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With Books and New Focus, Mellon Foundation to Foster Social Equity

Mr. Betts, who has now published three collections of poetry and a memoir, is running the books project with the Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory, an organization focused on criminal justice reform. He and Elizabeth Hinton, a professor of history, African-American studies and law at Yale, will select the 500 books that will be sent to medium and maximum security prisons in all 50 states, as well as Washington and Puerto Rico. The project will also involve a group of writers giving readings in the prisons.

They plan to seek recommendations from an advisory committee of experts in various fields and ask them three key questions: What books profoundly changed your life? What books must exist for your expertise to exist? And what books did you have to read to become the person that you are? (Knowing that he would like to include some children’s books in the collection, Mr. Betts also plans to consult his 8- and 12-year-old old sons as sort of ex officio members of the curatorial team.)

The list will likely be finished in about six months, Mr. Betts said. Right now, Dr. Hinton said that she and Mr. Betts have a shared Google doc where they are compiling titles. Both of them agree that W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Black Reconstruction in America” should be on the list. Mr. Betts also sees “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison as a necessary part of the collection; Dr. Hinton would like Ann Petry’s “The Street” and Octavia E. Butler’s “Kindred” on there.

“Beyond the impact of reading and books on an individual, we’re hoping that this project helps build community and creates new conversations between people on the inside,” said Dr. Hinton, who wrote a Article source:

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