Penned Up works with prisoners to create a literature festival in a wide range of prisons with a line-up that responds to each institution’s ambitions and needs.

Generally spanning two weeks, each Penned Up brings a joint-curated programme of authors, performers, artists, poets and musicians into the closed world of the prison.

The model was first developed at HMP Lewes in 2015, in collaboration with production company Lewes Live Literature. A committee is formed of prisoners and library/education staff who will put forward ideas for speakers and events. Prisoners not only contribute ideas, they write letters to potential guest speakers, many of whom they will introduce at the festival events. They will also contribute to the overall design and wording of the programme.

Speakers at Penned Up have included: Levi Roots, Billy Bragg, Cathy Rentzenbrink, Kimberley Chambers, Gary Younge, and Erwin James.

In 2020 Penned Up was named one of The Big Issue’s Top 100 Changemakers – educators, agitators and creators. We have also worked with prisons and external partners on non-festival activity, such as an installation project at Salisbury Cathedral: Body of Writing.

Previous Festivals

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David Kendall is a writer and specialist in engaging people who think that reading is not for them.

Mark C. Hewitt is Artistic Director of Lewes Live Literature and a writer, theatremaker and award-winning director of live literature productions.

Penned Up was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee in February 2018. Company No. 11224678.