Damien Echols, the most outspoken and visible member of the West Memphis Three and the author of two books, will be returning to the state on Nov. 11-12 to give a free public reading and teach a creative writing mini-class for UCA students.
UCA creative writing professor Dr. John Vanderslice said that Echols is coming to Conway as part of the UCA Artist-in-Residence Series, which is administered through the College of Fine Arts and Communication. Vanderslice said that the creative writing department originally wanted to invite Echols to speak at the annual “Arkatext” writing festival, “but we quickly realized wasn’t practical,” so they invited him as an Artist-in-Residence instead.
Echols was released from prison on Aug. 19, 2011 along with Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin after serving over 18 years on Death Row. You can read the Arkansas Times’ coverage of that momentous day here. Since his release, Echols has settled in Salem, Mass., where he runs a holistic healing center. He’s the author of two books, “Life After Death,” and “Almost Home: My Life Story, Vol. 1.”
Lonnie Soury, who helped build the media campaign that helped free the West Memphis Three and who is still friends with Echols and his wife Lorri Davis, said that when he spoke to Davis and Echols a few days ago in Boston, Echols was excited about being invited to UCA to speak and teach, and didn’t seem at all apprehensive about coming back to the state that held him on Death Row for 18 years.
“It seemed like he was pleased to come back,” Soury said. “I think it’s a big deal for him and Lorri to come back, but they were pleased to do it. I know they gave some thought to it, but they seem anxious to speak at the university there.”
Soury, who has spoken at events with Echols before, said he may make the trip back to Arkansas to see Echols and others associated with the West Memphis Three cause. “He’s an eloquent spokesperson,” Soury said. “It’s really amazing how thoughtful he is about the issues that impacted him and his life, and the lives of Jessie and Jason.”