The New York Women's House of Detention was a fixture of Greenwich Village from 1932 to 1974. For public historian Hugh Ryan, its position as a cultural center is proof that jails and prisons were not always peripheral to the development of communities in the United States. In fact, they were sometimes considered in the urban planning of cities and neighborhoods. Ryan discovered the Women's House of Detention (also known as The House of D) on a walking tour, where he also learned of its unfamiliar history as a queer landmark. His curiosity unearthed a plethora of evidence verifying this claim, largely drawn from social worker documentation of the queer experiences of justice-involved youth and working-class people throughout the twentieth century.
In his recent book, The Women's House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison (Bold Type Books, 2022), Ryan asserts: "The House of D helped make Greenwich Village queer, and the Village, in return, helped define queerness for America. No other prison has played such a significant role in our history, particularly for working-class women and transmasculine people." Ryan also demonstrates how people housed at the institution, such as notable activists Angela Davis and Afeni Shakur, informed each other about the intersections of Black and queer liberation movements.
In this episode, Malcolm Tariq, senior manager of editorial projects for PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing, asks Ryan about being a student of abolition, the ethics of constructing narratives from archives, and how people in the House of Detention participated in the resistance efforts at nearby Stonewall in 1969.
Hugh Ryan is a writer and curator, and most recently, the author of The Women's House of Detention: A Queer History of a Forgotten Prison, which New York Magazine called one of the best books of 2022. His first book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, won a 2020 New York City Book Award, was a New York Times Editors' Choice in 2019, and was a finalist for the Randy Shilts and Lambda Literary Awards. He was honored with the 2020 Allan Berube Prize from the American Historical Association. Since 2019, he has worked with the NYC Dept. of Education to develop LGBTQ+ inclusive educational materials and trainings.
Malcolm Tariq is a poet and playwright from Savannah, Georgia. He is the author of Heed the Hollow (Graywolf, 2020), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the 2020 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry, and Extended Play (Gertrude Press, 2017). He was a 2016-2017 playwriting apprentice at Horizon Theatre Company and a 2020-2021 resident playwright with Liberation Theatre Company. A graduate of Emory University, Malcolm holds a PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is the senior manager of editorial projects for Prison and Justice Writing at PEN America.