Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Graybar Hotel: Stories” as Want to Read:
The Graybar Hotel: Stories
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Graybar Hotel: Stories

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  885 ratings  ·  183 reviews
In this stunning debut collection, Curtis Dawkins, an MFA graduate and convicted murderer serving life without parole, takes us inside the worlds of prison and prisoners with stories that dazzle with their humor and insight, even as they describe a harsh and barren existence.

In Curtis Dawkins’s first short story collection, he offers a window into prison life through the e
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published July 4th 2017 by Scribner
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Graybar Hotel, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Graybar Hotel

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  885 ratings  ·  183 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Graybar Hotel: Stories
The Graybar Hotel is a collection of brilliant short stories that draw you into the harsh and demanding world of prison without resorting to the well known tropes of brutality and violence. Curtis Dawkins, the author, is a prison inmate serving life without parole, convicted of murder. He makes no bones about his guilt and holds his hands up to the crime. His experiences and knowledge inform the stories and the characters rendering them authentic.

A wide array of characters and experiences are c
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories reads more like non fiction - and I mean that in the best possible way.

Curtis Dawkins tells stories of prison life - something he is intimately acquainted with as he is serving a life sentence for a robbery gone wrong (that is such a weird phrase by the way, as if a robbery can ever go right). As such he tells stories that feel true and believable while at the same time being well written and polished. Save a few stories that have elements of magical realism, th
Nov 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: amanda-s-books
The Graybar Hotel is a collection of short stories by an inmate who is serving time for murder. While this is a work of fiction, the myriad feelings are portrayed quite vividly and you feel these feelings right along with the characters. While some are bleak and depressing, not all of them are. There are no real duds in this collection either. Some even seem like they could be true stories witnessed by or told to the author with some creative tweaks to make them fiction. Overall, a very impressi ...more
Theresa Alan
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you like Orange is the New Black or are interested in the topics of addiction and our damaged prison system or if you just like well-written short stories, you will enjoy this collection authored by a man who is serving a life sentence for murdering a man during a home invasion.

As with any short story collection, I liked some stories more than others, but the writing is consistently good. The stories convey the boredom of incarceration, but what I felt most acutely was not being able to get a
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing

This collection of short stories are as well written as any I have ever read. Curtis Dawkins is a talented writer and I was thoroughly transported into the scary world of losing all of my freedom. For when you are incarcerated you do not have any rights that I take for granted. If a fellow inmate does something erratic or violent the whole prison population gets punished. You are a number. That is it. Reading this collection of stories makes me value my freedom
(3.5) My attention was drawn to The Graybar Hotel, the debut story collection by Curtis Dawkins, because the author is a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in a Michigan prison. (You can read more about his background in this Guardian article.) These 14 short stories are all set at least partially in prison, and feature men learning how to live with the consequences of their mistakes and how to fill long, empty days. They perfect their amateur tattooing skills, write raps, or carve soap ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
3.5 stars

A book of 14 short stories, all related to prison life, written by an inmate incarcerated for murder. The stories are all fabrication taken from real life instances, played out among inmates, painting a picture of life behind bars, in the desolate facade of our U.S. prisons.
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing

“All people are stories” and Dawkins give us some of these people, these stories, in a manner that grabbed me and kept me riveted and which made me think whilst smiling, being sad,
being angry and wishing for a different reality. He sets aside the usual prison macho fare and delves in deeper so touching the how and the why and the consequences.

None of the inmates have that likeable trait of being innocent of the crime they are in for. That would have made this an easier read for me. But Daw
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Initial disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher to read and review. This in no way affects my review or thoughts on this book. It stands on it's own merits.

Ok. Where to begin?

1) No matter where you fall on the spectrum of the American penal system, this book will make you re-think, HARD, about it.

The second page and I was about to cry. Just thinking about it and I am tearing up. The hope that is's heartbreaking.

2) You will want to know the details about wh
Jul 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
My review for the Chicago Tribune:

Most books' publication dates fall on Tuesdays — that's just the industry standard. So the fact that Curtis Dawkins' debut story collection, "The Graybar Hotel," had July 4 as its official release date is not that surprising — the Fourth of July happened to land on a Tuesday this year. Rather, the irony lies in that Independence Day should be the launch date for a book by a man who will theoretically never be free.

Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it

It’s no exaggeration to call this an insider’s view of prison. These heart wrenching interconnected stories are written by a gifted writer serving life in prison. They bring harsh reality to life and are sometimes difficult for their honesty, but Dawkins writes beautifully with some humor and even some hope. Surprisingly excellent.
Misse Jones
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
There are already a few excellent reviews listed here, so I won't beat a dead horse. I will say that I was completely drawn to The Graybar Hotel after learning that the author, Curtis Dawkins himself is serving a life in prison sentence, currently in Michigan. Each of the stories individually gave the reader an often light depiction of the daily ongoings of what prison life is and can be like. And yet, collectively they read as well as, if not better than any other short stories. An easy read an ...more
Cynthia Alice
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My hope is that this book will be translated very carefully (because the English is especially nuanced; as a Canadian I did not catch all the particulars coming from the cultural context, the linguistic context) into many languages.
I also hope that it will be carefully, skillfully, marketed all over the world.
There are too few voices coming from this place of literal incarceration.
And this voice is so strong, so solid, so rich and .... yes, I'm going to say it: gentle. In one of the most viol
Lissa Pelzer
Jan 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
First up, this is a collection of short stories written by a current inmate serving life without parole for a murder during a ‘botched’ house robbery. The first thing you notice in this collection is how well it’s written. This isn’t a teenager writing fan fiction, this is someone who knows their craft, and I suppose he should as he has an MFA from Western Michigan University.

The setting is mostly Kalamazoo Prison, Michigan, and the narrator seems to be often the same person intersperse with an
Sam Reaves
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Here's the rare author bio that is as compelling as the book: Curtis Dawkins is serving life without parole in Michigan for first-degree murder. How that all happened is not the subject of this book; these are short stories, written in prison and drawing on the experience.
It's not a cheerful or uplifting book, for sure, but there is some humor and a complete lack of self-pity. Prison inmates, whatever else may be said of them, are still humans with a range of emotions and aspirations, even if th
Darcia Helle
This book first caught my attention because it's written by a convicted killer, serving life in prison. And so the stories hold a bit of voyeuristic intrigue, allowing a glimpse behind those fences and gray walls.

Curtis Dawkins is a gifted writer. There is beauty in his words, despite the darkness of the pictures he paints for us. I was prepared for a visit to a violent world. What I didn't expect was Dawkins' powerful portrayal of the utter boredom and what it does to the mind. We also see the
sarah  morgan
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A stunning collection of shorts. Some seem autobiographical, some magical, others just plain brutal. It is better than In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison, more on a par with Cummings',The Enormous Room, reflections from prison. Dawkins has a great voice and his tales kept me glued to page well past my bedtime; I could not put it down. His work deserves a full review and mine will appear on the Internet Review of Books. Five Big Stars.

Update: 08/24/2017 My full review at The Internet
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: print, short-stories
This book is a series of sometime inter-connected short stories, mostly about life behind bars and sometimes from life before the bars. The author is a talented writer, serving a life sentence for murder. The first-person accounts are interesting, touching, mystifying (a prisoner who makes himself invisible and escapes that way), and reveal different aspects about life as an incarcerated male. The reader isn't sure how much is autobiographical, based on true events, or just creative flights of f ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Full review at:

