November 20, 2017

A new, $500,000 grant will help the University of Arizona Poetry Center fight mass incarceration


Final Jeopardy time: The clue is, “This tool of white supremacy is the greatest evil in American society today.” Savvy contestants will likely respond, “What is mass incarceration, Alex?” Perhaps it would have to be run by the show’s off-screen judges, but I think they’d rightly decide that because mass incarceration lies at the intersection of the other top three evils, it’s a pretty good answer.

So it is heartening to see the literary community engaging in ongoing efforts to combat the insidious overreach of the penal system.

As a particularly sweet example, last week we wrote about  how The New Inquiry has teamed up with the Bronx Freedom Fund on an app called Bail Bloc. Users download the app and allow it to spin a bit of their phone’s processing power into the cryptocurrency known as Monero. The Monero gets converted to dinero and donated to the Bronx Freedom Fund, when it’s disbursed defendants who can’t post bail.

That inspired project was made possible by a grant from the Art for Justice Fund. But Bail Bloc represents just one of the projects to flower from an Art for Justice Fund grant (the organization has given thirty such grants).

The fund has donated another $500,000 to the University of Arizona Poetry Center. According to the University’s announcement, the money will be aimed squarely at that #1 evil in our country

The grant will fund a three-year project that will comission new work from leading writers in conversation with the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States, with the goal of creating new awareness and empathy through presentation and publication.  In particular, through the work of leading poets, the project will seek to confront racial inequities within the criminal justice system to promote social justice and change.

The U of A Poetry Center is no stranger to this type of work. They have spearheaded the Arizona Prison Writing Programand have worked to bring readings and workshops to detention centers in other ways. God Bless the Art for Justice Fund, and God Bless The U of A.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.