Innovations in Reading Prize

The National Book Foundation’s annual Innovations in Reading Prize awards $10,000 to an individual or organization for developing a project which creates and sustains a lifelong love of reading.

The National Book Foundation announced the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC) as the winner of the 2019 Innovations in Reading Prize, a $10,000 prize annually awarded to an individual or organization that has developed an innovative project that creates and sustains a lifelong love of reading.

In addition to the winner, the Innovations in Reading Prize also identifies honorable mentions each year. This year, two honorable mention organizations will be awarded with $1,500 each to recognize their work. The 2019 honorable mentions are Oakland International High School and Word Up Community Bookshop.

For more details about this year’s winner, the honorable mentions, or the Innovations in Reading Prize, please contact Jordan Smith:


Launched in 2004 as a response to the closing of school libraries in Philadelphia, WePAC works to mobilize nearly 200 volunteers to reopen and staff libraries in the area, serving more than 5,000 students and promoting positive reading habits with weekly library programming and special events.

With a focus on supporting literacy development, closing the gap between the resources available to Philadelphia public school students and those in neighboring districts, and sharing the joy of reading through the offering of high-quality books and programs, WePAC approaches each school library reopening with the goal of providing regular, sustainable library access for students. Working in under-resourced schools, WePAC coordinates the stocking of library books, the staffing of each location with committed volunteers, and the programming of special events that connect kids with authors, illustrators, local professionals, and others able to speak to the excitement and power of reading, highlighting the importance of literacy skills for future success.

Honorable mentions:


Oakland International High School (OIHS), whose student body is made up entirely of newly arrived immigrant and refugee students, partners its junior class with local elementary school students for a specialized reading curriculum that encourages the critical analysis of texts while also providing a comfortable space for high school students to sharpen their English, reading, and comprehension skills.


Seven Stories Institute’s Word Up Community Bookshop is a volunteer-run, multilingual community bookshop and arts space in Washington Heights, New York City that works through literature to spark dialogue, cultivate education, and inspire community in neighborhoods without easy access to books.

Each year, the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize awards $10,000 to an individual or organization that has developed an innovative project which creates and sustains a lifelong love of reading in the community they serve. In addition, the Foundation recognizes up to four projects to receive the designation of honorable mention.

The online application for the 2020 Innovations in Reading Prize will open at 9am EST on January 6, 2020. Applications are due by 11:59pm EST on February 13, 2020.

If you have questions, please contact Jordan Smith at or call 212.685.0261.

Who is eligible?

All U.S. citizens and non-profit organizations with 501c3 status are eligible for this prize. Previous winners can apply for new initiatives.

What is the prize?

  • There are up to four honorable mentions, and one winner of a $10,000 prize
  • Announcements via the press, social media, our newsletter, and on the NBF website
  • Invitation to present at National Book Foundation’s annual Why Reading Matters conference (next conference slated for June 2020; details forthcoming).

What are we looking for?

Applicants should:

  • Share the National Book Foundation’s mission to expand the audience for literature in America;
  • Focus on reading, and not exclusively literacy skills;
  • Demonstrate innovation in mission, approach, and/or audience/community served;
  • Apply for an existing program/project/initiative with evidence of success—as Innovations in Reading is a prize and not a grant, the goal is to reward work already underway, encouraging it to continue and/or expand.

We strongly encourage applicants to read about past winners to get a sense of programs we support.

How is a winner chosen?

Each year, National Book Foundation assembles a panel of literary professionals to serve as reviewers. Applications are reviewed by the panel, who select a set of finalists. Finalists are then presented to the National Book Foundation Board of Directors for final selections.

The 2020 winner and honorable mentions will be announced the first week of May.

How do I apply?

Complete the online application form. This form becomes available on January 6, 2020 at 9am EST.

You may submit your own application, or nominate an organization or individual’s project (please notify the nominee you are submitting an application for the Innovations in Reading Prize on their behalf).

You will need:

  • Contact information and organizational details
  • Two reference letters from individuals familiar with the work of the applicant (if you are nominating an organization or individual, you can write one of the reference letters)
  • Two short narratives (each 1,000 words or less) that describe:
    • Mission & History, including: mission statement, the year the organization or project was founded, staff size, number of people served annually, and annual operating budget.
    • Project Narrative, including: project name and description, information about the community served, and a detailed description of how the project creates and sustains a love of reading in your community in an innovative way.

Please direct any questions about the application process to Jordan Smith,

To stay up-to-date with Innovations in Reading news, please subscribe to our newsletter.

Innovations in Reading logoSince 2009, the National Book Foundation has awarded the Innovations in Reading Prize to an individual or organization that inspires readers and engages new audiences with literature. From bicycle-powered libraries that serve Portland, OR’s homeless community to empowering Harry Potter fans to build libraries around the world, the Innovations in Reading Prize recognizes literary activists who share the National Book Foundation’s aims to engage readers from all backgrounds.

Each spring, the Foundation’s Board of Directors names one $10,000 winner, as well as up to four projects for honorable mentions.

Applications for the 2020 Innovations in Reading Prize will open at 9am on January 6, 2020. Applications are due by 11:59pm EST on February 13, 2020.

The Academy of American Poets, Teach This Poem project

Appalachian Prison Book Project

Friends of the Homer Library

Jewish Women International’s National Library Initiative

Words Without Borders Campus

Barbershop Books


Great Reading Games

Poetry in Motion

Reach Out and Read

Next Chapter Book Club

The Harry Potter Alliance

LGBT Books to Prisoners

Limitless Libraries

Traveling Stories

Reach Incorporated

African Poetry Book Fund

Call Me Ishmael

Lambda Literary


Blue Star Families’ Books on Bases

Books for Kids

Chicago Books to Women in Prison

Hopa Mountain’s StoryMakers

Las Comadres Para Las Americas

Little Free Library

The Uni Project

Reading is the Way Up

The Uprise Books Project



Lilli Leight

Literacy Chicago's Reading Against the Odds

Real Men Read Storytime and Mentoring

Street Books

Electric Literature

Kore Press

My Own Book


826 Valencia


Free Minds

Mount Olive Baptist Church

United Through Reading

James Patterson’s Read Kiddo Read

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