at Oakhill. In September 2013, the Oakhill Prison Humanities Project was officially formed and brought together all the various individuals and organizations offering evening classes at the prison. For more information, or to get involved, please contact the project coordinator, Claire Mason, at



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