A new literary award will be judged by a panel of 300 incarcerated people across the nation.
The first-ever Inside Literary Prize will be awarded next June. News of the award was announced in a press release from the three groups sponsoring it: the National Book Foundation, the Center for Justice Innovation, and Freedom Reads, the organization founded by poet and lawyer Reginald Dwayne Betts that helps connect inmates with books.
The inmates will select a winner from a shortlist of four books, each a finalist for the 2022 National Book Awards: Tess Gunty’s novel, The Rabbit Hutch; Jamil Jan Kochai’s story collection, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak; Imani Perry’s nonfiction book South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon To Understand the Soul of a Nation; and Roger Reeves’ poetry collection, Best Barbarian. Gunty and Perry both won National Book Awards for their books.
The award, the New York Times reports, is the brainchild of Lori Feathers, the co-owner of Interabang Books in Dallas and co-host of the Across the Pond literary podcast. Feathers read a story about a similar award in France and sent it to someone she knew at the nonprofit Center for Justice Innovation. The National Book Foundation and Freedom Reads soon signed on.
Bettts said in a statement, “Through the reading and judging of leading American literary works, the Inside Literary Prize competition will provide a national platform for incarcerated individuals to meaningfully participate in our shared national cultural conversation. Freedom Reads could not be more proud to work with our partners on this initiative as we turn this vision into an annual reality. Freedom begins with a book.”
Michael Schaub is a contributing writer.