Mark Dostert is the author of Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side, reviewed in Publishers Weekly (“a bracing debut memoir . . . the stories Dostert tells speak for themselves”), excerpted in Salon, and featured at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest. The book focuses on his experience as an unarmed juvenile jail guard. He holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Houston and has taken four classes at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop in Portland, OR and Houston’s Inprint. His nonfiction has appeared in Ascent, Cimarron Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review Online Content, Houston Chronicle, Southern Indiana Review, and The Summerset Review, and been cited as Notable in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011, The Best American Essays 2011, and The Best American Essays 2013. He teaches in the Magnet Creative Writing Program at Houston ISD’s Johnston Middle School. Find him at www.markdostert.com.
Excerpt from Up in Here:
My job is to let Ruben out of his cell. Through the door of steel-framed Plexiglas, I watch the shirtless, brown-haired boy gathering soap and shampoo from the scant personal effects off his blue fiberglass desk. I open the door. When his five shower minutes are up, I will lock him back inside this brick and steel chamber— no larger than a modest walk-in closet.
"Here's where it went in," Ruben touches a pockmark under his sternum, replying to my question about his wildly scarred front torso.
I stare at the punctured skin but say nothing. The pudgy 14-year-old then twists his left arm behind him pointing to another pink, dime-sized discoloration, this one below his left shoulder blade. "Here's where it went out."
Critical Response to Up in Here:
“Although Mark Dostert writes vividly of the gangs, brawls, and sadnesses of children who enter incarceration lost and without hope (and the staff who must cope with them every day), it is his moral sense, his unsentimental view into their underlying humanity and the system that keeps them locked inside, that is truly memorable. The violently unsettled yet sometimes bored Audy Home inmates become for Children’s Attendant Dostert sources of empathy, frustration, kindness, and a complex reflection on justice, race, and the public good. Sure, Up in Here is a harrowing book, but it is also deeply humane and very beautiful.”--Kevin Prufer, author of National Anthem and Churches (teaches creative writing at UH)
“Americans watch news reports and reality TV shows about Chicago's hard streets and wonder how these tragedies happen. If you want to understand more, if you want to hear the beating heart, the laments, and the hopes of children at the epicenter of these tales, you must read Mark Dostert's haunting book.”--Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil’s Highway, a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
Houstonia Magazine (re: Up in Here)
Recommended Books for Aspiring Nonfiction Writers:
- The Art of the Personal Essay (Edited by Phillip Lopate)
- Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer (Edited by Bret Anthony Johnston)
- The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House
- The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
- Book of Days: Personal Essays by Emily Fox Gordon
My goal as a nonfiction workshop leader is to assist writers in drawing upon their significant moments, realizations, and questions and turning them into essays and memoirs in order to discover and reveal something relevant and recognizable to the rest of us. I also focus on how Imagery, Details, Diction, and Syntax from the fiction writer’s toolbox can create a desired Tone and Theme, thus helping us ‘turn the pen on ourselves’ the way compelling first person nonfiction should.