Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Announces Freedom to Read: "Million Book Project" Brings Literature to 1,000 US Prisons

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Announces Freedom to Read: "Million Book Project" Brings Literature to 1,000 US Prisons

NEW YORK, June 30, 2020 – Following The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s major strategic evolution announcement prioritizing social justice in all of its grantmaking, Mellon and Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory announced today a new initiative to distribute a curated 500-book collection to 1,000 medium and maximum security prisons, including at least one juvenile detention center, across every state in the United States over the next three and a half years. The Mellon Foundation’s $5.25 million grant will fund the Million Book Project, hosted at Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory, which aims to transform the role of literature and libraries in the lives of people in prison. This marks the first major grant since the announcement of the Foundation’s new strategic plan to increase philanthropic efforts for the arts and humanities through a distinct lens of social justice. 

The Million Book Project, conceptualized by poet and legal scholar Reginald Dwayne Betts and brought to life through a joint partnership with Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory and support from the Mellon Foundation, will have two objectives: extending access to books – including poetry, literature, history, and social thought – across the prison system and creating opportunities for incarcerated people to interact with authors and the literary community. 

The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country on Earth, with overincarceration a cruel and unjust reality of the American penal system. Disproportionately, people of color bear the brunt of systemic inequities in our conception and application of the law. The Million Book Project creates a rhetorical and functional response to this specifically American fact, and offers the book as both a resource and a symbol of freedom, restoring hope, dignity, meaning and purpose to those incarcerated. 

With Mellon’s support, the Million Book Project will produce a curated 500-book capsule collection, which will include poetry, literature, history and social thought, with significant representation of Black writers and thinkers whose work offers knowledge and analysis of society’s injustices, a diverse range of life stories, and visions of a more just society...

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