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The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature in a Men's Prison (HarperCollins, 2016)

“Take nine convicted felons…Add a well-meaning literary scholar armed only with cheap reprints of challenging books...The resulting dynamic is the subject of Mikita Brottman’s fascinating and unvarnished book about criminals as rough-hewn literary critics. I tore through THE MAXIMUM SECURITY BOOK CLUB.” (Wally Lamb, New York Times bestselling author of WE ARE WATER)

“Swiftly and sensitively written…we should all strive to build book clubs with people whose days and life histories are quite different from our own, rather than discussing books mainly with our friends. Until then, there’s Mikita Brottman’s wonderfully witty and deeply honest report from just that sort of space.” (Sheila Heti, author of HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE?)

“…Steers clear of facile sentimentality. There is no transformation or redemption in Brottman’s story, only honest moments of encounter…made possible by the act of reading literature. Brottman gives us a candid, unillusioned account of her work behind bars. A brave and admirable book about a brave and admirable project.” (William Deresiewicz, author of EXCELLENT SHEEP: THE MISEDUCATION OF THE AMERICAN ELITE and THE WAY TO A MEANINGFUL LIFE)

“One of the best books about teaching I’ve ever read, it is not only lively and engaging from the first page to the last, but dazzles by virtue of its honesty, sympathy and humanity.” (Phillip Lopate, author of PORTRAIT OF MY BODY )

“The prisoners are real. The fiction classics they read and discuss are real. Honest, engaging, surprising, and often unsettling, THE MAXIMUM SECURITY BOOK CLUB beautifully captures the banal insanity of prison life in America while exploring the power of literature to transform, reform, and illuminate.” (Kim Wozencraft, author of RUSH and THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE)

On sabbatical from teaching literature to undergraduates, and wanting to educate a different kind of student, Mikita Brottman starts a book club with a group of convicts from the Jessup Correctional Institution in Maryland. She assigns them ten dark, challenging classics—including Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Poe’s story “The Black Cat,” and Nabokov’s Lolita—books that don’t flinch from evoking the isolation of the human struggle, the pain of conflict, and the cost of transgression. Although Brottman is already familiar with these works, the convicts open them up in completely new ways. Their discussions may “only” be about literature, but for the prisoners, everything is at stake.
Gradually, the inmates open up about their lives and families, their disastrous choices, their guilt and loss. Brottman also discovers that life in prison, while monotonous, is never without incident. The book club members struggle with their assigned reading through solitary confinement; on lockdown; in between factory shifts; in the hospital; and in the middle of the chaos of blasting televisions, incessant chatter, and the constant banging of metal doors.
Though The Maximum Security Book Club never loses sight of the moral issues raised in the selected reading, it refuses to back away from the unexpected insights offered by the company of these complex, difficult men. It is a compelling, thoughtful analysis of literature—and prison life—like nothing you’ve ever read before.

The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Exceptional Dogs (HarperCollins, 2014)

“Filled with marvelous anecdotes and insights,” The New York Times, 30/10/2014.

“I have read thousands of books in my 81 years and this is the only one that has made me happy.” Jonathan Mirsky, Literary Review 12/6/2014

Inspired by her seven-year love affair with her French bulldog, Grisby, author Mikita Brottman ruminates on the special bond between dogs and humans in THE GREAT GRISBY: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical and Artistic Dog Lovers and their Exceptional Animals. Is her relationship with Grisby nourishing or dysfunctional? Commonplace or unique? As she ponders these questions, she draws support and inspiration from history, art, philosophy, and literature. In THE GREAT GRISBY, Brottman assembles a charming literary banquet of canine personalities, ranging from Atma (Schopenhauer’s Standard Poodle) to Thomas Hardy and his terrier Wessex, Frida Kahlo and her hairless Mexican dog Xolotl, to Zemire (Catherine the Great’s Italian greyhound). Through quirky anecdotes and personal reflections, with side-trips into psychoanalysis and animal studies, THE GREAT GRISBY shows us the many ways in which dog is the mirror of man.

PRAISE FOR THE GREAT GRISBY
“Utterly delightful and beautifully written, The Great Grisby is a wide-ranging account of dogs in literature, history and folklore, yet the greatest pleasure of this wonderful book is reading about the author’s love for Grisby. You will completely forgive the fact that the she is besotted. Why should she not be? Her descriptions of the two of them spending the day quietly at home is mesmerizing in its ability to remind us of the simple pleasure of hanging together, dog and person. No dog lover will find fault with it.”
~ Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep.

