Innovations in Reading Prize

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

Innovations in Reading logoFrom 2009 to 2020, the National Book Foundation annually 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 has recognized literary activists who share the National Book Foundation’s aims to engage readers from all backgrounds.

The Foundation is not currently accepting applications for the Innovations in Reading Prize.

innovations in reading prize logoThe Foundation announced DIBS for Kids as the winner of the 2020 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. Chosen from a pool of almost one hundred applications, DIBS for Kids is a Nebraska-based literacy nonprofit founded by a former first-grade teacher with the aim of bringing in-home reading opportunities to all 46 elementary schools in the Omaha Public Schools district that have a poverty rate of over 70%.

In addition to the winner, the Innovations in Reading Prize also identifies honorable mentions each year, with a prize of $1,000 awarded to each. This year’s recipients are Bookleggers Library and Libros Para el Viaje, a project of Casa Camino Real bookstore. Both of these organizations reflect growing enthusiasm for community-driven efforts in the literary world.

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


DIBS for Kids, which stands for Delivering Infinite Book Shelves, is an Omaha-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that is leveraging technology to disrupt the cycle of poverty through children’s literacy. Books in the home impact future life outcomes, yet 61% of children growing up in poverty do not have a single age-appropriate book at home. Our Mission is to support Omaha to become the nation’s first large, urban community to ensure that every child, regardless of income, has two things: (1.) Access to a great book to take home every night and (2.) A desire to read that book for fun as a path toward achieving third-grade reading proficiency. To help high-poverty schools achieve our mission, we first fundraise on their behalf to equip their K-3rd grade classrooms with books that students can freely take home each night. From there, DIBS classrooms become especially powerful through our web-based QR-code software which allows students to check those books in and out in a student-led, gamified way without placing an additional burden on teachers. Through these two supports, DIBS helps schools re-imagine the power of in-home reading by sending home an average of 80+ books with each student every school year.

Honorable mentions



Bookleggers is a nonprofit, mobile community library whose mission is to permeate Miami with books. Through programming and installations that place books in unexpected spaces, Bookleggers creates dynamic cultural experiences that increase book access and serve as a conduit for community exchange. Founded in 2012 as Miami’s public library system began facing consistent budgetary cuts and bookstores across the country continued closing. Bookleggers fills a much needed gap for person-to-person literary community in Miami year-round through county-wide, complimentary Bookboxes and monthly cultural events distributing free books.



Libros Para El Viaje/Books for the Journey began in the summer of 2018 as a response to the sequestration of Refugee families. They began to distribute books in Spanish, English, and Portuguese to adults, youth, and children on the U.S./México Border. The program will continue as long as there is a need. Libros Para El Viaje work in collaboration with the American Booksellers Association and with the Border Servant Corps in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Libros Para El Viaje


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.

Applications for the 2020 Innovations in Reading Prize are now closed.

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

Who is eligible?

Individuals and U.S.-based non-profit organizations 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 forms. Forms become available on January 6, 2020 at 9am EST via the National Book Foundation website. The application deadline is February 13, 2020 at 11:59pm EST.

Note: there are two steps and two distinct forms that must be completed as part of the application process; both forms must be submitted by the deadline in order for your application to be complete:

  • Application Registration (administered via Google Forms)
  • Application Narrative (administered via Submittable)

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 the following information and materials:

Application Registration

  • Applicant’s contact information

Application Narrative

  • 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.

West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC)

Oakland International High School (OIHS)

Word Up Community Bookshop

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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