Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's book ‘Chain-Gang All Stars’ zeros in on the USA’s carceral state, challenges us to explore the roots of the country’s prison policies and its impact on society.
Written largely through the experiences of two female inmates - Staxxx and Thurwar – who are also lovers, Nana Kwame invites us to explore topics that we might not typically associate with prison life – namely love, compassion and redemption.
One of the critical elements of the book is how inmates are encouraged to negotiate their survival and ultimate freedom through an incentive system where winning could spell death for your opponent.
Some people have likened this element of the book to the ‘Hunger Games/Squid Games’ but Nana Kwame is clear – there is an intentionality in ‘Chain Gang All Stars’ that is steeped in reality and not merely a book of fiction.
He tells Tice Cin, during an interview on Fane Online on 13 July 2023, that he rejects the idea that a piece of work must either be entertaining or informative. He believes that it can be both.
“I cared about this being impossible to read [this book] outside of the context of the carceral state of not only America but the global….”, Nana Kwame explains.
Compassion not violence
He invites us to reimagine a space where compassion and not violence drives change.
Even the way the book is structured has a disruptive element to it. Nana Kwame says he is interested in upsetting the linear nature of language, and this is the reason why he uses footnotes in this book.
The footnotes serve to remind us that the book is not purely a work of fiction but draws on real-life events that shape our societies.
'In Chain-Gang All-Stars', Nana Kwame, whose father was a lawyer, creates a rule of law as part of the book's storyline. He explains that he was essentially mirroring the American code of law and how words can mask the violence embedded within them.
He points to the 13th amendment in American law, which outlawed slavery except for in the case of convicted criminals.
“And that little sentence alone is saying slavery is still allowed in this land and all the violence is packed in,” he says during the interview.
Redemption through love in a toxic environment
Nana Kwame’s book explores the different ways that power exists through violence and through love. Two extreme sides of the same coin. And asks us if it is possible to still love in those 'hard places' where violence reigns.
He points to the current focus on guns in American and the need to support this right to bear arms as a perceived antidote to tackling gun-related deaths. Does more people owning guns in the USA, reduce the risk of gun-related deaths?
He also tackles our complicity in a carceral system that profits off slave labour from people who make a myriad of items while in prison.
Essentially ‘Chain-Gang All Star’, which took Nana Kwame seven years to write, is a book steeped in activism and based on the interview alone, this is a book I can’t wait to delve into.
Nana Kwame is better known as the best-selling author of short story collection ‘Friday Black’. His also has another work in the offing called 'Secret Rap Project'.
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