“Insightful and utterly fascinating. Learn how dogs have enriched the lives of poets, artists, kings, writers, and many other notable people in this fascinating book about dogs in literature and history. Who knew that Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, unknowingly had the first therapy dog? The Great Grisby is a wonderful book about the special bond between humans and dogs.”
~ Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make us Human.

Thirteen Girls (Nine Banded Books, 2012)

“Mikita Brottman takes terrifying risks but never puts a foot wrong. These stories begin with delicate precision and build stunning pace and power. This is fiction that is truer and more penetrating than the savage facts at its core.”
~ Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

“Thirteen Girls manages the improbable feat of conjuring up the full horror and emotional devastation of serial homicide by focusing exclusively on the aftermath of the crimes and those left to deal with the consequences: family members, police officers, witnesses, survivors. Known for her brilliant, provocative cultural criticism, Mikita Brottman has produced a stunning work of crime fiction–a genuine tour de force”
~Harold Schechter, author of The Serial Killer Files

“Brottman’s grimly pragmatic literary stance recalls such earlier artists of the quotidian macabre as Shirley Jackson and Flannery O’Connor: Thirteen Girls is an impressive successor to their stories of American dread”.
~John Pistelli, Rain Taxi. Read full review

“Mikita Brottman’s casebook plumbs the annals of true crime and delivers thirteen bracing stories about the fallout from violent crime. Each fictionalized story is told from a different perspective – a mother, a shrink, a cop, a sister – and collectively reveal the afterlife of murder through the people it affects most deeply. Brottman has terrific literary skill, creating thirteen distinct voices, weaving in unforgettable detail and creating the kind of nuance that lingers in the mind. Ultimately, this is a psychological portrait of murder, an unblinking collection of stories that reveals a cultural obsession with violence and a need for “closure” stacked against the emotional power of personal testimony”.
Interview with Chip Smith of Nine Banded Books
Interview with Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper, October 2012
Review by Joseph Martin, Baltimore Fishbowl, October 2012
True Crime and Academe,” Mikita Brottman and Thomas Doherty, Chronicle of Higher Education, Sept. 24 2012
Interview with John King, The Drunken Odyssey podcast, Episode 13, August 31, 2012
Fatal Vision: an interview with Mikita Brottman, The Nervous Breakdown, September 28, 2012

Hyena (Reaktion Animal Series, 2012)

Hyenas are almost universally regarded as vile, scheming creatures, skulking in the alleyways of the animal kingdom. Scorned as little more than scavenging carrion-eaters, vandals and thieves, they have long been associated with the malevolent and macabre. This book offers an alternative view of these mistreated and misunderstood animals and proves that the hyena is in fact complex, intelligent and highly sociable.

Hyena (Reaktion Books) takes us on a tour of the hyena throughout history, detailing the magic, myth and ritual associated with this remarkable animal. Although shrouded in taboo, the hyena has been the source of and inspiration for talismanic objects since the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Many cultures use parts of the hyena – from its excrement and blood to its genitalia and hair – to make charms and totems that variously avert evil, promise virility and promote fertility. This book also considers portrayals of hyenas in modern popular culture, including The Lion King and The Life of Pi, in which they are often stereotyped as villains, cowardly henchmen or clowns, and their more impressive qualities ignored. Rightly returning hyenas to their proper place in the animal pantheon, this richly illustrated book will be enjoyed by any animal lover with an interest in the unusual and offbeat”.

“Is there a creature more unlovely and less loved, or more loathed, than the hyena, the slope-backed, mighty-jawed, yammering, cowardly skulker of the night? In much of Africa, hyenas are no laughing matter; more feared than lions, they have been known to come into villages and carry off children. But in the latest entry in this invaluable (if sometimes uneven) series on individual animals, U.S. psychoanalyst and cultural critic Mikita Brottman reassesses these maligned creatures. Hyenas, she claims convincingly, are complex, intelligent and highly social – and can even be easily trained to live with human beings. She also examines the hyena as a totemic object in tribal culture (amulets to avert evil woven from its hairs, virility treatments) as well as the portrayal of hyenas in such works as Life of Pi, The Lion King and the Tarzan novels, where they come off less well. As usual, beautifully and plentifully illustrated.” (Toronto Globe and Mail, August 3 2012)

Review, Elizabeth Bachner, Bookslut, August 2012
Review, Anne Marie Thornburg, Humanimalia, Volume 6 No.1 Fall 2014
Interview with Phillip Adams, Late Night Live, ABC Radio National (Australia)

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About Mikita

Baltimore City

As a writer of creative nonfiction I feel compelled to tell the stories of those whose voices are rarely heard, such as convicted felons, or the mentally ill.  Our fears and superstitions turn people who have committed terrifying crimes into abstract forces of evil, robbing them of their own... more

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