On any given day in the United States in 2018, nearly 2.3 million people are incarcerated. Our country is the largest jailer in the world. On September 27, the National Book Foundation announced the establishment of its new Literature for Justice program (LFJ), which will highlight 15 contemporary books that contextualize the mass incarceration crisis over the next three years. This year's five titles are listed below.
Since 1978, the United States' prison population has risen over 400 percent, according to the ACLU. While mass incarceration is a reality that many know to be true, it's a topic rarely covered at length in schools or even in every day conversation. We know people go to prison, but we don't always understand why. Or how many, really, are behind bars.
“Many of us will never know firsthand the realities of incarceration, but it’s our responsibility as citizens in the world to actively pursue an understanding of those experiences,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, in a press release. “Comprising multiple genres and myriad perspectives, these works of literature are able to shed light on the lives of others, enriching our understanding of very personal histories and the ways in which mass incarceration impacts them.”
The books, chosen by a five-person committee (Lost Empress author Sergio de la Pava, Locking Up Our Own author James Forman Jr., The Residue Years author Mitchell S. Jackson, The Mars Room author Rachel Kushner, and Blood in the Water author Dr. Heather Ann Thompson) work in tandem to not just provide facts on the prison crisis, but to contextualize it and to humanize it. This year, the committee has selected a collection of poetry, a memoir, an epistolary novel, a history outline, and an essay collection.
The LFJ program is part of a three-year campaign intended to build a library of diverse literature around the topic of mass incarceration. Each year, a new five-person committee will select and publicize a five-book capsule collection. Check out 2018's list below.