Mellon Foundation Launches ‘Writing Freedom’ Fellowship

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Photo of the interior of a prison with an open cell visible in the foreground

The Mellon Foundation and Haymarket Books announced a new fellowship program this week that will support writers impacted by the criminal justice system.

Known as the Writing Freedom Fellowship, its inaugural cohort of 20 writers – of varying writing styles – have all been impacted by the legal system in some way, including the current or previous incarceration of themselves or a family member. The writers involved are at different stages in their careers and cover a wide range of topics, such as disability, immigration, and HIV/AIDS. Included in the cohort are two individuals directly involved in higher education: Keeonna Harris, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington, and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, a poetry teacher at St. Mary’s College and the Ashland University Low-Residency MFA program. 

Harris’ nonfiction writing focuses largely on the experiences of Black women, drawing from her work as an abolitionist scholar. In addition to his work as a teacher and poet, Castillo helped found Undocupoets, an organization responsible for the removal of citizenship requirements for major poetry awards in the U.S.

The goal of the program is to share the perspectives and voices of justice-impacted individuals and to advocate for change in a system that disproportionately affects communities of color. As part of the fellowship, the writers receive a monetary award and can participate in numerous shared learning, professional development, and mentorship support opportunities. 

“This exceptional group of fellows further reveals the profound literary achievement and vital perspectives of those who have been touched by our country’s carceral system,” said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander.