Freedom libraries designed to liberate the minds of prisoners 

A view of a bookshelf full of books
A bookshelf full of books with colorful covers.
Photo by Pixabay via Pexels

Earlier this summer, the Mellon Foundation — the largest humanities philanthropy in the United States — announced it was shifting its mission to focus more on social justice. It backed up that announcement with a $5.3 million grant to fund a collection of books to be placed in 1,000 prisons and juvenile detention centers across all 50 states.

The Million Book Project was dreamed up by poet and legal scholar Reginald Dwayne Betts. It intends to curate a capsule collection of 500 books — Betts calls them “freedom libraries” — that will include literature, history, poetry and social thought, with an emphasis on books by Black writers and thinkers.

Thursday morning, MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with Betts and Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander about the project and what they hope to accomplish.

Here’s a list of books and authors suggested by Miller, listeners and our guests:



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To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

Correction (Aug. 8, 2020): “The Fifth Agreement” was originally listed under the fiction section. However, it is a work of nonfiction and has been moved to the correct section of the list.