May 25, 2022

Mellon Foundation Announces $5.25 Million Grant For “Million Book Project, New Initiative Will Provide a Curated 500-Book Collection to 1000 Prisons in U.S.

From the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

Following The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s major strategic evolution announcement prioritizing social justice in all of its grantmaking, Mellon and Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory announced today a new initiative to distribute a curated 500-book collection to 1,000 medium and maximum security prisons, including at least one juvenile detention center, across every state in the United States over the next three and a half years. The Mellon Foundation’s $5.25 million grant will fund the Million Book Project, hosted at Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory, which aims to transform the role of literature and libraries in the lives of people in prison. This marks the first major grant since the announcement of the Foundation’s new strategic plan to increase philanthropic efforts for the arts and humanities through a distinct lens of social justice.


With Mellon’s support, the Million Book Project will produce a curated 500-book capsule collection, which will include poetry, literature, history and social thought, with significant representation of Black writers and thinkers whose work offers knowledge and analysis of society’s injustices, a diverse range of life stories, and visions of a more just society.

The Million Book Project will then place the collection in 1,000 prisons and juvenile detention centers across all 50 states, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. The project will also recruit 52 writers and scholars to serve as project ambassadors for the project who will then participate in a nationwide reading series across the prison facilities. Additionally, artist Titus Kaphar will be commissioned to create a sculptural bookshelf that will be replicated and house the first set of 500 books; the sculpture will encourage viewers to imagine this literary collection inside a prison cell.


The Million Book Project’s aim is to activate this initiative in each state at:
• all medium and maximum-security men’s state prison facilities
• all women’s state prison facilities
• at least one juvenile detention center

Learn More, Read the Complete Funding Announcement

More From The NY Times:

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the largest humanities philanthropy in the United States, announced Tuesday that it is adjusting its mission to give greater emphasis in its grant-giving to programs that promote social justice.

The strategic refocus was approved by the foundation’s board earlier this month at the same meeting at which it authorized spending for an initiative born of the new ethos — a $5.3 million program to distribute large, curated collections of books to prisons across the country.


As one example of what that larger shift in the foundation’s emphasis will mean, Dr. Alexander said it would begin putting more resources into public libraries and community archives in addition to university and research libraries.

Learn More, Read the Complete Article

See Also: The Mellon Foundation Announces Transformation of its Strategic Direction and New Focus on Social Justice

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.