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‘Books Not Bars’ Raising Money to Send Educational Materials to Those Incarcerated

'Books not Bars' logo next to staks of books. Image: Haymarket Books, Alyssa Shotwell

When it comes to book buying, a common credo is an encouragement to buy local and buy indie. This isn’t just pointing to booksellers but also the authors and publishing houses that have the cards stacked against them. One of the most influential indie publishers in the U.S., Haymarket Books, is not just offering a massive discount through the end of the year (40% off all titles), but running an end-of-the-year fundraising push for their Books Not Bars project.

Similar to Noname’s Radical Hood Library, Haymarket’s website states that Books Not Bars is “an effort to support those inside who are dealing with the immense violence of the prison system we want to do what we can to connect people with radical books and opportunities for political education. We have worked for many years with organizations that send books inside, and we are expanding those efforts.”

The money raised in the program goes to cover book costs and shipping. Books Not Bars feature a list of titles that are most desired for those incarcerated, and the subjects vary widely. In celebration of Christmas and other winter holidays, the publisher is aiming to send 500 books as presents to those incarcerated. When this campaign began on November 29, Haymarket had a modest goal of raising $5,000. Just a week in, it’s raised almost three times as much, meaning that roughly three times as many books will be sent out.

Censorship by any means necessary

Four popular titles requested by those incarcerated. Images: Haymarket Books.
(Haymarket Books)

These kinds of programs are not just important because access to reading material and educational programs in prisons lower recidivism rates. It’s also because the extremely liberal censorship of reading material in prisons can be just impactful as the censorship we see in schools and public libraries now. A lot of the same excuses for banning books on history, gender, and race are employed, plus the added cover of claiming a book to be a security risk. Even maps of the moon have been denied.

While there’s certainly a case for some instructional books, fiction books also get hit with the ban hammer, including Shakespeare’s sonnets and the work of Alison Bechdel and Toni Morrison. Even children’s books get banned, like Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons was in Tennessee. In Texas alone, there are 10,000 works banned. This is why it’s so important that Haymarket is working with local groups. They can navigate the complex (and arbitrary) rules in each jurisdiction. Even who is buying/sending the book is a patchwork of laws. In some states, only publishers and bookstores can send them. In other states, bookstores are banned from sending them. In others, only those incarcerated can buy books.

This program is one of many efforts by Haymarket to put the theories offered in many of the left-leaning titles into practice. While I can’t stress enough that this is not just a holiday program but a year-round program, I have to mention that this would make a great gift for those whose interests lie in education, politics, social justice, history, and more. When you donate, you can select to donate in ‘memory’ or ‘honor’ of another person.

Donate to Books Not Bars here, and if you know someone in need, they have a request form, too.

(featured image: Haymarket Books, Alyssa Shotwell)

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(she/her) Award-winning digital artist and blogger with experience and an educational background in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. A resident of the yeeHaw land, she spends most of her time watching movies, playing video games, and reading.