Skip Navigation
Books for changing the world

Announcing the Writing Freedom Fellowship

This fall, Haymarket Books will launch the Writing Freedom Fellowship, a program to support writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction impacted by the criminal legal system. In its inaugural year, Writing Freedom will grant 20 writers a significant unrestricted award based upon their existing body of work and provide one year of support through mentorship, professional development, and shared learning with writers in their cohort.

Writing Freedom aims to uplift the vital artistic and cultural contributions of system-impacted writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The term “system-impacted” calls attention to the broad reach of the criminal legal system—one of the most inequitable and inhumane structures in our society—beyond formal incarceration. Nearly half of all people in the United States have a family member or a loved one who has spent time in prison or jail. Writing Freedom will support writers who have been directly and indirectly impacted by these carceral institutions. 

The Fellowship seeks to foster writers’ creative practices and build community against the backdrop of a system that is premised on punishment and designed to isolate and often silence personal expression. Writing Freedom Fellows need not have written on themes related to the criminal legal system.

“Haymarket Books remains iron ready for the necessary work of impressing theories, ideas, and stories that have survived/and are surviving the prison industrial complex,” said Mahogany L. Browne, advisory board member and Executive Director of JustMedia. “It is no wonder the heartbeat of this Fellowship beats rapidly, in a serious and meaningful effort to center the voices and celebrate the creative integrity of writers impacted by one of the world's most treatable epidemics: mass incarceration.” 

Joining Haymarket Books and our funders in establishing the Writing Freedom Fellowship is an advisory board of nine writers and advocates: Hanif Abdurraqib, Lawrence Bartley, Mahogany L. Browne, Natalie Diaz, Tayari Jones, Rachel Kushner, Romarilyn Ralston, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Christopher Soto.

Haymarket is building the Writing Freedom Fellowship with support from and in collaboration with the Art for Justice Fund and the Mellon Foundation. Art for Justice, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in partnership with the Ford Foundation, will close this June after six years of supporting artists and advocates to end mass incarceration and envision a future of shared safety for all. Building on its existing history of support for higher education in prison programs, the Mellon Foundation recently launched Imagining Freedom—a $125 million initiative that supports arts, culture, and humanities work that centers the voices and expertise of people directly affected by the U.S. criminal legal system, to deepen a shared understanding of the system, address the damage it causes, and move toward justice.

“I’m grateful to be a part of the network developing and administering this fellowship because it returns some of what bureaucracy and abuse often steal from artists: the time and resources which facilitate the peace of mind crucial to the creative process,” said Maya Marshall, Poetry Editor at Haymarket Books and Professor of Creative Writing at Adelphi University. “Waning time is at the center of all political and creative work, and the carceral system is designed to steal time. Reclaiming one’s own time or granting it to someone else is the ultimate gift.” 

Writing Freedom Fellows will be selected from a pool of candidates nominated by a diverse group of writers and advocates who have been invited into this process. Haymarket will announce the first cohort of Writing Freedom Fellows this fall. 

"Writing is one of the most ancient art forms—and everyone has a story to tell,” said Romarilyn Ralston, advisory board member and Executive Director of Project Rebound. “However, many writers, poets, and truth tellers are silenced, incapacitated, and unsupported—warehoused in prisons like old books on dusty library shelves. The Writing Freedom Fellowship offers people with an incarceration experience and system-impacted individuals the social and financial capital needed to transform their words into masterpieces."

Please reach out to [email protected] with any inquiries.