Prison Tour for Inaugural Inside Literary Prize, the First Major US Book Prize Judged Exclusively by Incarcerated People, Begins Today

Tour of 12 prisons in six states to include literary performances and readings by renowned poets and writers, while hundreds of incarcerated judges vote on the four finalist titles; Winner to be announced in June 2024

Today in Arizona, organizers of the Inside Literary Prize–the first US-based literary prize awarded exclusively by currently incarcerated people–begin an 8-week tour of prisons across the country to lead live discussions, conduct voting, and host literary readings with acclaimed writers and poets, including Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Roger Bonair-Agard, Natalie Diaz, Douglas Kearney, and Reginald Dwayne Betts, award-winning poet, writer, and Freedom Reads Founder & CEO.

In December 2023, Freedom Reads, the National Book Foundation, and the Center for Justice Innovation announced the launch of the Inside Literary Prize (see coverage in The New York Times, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly). This new initiative, which is also supported by Lori Feathers, literary podcaster and co-owner of Dallas independent bookstore, Interabang Books, seeks to expand access to our country’s most thought-provoking literature for people who are incarcerated.

The prize will be awarded in June 2024 by a jury of hundreds of incarcerated individuals from 12 prisons in six states – Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and North Dakota – to one of the four shortlisted books under consideration: The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry, and Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves. This shortlist was determined by a selection committee comprised of incarcerated readers, writers, and Departments of Corrections librarians, who selected the four books from the list of Finalists and Winners of the 2022 National Book Awards. 

In January, team members at Freedom Reads packed and shipped out the four shortlisted books for the Inside Literary Prize to the hundreds of judges on the inside at both men’s and women’s facilities. Five additional sets of the shortlisted books were also sent to each of the prisons for those who are not participating as judges. In addition, copies of the books were provided to correctional staff at these facilities, to include them within the communities of readers. Orientation sessions were held remotely in March with judges across the 12 prisons to launch months-long conversations about books, the founding principle of the prize.

“I like the way I put it to the folks inside when I made the video orientation for our hundreds of Inside Literary Prize judges,” said Freedom Reads Founder & CEO Reginald Dwayne Betts. “What you have to remember is that your voice matters, your opinion matters, and that all of these writers that wanted to win this prize and didn’t, and the ones that will ultimately win, are excited and encouraged and happy to have you reading their work and talking about it.”

"We so look forward to hearing the judges’ thoughts, witnessing the powerful literary programming, and celebrating the shortlisted National Book Award–honored authors of the inaugural Inside Literary Prize," said Ruth Dickey, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation.

"It’s very exciting to kick-off this inaugural tour for the Inside Literary Prize and to work with the incarcerated judges as they discuss the ideas and emotions that these great books inspire," said Lori Feathers, literary podcaster and co-owner, Interabang Books. 

"The Inside Literary Prize connects our shared humanity through the transformative power of literature," said Courtney Bryan, Executive Director of the Center for Justice Innovation. "We are so proud to join with our partners to bring this tour to prisons across the country and share deep, meaningful conversations with hundreds of incarcerated book lovers."

About Freedom Reads
Freedom Reads’ mission is to inspire and confront what prison does to the spirit. We bring beautiful, handcrafted bookcases into prisons, transforming cellblocks into Freedom Libraries. The Freedom Library is a physical intervention into the landscape of plastic and steel and loneliness that characterizes prison. In an environment where the freedom to think, to contribute to a community, and even to dream about what is possible is too often curtailed, Freedom Reads reminds those inside that they have not been forgotten. For more information about Freedom Reads and the Freedom Libraries project, please visit

About the National Book Foundation:
The mission of the National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, is to celebrate the best literature published in the United States, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in our culture. The Foundation approaches this work from four programmatic angles: Awards & Honors recognize exceptional authors, advocates, literature, and literary programs; Education & Access initiatives foster a lifelong passion for books in young and adult readers; Public Programs bring acclaimed authors to communities nationwide to engage in conversations about books and showcase the power of literature as a tool for understanding our world; and Service to the Literary Field, provides support to the national literary ecosystem. Information on all of the Foundation’s programs can be found online at

About the Center for Justice Innovation:
The Center for Justice Innovation works with communities and justice systems to advance equity, increase safety, and help individuals and communities thrive. The Center's goal is to identify and resolve as early as possible the challenges that bring people into the criminal and civil legal systems. Since its founding in 1996, the Center has grown to a nationwide organization with more than 800 employees staffing dozens of initiatives in New York, New Jersey, and California, advising practitioners and policymakers across the country and around the world, and conducting research and sharing their expertise with those seeking to transform the justice system.