2017 National Book Award Longlist, Nonfiction

James Forman, Jr.

Locking Up Our Own by James Forman, Jr. James Forman, Jr.
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Macmillan Publishers)

ISBN: 9780374189976

National Book Foundation: Why did you write this book?
James Forman, Jr.: Histories that leave out African American voices frustrate me. I wanted to explore the complex impulses of black elected officials and their constituents during the 50-year period when the United States became the world’s largest jailer.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Forman, Jr.: I adore Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, which I learned about a few years ago when Ta-Nehisi Coates called it his favorite bookstore. When I walk in the door I’m transported back to my father’s study, surrounded by expertly curated books by and about black people. My favorite library is the Georgia Hill Library in Southeast Atlanta. My mom was a nurse on the evening shift, and when she couldn’t find child care, that’s where my brother and I went after school. I will always be grateful to the librarians who could have put us out, but instead made us feel like we were exactly where we were supposed to be.


In recent years, America’s criminal justice system has become the subject of an increasingly urgent debate. Critics have assailed the rise of mass incarceration, emphasizing its disproportionate impact on people of color. As James Forman, Jr., points out, however, the war on crime that began in the 1970s was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers. In Locking Up Our Own, he seeks to understand why.

About the Author

James Forman, Jr. is a professor of law at Yale Law School. He has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, numerous law reviews, and other publications. A former clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, he spent six years as a public defender in Washington, D.C., where he cofounded the Maya Angelou Public Charter School.


- WEBSITE: jamesformanjr.com

- TWITTER: @JFormanJr

(Photo credit: Harold Shapiro)


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