'Million Book Project' to bring literature to 1,000 U.S. prisons

A $5.25 million grant will fund the project, which aims to "transform the role of literature and libraries in the lives of people in prison"

By Sarah Calams

NEW YORK — Over the next three and a half years, a curated 500-book capsule collection will be sent to 1,000 medium and maximum security prisons across every state in the U.S.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's $5.25 million grant will fund the "Million Book Project," which aims to "transform the role of literature and libraries in the lives of people in prison," according to a press release. The project was made possible by a joint partnership with Yale Law School's Justice Collaboratory and the Mellon Foundation.

"The Million Book Project 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 press release said.

The project will also recruit 52 writers and scholars to serve as project ambassadors, who will participate in a reading series across the facilities. 

"Through the magnitude and vision of the Million Book Project, we affirm the right of those who are incarcerated to robust participation in the imaginative and intellectual life of American society, and we are determined to do our part to help rectify the systemic inequities that currently exclude them from that engagement," said Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander.

The project aims to activate the initiative in each state at all medium and maximum security men's state prison facilities, all women's state prison facilities and at least one juvenile detention center.

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