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Novelist reveals horrors of the justice system through dystopian fiction

Author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah in his new novel, "Chain-Gang All-Star," he imagines a not-too-distant future where people convicted of violent crimes can fight to the death for their freedom – on pay-per-view TV.
Alex M. Philip
Author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah in his new novel, "Chain-Gang All-Star," he imagines a not-too-distant future where people convicted of violent crimes can fight to the death for their freedom – on pay-per-view TV.

There’s a song that the author Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah wrote that tells you – you are in for something different.

The song’s called Nabakov. It’s on his website. There you’ll find other ways he expresses himself. Like his photography — including a collection from a pilgrimage to Ghana, where his late father was born.

And of course, you’ll find information about his books.

Photos from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's 2020 trip to Ghana, where his late father was born.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Photos from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's 2020 trip to Ghana, where his late father was born.

Adjei-Brenyah is the author Chain-Gang All-Stars. It’s a novel set in a dystopian future that feels dangerously close. In his book, people who’ve been condemned to life sentences can choose to fight death-matches for their freedom. Meanwhile, America pays to watch it on TV.

It’s a commentary on the evils of our prison system. But it’s also an inverted image of what he thinks our world can be. A criminal justice system that isn’t an oxymoron.

“There is a world where love is the rule,” he writes. “That world has no room for caged humans.”

He didn’t always think this way. It took a journey to think of himself as an abolitionist.

On the May 15 episode of Sundial, Adjei-Brenyah joined us to talk about his book and what it took to get there.

On Sundial's previous episode, Julia Longoria, the host and managing editor of the podcast “More Perfect” from WNYC. The series is about “how the Supreme Court got so supreme.” She got her start in radio at her hometown public radio station — WLRN.

Listen to Sundial Monday through Thursday on WLRN, 91.3 FM, live at 1 p.m., rebroadcast at 8 p.m. Missed a show? Find every episode of Sundial on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify.

Stay in touch with us by emailing us at sundial@wlrnnews.org.

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Carlos Frías is a bilingual writer, a journalist of more than 25 years and the author of an award-winning memoir published by Simon & Schuster.
Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the former lead producer behind Sundial. As a multimedia producer, she also worked on visual and digital storytelling.
Elisa Baena is a former associate producer for Sundial.
Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.