The Graybar Hotel is a collection of stories by Curtis Dawkins, a convict in Michigan who is serving a life sentence. The stories revolve around many dimensions of prison life: the monotony, the close proximity to a rotating series of cellmates, the capriciousness of guards and wardens, the hours on end spent regretting and rethinking, and the attempts, often futile, to cling to one's few diversions and possessions. Dawkins has an MFA, as e
The problem with rating short story collections is that all the individual stories never quite match up in quality, rendering the rating somewhat pointless, but hey, I tried.
This collection consist of 14 short stories about prison life , written by a convicted murderer serving a life sentence.
Some people might have qualms about the author, but I've tried to set this aside in order to write a fair review.
Most of the stories were really good, giving an insider's perspective of what goes on in the
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: story-collection
This collection of fourteen stories, centers around life in a penitentiary. Most are presented in the first person and the reader is taken along as the prisoner makes his way through his daily grind, living behind bars. There are two big surprises here: First off, I was amazed at the author's high level of craftsmanship. The writing is strong and fluid. It is introspective and laconic, with flashes of well-needed humor. The second revelation, is that the author, is serving a life sentence for mu ...more
Jodie "Bookish"  Cook
The Greybar Hotel is a book I feel everyone must read as it offers some amazing insight into what prison life is like for those on the inside especially for long stretches of time. I found one story heartbreaking in particular and it is about a man who makes random phone calls just to hear the outside world, you really feel his desperation and pain.
Nov 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book does for jail and prison what The Things We Carried did for Vietnam. Whether any story is true or fiction is irrelevant, and some of the most true stories are those that must be fiction. There were no duds here, like many short story collections. And it's not as depressing as you would think a short story collection about prison life would be. Mostly. ...more
David V.
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Received as an ARC from the publisher. Started July 2, 2017. Finished 7-6-17. Collection of short stories about prison life written by an inmate who's serving a life sentence for homicide but who also achieved an MFA in fiction writing several years before his crime. Excellent character studies and I wished that some of the stories were longer so I could learn more about these inmates. I guess the author was following the adage, " Always leave them wanting more." I also wondered how much of this ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Holy shit. As good a collection of short stories as I've read. A prisoner himself, Dawkins writes about life and suffering in a way that strikes a nerve. Here's to more in the future. ...more
Wendy Cosin
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Some stories are spectacular, others less so. The uncommon theme about men in prison and the author's unusual background (MFA now serving life prison sentence) make it well worth a read. The writing is very good and the stories important, although a whole book on the subject was a bit much.

I received a free copy of this book before publication.

More info from NYT:
Carla (happiestwhenreading)
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
When a book stays with you long after you’ve read the last sentence, you know you’ve found a good one! I read The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins in less than 24 hours and have spend the last 24 hours ruminating on the collection of short stories.

We have a maximum security prison that sits just outside of our town; it’s like a city on a hill. On the darkest of nights, you can see the orange glow of the prison lights illuminating the bottom side of the clouds. When you walk into the local stores,
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
These stories seemed so real, I thought I was reading a memoir. Each story of isolation felt genuine. Jail and prison must completely suck.....and a smoke free prison seems even more wrong.
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was absolutely not expecting this book and it was a spectacular surprise. A raw, yet monotone tale, I found it a mild rendition of Thompson's gonzo which I thoroughly enjoyed. I recommend this book without hesitation. ...more
Jason Robinson
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A high quality and entertaining collection of short stories written by a prisoner serving life in Michigan. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing earlier in his life. All proceeds from the book are going into an education fund for his children.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: [Poll Ballot] The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins 5 stars 1 8 Oct 28, 2020 12:26AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Promised Land
  • Captain James Cook
  • Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino: Stories
  • What Big Teeth
  • Indeh: A Story of the Apache Wars
  • Sanctuary
  • Prisoners of History: What Monuments to World War II Tell Us about Our History and Ourselves
  • Deep into the Dark
  • Betty
  • The Passenger
  • Infinite Splendours
  • Blanky
  • Big Girl, Small Town
  • The Man in the Maze
  • La última decisión
  • Trilogía de Auschwitz: Si esto es un hombre / La tregua / Los hundidos y los salvados
  • The Carpet Makers
  • The Lady Vanishes
See similar books…
Curtis Dawkins grew up in rural Illinois and earned an MFA in fiction writing at Western Michigan University. He has struggled with alcohol and substance abuse through most of his life and, during a botched home robbery, killed a man on Halloween 2004. Since late 2005, he’s served a life sentence with no possibility of parole in various prisons throughout Michigan. He has three children with his p ...more

News & Interviews

Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
100 likes · 17 comments
“When you're separated from the people you know and love, every emotion is multiplied. Your mind becomes a very clear prism, into which every feeling enters, then becomes seven or eight different shades.” 2 likes
“Someone on B-Wing took thirty of something. Thirty what? It don’t matter, he took thirty of them. You take thirty of anything and that’s a wrap.” 0 likes
More quotes…