Ruth Wilson Gilmore (born April 2, 1950) is a prison abolitionist and prison scholar. She is the Director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics and professor of geography in Earth and Environmental Sciences at The City University of New York. She has been credited with "more or less single-handedly" inventing the study of carceral geography. She received the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Geographers.
Early life and education
Ruth Wilson was born on April 2, 1950 in New Haven, Connecticut. Her father, Courtland Seymour Wilson, was a machinist and active in the union having been raised himself by a family active in the workers’ union at Yale University. In 1960, she attended a private school in New Haven as the first, and mostly only, African American student. In 1968, she attended Swarthmore College where she became involved in campus politics and met Angela Davis' younger sister, Fania. Gilmore's cousin, John Huggins was a founding member of the Black Panthers' Southern California chapter and was murdered while she was at Swarthmore in 1969. Later that year, she enrolled in Yale where she obtained a degree in drama.
Gilmore earned her Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1998 in economic geography and social theory, inspired by the work of Neil Smith. After finishing her Ph.D. she was hired as an assistant professor at Berkeley and began working on her concept of carceral geography. Carceral geography examines the relationships between landscape, natural resources, political economy, infrastructure and the policing, jailing, caging and controlling of populations.
She is a cofounder of many social justice organizations, including California Prison Moratorium Project. In 1998, she was one of the cofounders of Critical Resistance along with Angela Davis. In 2003, she cofounded Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) to fight jail and prison construction and currently serves on its board.
Gilmore has been a leading scholar and speaker on topics including prisons, decarceration, racial capitalism, oppositional movements, state-making and more. She is the author of the book Golden Gulag which was awarded the Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize for the best book in American Studies by the American Studies Association in 2008. Other writings of hers have been published in such venues as Race & Class, The Professional Geographer, Social Justice, Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison Industrial Complex, and the critical anthology The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, which was edited by the Incite! collective.
In 2011, Gilmore was the keynote speaker at the National Women's Studies Association annual conference in Atlanta, GA.
In 2012, the American Studies Association awarded her the first Angela Y. Davis prize for Public Scholarship that "recognizes scholars who have applied or used their scholarship for the "public good." This includes work that explicitly aims to educate the public, influence policies, or in other ways seeks to address inequalities in imaginative, practical, and applicable forms."
In 2014, Gilmore received the Harold M. Rose Award for Anti-Racism Research and Practice from the Association of American Geographers.
In 2017, Gilmore earned the American Studies Association Richard A. Yarborough Award. This award honors scholars who demonstrate an excellence in teaching and mentoring.
In 2019, the New York Times Magazine published an article about Wilson Gilmore and her abolitionist work.