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The Life of Paper offers a wholly original and inspiring analysis of how people facing systematic social dismantling have engaged in letter correspondence to remake themselves, from bodily integrity to subjectivity to collective and spiritual being. Exploring the evolution of racism and confinement in California history, this ambitious investigation disrupts common understandings of the early detention of Chinese migrants (1880s-1920s), the internment of Japanese Americans (1930s-1940s), and the mass incarceration of African Americans (1960s-present) in its meditation on modern development and imprisonment as a way of life. Situating letters within global capitalist movements, racial logics, and overlapping modes of social control, Luk demonstrates how correspondence among the incarcerated becomes a poetic act of reinvention and a means for living.
Sharon Luk is Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at University of Oregon.