News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Dallas bookstore owner wanted to engage inmates in reading. A national book prize was the result

The new Inside Literary Prize hopes to encourage reading and talking about books among inmates
Ann Kosolapova
The new Inside Literary Prize hopes to encourage reading and talking about books among inmates

Lori Feathers, co-owner of Interabang Books in Dallas, has now been involved in creating two national book awards.

The latest is the Inside Literary Prize, an award to be chosen by prison inmates. The creation of the prize was just announced this week by its founders: the Center for Justice Innovation, which offers resources and support to underserved communities; Freedom Reads, a nonprofit that builds libraries and supplies books to prisons, and the National Book Foundation, presenters of the National Book Awards.

But the original impulse was Feathers'. She read about the creation, last year, of the Goncourt des détenus (the inmates’ Goncourt), which was developed by France's highest literary honor, the Prix Goncourt.

"I thought it was such a wonderful idea, an inspired idea," she said. "And I happened to have a friend in New York who's a senior fellow at the Center for Justice Innovation. And I just sent the article to him and I said, 'You know, would you like to talk with me about whether anything this crazy and and inspired could happen in the U.S.?'"

Feathers' previous involvement with literary awards was the creation of the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, which she established in 2021 to bring attention to those publishers who generally aren't included in major literary affairs — like the National Book Awards. Feathers said the next round of the Republic of Consciousness Prize will be in March when the newest winners will be announced.

Lori Feathers, co-owner of Interabang Books.
Hoyoung Lee
Lori Feathers
Lori Feathers, co-owner of Interabang Books.

Eventually, Feathers took her prison book awards idea to Ruth Dickey, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, and to Reginald Dwayne Betts, the founder of Freedom Reads.

The book jury will be made up of 300 currently incarcerated people in six states (Texas is not one of them — they are Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri and North Carolina). The 12 prisons include both men's and women's facilities.

The plan isn't simply for Freedom Reads to hand out books to prisoners. This spring, organizers will visit the prisons to lead discussions, oversee the voting and host readings with acclaimed authors. Copies of the books will also be given to prison staff, the better to encourage conversation about them.

"We want to bring inmates into the national dialogue," Feathers said, "a conversation like we all do in our daily lives, talking about which movies we like, which TV shows, what books are good."

The books are drawn from authors previously honored by the National Book Awards: The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty,The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry and Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves.

The prize organizers are using last year's NBA list because the books have all been released in paperback. Only paperbacks are permitted in many prisons because hardbacks can be used to smuggle items.

Feathers hopes the prize will also have a beneficial effect outside prison walls.

"It's also," she said, "frankly, to raise our public awareness in this country about the experience of incarceration and the ways that people in prisons, they're part of our humanity."

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.

KERA Arts is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The University of Dallas at Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.