“[A] gritty, bracing debut novel...a satirical look at mass incarceration and the liberating power of the written word.”—Esquire
“Dazzling...Supremely mischievous and sublimely written, this is a stellar work.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An electric, uproarious, and biting debut novel set during a prison riot, told in a high-comic pitch in the tradition of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger.
An unnamed Sri Lankan inmate has barricaded himself inside a prison computer lab in Dutchess County, New York. A riot rages outside, incited by a poem published in The Holding Pen, the house literary journal. This, our narrator’s final Editor’s Letter, is his confession. An official accounting of events, as they happened.
As he awaits imminent and violent interruption, he takes us on a roller coaster ride of plot and language, determined to share his life story, and maybe answer a few questions. How did he end up here? Should he have remained a quiet Park Avenue doorman? Or continued his rise in the black markets of postwar Sri Lanka? What will become of The Holding Pen, a “masterpiece of post-penal literature” favored by Brooklynites everywhere? And why does everyone think the riots are his fault? Can’t they see he’s really a good guy, doing it for the right reasons?
Smart, wry, and laugh-out-loud funny, Ryan Chapman’s Riots I Have Known is an utter gem—an approachable send-up that packs a punch. Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, says, “Ryan Chapman has written a rocket-powered ode to literary creation and mass incarceration. Weaving satire and seriousness into a singularly rambunctious monologue, Riots I Have Known is a breath of fresh air.”
Ryan Chapman is a Sri Lankan-American writer originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His work has appeared online at The New Yorker, GQ, Bookforum, BOMB, Guernica, and The Believer. He is a recipient of fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and the Millay Colony for the Arts. He lives in upstate New York. Riots I Have Known is his first novel.