The twelve stories in Teach the Free Man mark the impressive debut of Peter Nathaniel Malae. The subject of incarceration thematically links the stories, yet their range extends beyond the prison\u2019s barbed wire and iron bars. Avoiding sensationalism, Malae exposes the heart and soul in those dark, seemingly inaccessible corridors of the human experience.
The stories, often raw and startlingly honest, are distinguished by the colloquial voices of California\u2019s prison inmates, who, despite their physical and cultural isolation, confront dilemmas with which we can all identify: the choice to show courage against peer pressure; the search for individual rights within a bureaucracy; and the desperate desire for honor in the face of great sacrifice. These stories present polished and poetic examples of finding something redemptive in the least among us.
The book\u2019s epigraph by W. H. Auden, from which the book takes its title, exemplifies the spirit of these dynamic stories:
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start.
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
Peter Nathaniel Malae's fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Cimarron Review, Missouri Review, ZYZZYVA, and a host of other magazines and journals across the nation. His work has been selected for distinguished recognition in the Best American Essays and Best American Mysteries series. He is currently at work on his first novel.