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Professor Katie Schmid Henson Named Inaugural Writing Freedom Fellow

Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Katie Schmid Henson has been selected by Haymarket Books and the Mellon Foundation as a member of the inaugural Writing Freedom Fellowship cohort, an initiative that supports the literary work of authors whose lives have been touched by the criminal legal system.

In recognition of those who amplify voices impacted by the criminal legal system, Haymarket Books and the Mellon Foundation have recognized Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Katie Schmid Henson (writing under the name Katie Schmid) as a member of the first-ever Writing Freedom Fellowship cohort.

This fellowship, designed to support the critical contributions of writers with direct or indirect ties to the prison industrial complex, aims to nurture and provide a platform for the artistic work of creatives whose narratives are too often quelled by societal stigma or shame. In addition to a monetary award, admittance into the fellowship grants Schmid Henson unique mentorship and development opportunities, along with the publishing of her poem “The Boatman.”

The significance of this fellowship resonates with Schmid Henson, who faced the difficult realities of familial incarceration at a young age. “My dad was imprisoned for a portion of my childhood, and the effects of that incarceration still reverberate throughout our lives today,” said Schmid Henson. “A lot of young people who have relatives who have been in prison, or who have been incarcerated themselves, suffer from shame and experience trauma because of their separation from their family members. Visits to incarcerated relatives are both beautiful and painful—the suffering in those rooms is heavy.”

Grappling with the complexity of the circumstance, Schmid Henson struggled to process the yearning and anguish she felt. Despite the shroud of shame, she fostered her voice—nurturing the confidence to tell her story along with a remarkable talent to tell stories of many kinds creatively. For Professor Schmid Henson, the fellowship serves as more than just literary recognition. It serves as a testimony of the value of connection to our own stories and what can be created in the light of our lived experience.

“It would have meant a lot to me as a child to hear from others who have gone through something similar, and to know that there is a way to make something from those or in spite of those difficult experiences,” she said. “I’m really proud to be included among the Writing Freedom Fellowship’s first cohort of writers, and proud to be part of a group of people who have experienced incarceration and its effects and who stand firmly rooted in humanity, in love and care and community and interconnectedness—all of the things that the prison industrial complex denies the people who are locked inside, as well as the people who love the people who are locked inside.”

Through her writing, Schmid Henson seeks to challenge conventional narratives, imagining new ways of being in thought and culture. She creates alternative worlds that invite readers to reimagine the contours of familial and communal bonds, taking care to generate space where she can speak into existence realities of what she hopes to be true. These works of creative expression act as literary activism, again reminding readers of the transformative power of human-centered storytelling.

As Katie Schmid Henson joins the inaugural cohort of the Writing Freedom Fellowship, she embodies this power. In sharing personal accounts and resulting artistic works, she calls readers to connect with humanity, love, and community in new ways—using storytelling as a catalyst for social change and collective reflection.

Readers can explore the written works of Professor Schmid Henson at katieschmid.net.

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