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Advance Praise For

"Effortlessly, the narrator's story here becomes one with the stories of the women in prison. Rarely do we encounter a perspective clear as glass through which the characters look back at the narrator without mirror or microscope, false hierarchy or romanticizing. Brava!"

— Toni Morrison

"Channeling Mark Twain" is #15 on the LA Times Bestsellers List - Hardbacks - Fiction. Six weeks on the list. View it online at -

After reading Carol Muske-Dukes' Chaneling Mark Twain you might decide her protagonist, Holly Mattox, is the woman you'd want on your Conestoga wagon. You can speculate that Carol herself has obviously been There (yes, capital T) and having been There she has written the bravest of novels. The book challenges on various levels - intellectual, emotional, physical - and when you put it down you want to sing. Better still you want to tell the world: Read this book. It will lift your heart.

— Frank McCourt

As Featured In Oprah Magazine

“Carol Muske-Dukes has concocted a riveting story about women in prison, with language that scorches the page and characters you won’t be able to live without. The woman at the story’s heart goes on a quest that has all the fresh resonance of a truth never told before.

The complicated issues of race are handled with a poet’s lapidary precision. In an antiheroic age, she’s given us a true hero in Polly, who’s as unforgettable as Huck Finn. Send up a flare!”



Fresh out of graduate school, Holly Mattox is a young, newly married, and spirited poet who moves to New York City from Minnesota in the early seventies. Hoping to share her passion for words and social justice, Holly is also determined to contribute to the politically charged atmosphere around her. Her mission: to successfully teach a poetry workshop at the Women’s House of Detention on Rikers Island, only minutes from Manhattan.


Having listened to her mother recite verse by heart all her life, Holly has always been drawn to poetry. Yet until she stands before a class made up of prisoners and detainees — all troubled women charged with a variety of crimes — even Holly does not know the full power that language can possess.Words are the only weapon left to many of these outspoken women: the hooker known as Baby Ain’t (as in “Baby Ain’t Nobody Better!”); Gene/Jean, who is mid–sex change; drug mule Never Delgado; and Akilah Malik, a leader of the Black Freedom Front.

One woman in particular will change Holly’s life forever: Polly Lyle Clement, an inmate awaiting transfer to a mental hospital upstate, one day announces that she is a descendant of Mark Twain and is capable of channeling his voice. And so begins Holly’s descent into the dark recesses of the criminal justice system, where in an attempt to understand and help her students she will lose her perspective on the nature of justice — and risk ruining everything stable in her life. As Holly begins an affair with a fellow poet — who claims to know her better than she knows herself — she finds herself adrift between two ends of the social and political spectrum, between two men, and two identities.



Carol Muske-Dukes
Random House 2007
U.S.A. $24.95 / Canada $32.00
ISBN: 978-0-375-50927-8



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