Indiana State University Newsroom

English professor finalist for state Emerging Author Award

August 14, 2015

Preparing for the Indiana Authors Award Dinner on Oct. 10, Indiana State University professor Laura Bates says she'll have an acceptance speech and a gracious concession ready.

"It's really exciting. It's kind of like going to the Academy Awards dinner, where you find out whether you win or not," she said, adding the event is also the day before her birthday.

Bates, who teaches English, is a finalist for the Emerging Author Award in recognition for her highly acclaimed first book "Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard," which chronicles her time teaching Shakespeare in the maximum-security wing of the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility.

Bates says she now includes the book in the curriculum for her "Crime and Punishment" class. The message resonates with students, many of which realize if the main character survived all his hardships, they can, too. At book signings, she said people ask how to get involved in a similar line of work.

"Shakespeare Saved My Life" was also selected for the Big Library Read this year, introducing it to more than 100,000 people in 12 countries. A movie by two independent filmmakers in Toronto is also in the works.

Bates said she never expected the widespread media attention and acclaim the book has received.

"I felt like there was a story that needed to be told. I don't think I thought much beyond getting the story told," she said. "It's not so much my story as it is the life story of the prisoner."

Indiana State is no stranger to the Indiana Authors Award Dinner, as Bates' English department colleague Michael Shelden was the national winner for last year's Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award.

Shelden is the author of five biographies, including "Orwell: The Authorized Biography," "Mark Twain, Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years" and "Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill."

"I'm so pleased to have such a wonderful colleague in Michael. We've actually done book signings together," she said.

During these signings, Shelden showed her what page of the book to sign and to cross out her printed name in favor of the more personal handwritten version.

"He's been very supportive of my work," she said.

As the award she is a finalist for implies, Bates is indeed an emerging author and well into her second book, "Letters from Camp."

"It has nothing to do with prison, nothing to do with Shakespeare," she said with a laugh. The content, however, is no less serious, and Bates said in some ways, puts her other main character's 10 years in solitary in perspective.

"It's the very personal account of experiences of refugees from World War II," she said. "The refugees happen to be my mother and my father."

Starting in 1945, Bates' parents started corresponding, and during the course of their five-year separation, they amassed more than 100 letters.

Bates' mother had been married just days before she boarded a refugee train. The couple was separated, and her mother's husband was forcibly consigned into the German army.

While visiting a prisoner of war camp, Bates' mother learned her husband was being sent to the Soviet Union and would face certain death there. It was at this POW camp that she met her second husband, Bates' father.

"In my family, it's just me and my sister," Bates said. "We said, ‘We had no idea.' We had no idea of the hardship they endured."

Just the day-to-day difficulties were unimaginable, especially since both of her parents were isolated from any emotional support system. Many refugees had someone - a parent, child or spouse to lean on during the experience.

"He, like my mother, lost all contact with their families. They were both dealing with being completely alone in the world," she said.

A staged reading of the correspondence is set for Nov. 11 during part of the "Night of Broken Glass: Remembering the Holocaust" event at Indiana State. Two showings, one at 5 p.m. and one at 8 p.m., will be performed in the recital hall of the Landini Center for Performing Arts.

It was a challenge to stage this production from what is now just a rough draft of her book and she tapped theater professor Arthur Feinsod for his expert assistance.

"I wrote a theatrical adaptation of a book that hasn't been written yet," she said.


Photo: -- Laura Bates, professor of English, Indiana State University

Contact: Laura Bates, professor of English, Indiana State University, 812-237-3141 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or