From Behind Bars, Washington State Killer Earns Literary Reputation


The Seattle Times profiles Arthur Longworth, 47, a convicted murderer in Washington who has won two national literary awards, including a 2010 prize for the best prison memoir, from the PEN Center in New York. His stories, most nonfiction, are spare and unsentimental descriptions of prison life. He often infuses his writing with a slow boil of outrage, particularly about sentences of life without parole for young inmates. His fans, often on the political left, see Longworth as a truth-teller about the jailing of America.

Longworth, a seventh-grade dropout, was convicted for the 1985 murder of Cynthia Nelson, 25, a Bellevue, Wash., woman who was to meet a young man interested in hearing more about Amway, which she sold on the side. The next morning, a jogger spotted her body in a creek, killed by a deep stab wound to the back. It was not a who-done-it. Nelson’s calendar noted the meeting with “Art Longworth,” who had previously worked with her as a temp. A scrap of paper in her purse noted his address in Wallingford, and Nelson’s car — with Longworth’s fingerprints inside — was near his apartment. Witnesses picked Longworth out of a photo lineup.

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