In the weeks before launching the Second Annual Trans Book Drive, Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness, was worried she wouldn’t be able to fund the project. The beneficiaries from the book drive are transgender women and men who are currently incarcerated. Trans people are incarcerated at higher rates than cisgender people, and they endure greater risk of violence while in the prison system. When asked about the drive’s mission, Mock told BuzzFeed News, “We want to show them all these people came to rally around you, we’re thinking about you. We may not know you, but we’re thinking about you, and you’re not forgotten.”
Last year, Mock raised enough money through PayPal to fulfill requests for 127 books for trans prisoners. Despite this accomplishment, she questioned her ability to repeat history. “I was telling my assistant, ‘I don’t think we’re going to make five grand.’ He said, ‘We’ll make it in 30 days, we’ll be fine.’” But Mock continued to fret until launching the campaign the morning of Dec. 1, World AIDS Day. By the end of that first day, the Trans Book Drive, now hosted on IndieGoGo, met the $5,000 goal. Mock was stunned by how quickly the goal was reached. “It was super humbling. I had been planning this campaign for months, thinking about every element. How am I going to put it out? What partnering organizations do I want?” Ultimately, she decided to partner with three organizations: biyuti Publishing, Black Girl Dangerous, and LGBT Books for Prisoners.
In anticipation of the paperback release of Redefining Realness, Mock wanted to use these partnerships as an opportunity to share the spotlight. “These are trans women and trans-publishing spaces — they’re very indie. I thought, How could I elevate their work with the release of my book? And at the same time do well for someone who is behind bars? I wanted to lift everyone up.” In addition to her book, other books inmates may receive are the Black Girl Dangerous anthology by Mia McKenzie, Decolonizing Trans/Gender 101 by b. binaohan, Make Love to Rage by Morgan Robyn Collado, The Summer We Got Free by Mia McKenzie, and Trauma Queen by Lovemme Corazón.
In addition to receiving the books, each prisoner will find a letter from the author included with their respective work. This added touch is important to Mock; she thinks of it as something to help make the packages seem more personal. “We’re all writing one letter, and we’ll scan them and send the letter with the book. The authors will explain why they wrote the book, why they sent it to them, what they hope they get from it. We don’t know your circumstances or why you’re in there, but it doesn’t matter. We hope this makes you feel a little less alone.”
Having grown up in a low-income household, Mock is particularly invested in the life-saving power of books. She notes that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is the book that affected her the most as a young reader. “It was the first book I read where the first person was a young person. Maya discussing things about her body being violated and her silencing herself, I felt those exact same things. I thought, Holy shit! Someone lived through this. And survived!”
So far this year, Mock’s Trans Book Drive has raised $9,238. She is ecstatic. “Initially we were going to send 100 books with the letter and another 100 packages with two books with letters. No, everyone is able to get two books.” With the leftover funds, she will be making an in-kind donation to LGBT Books for Prisoners so they can fulfill incoming requests. Next year, Mock would like to see the Trans Book Drive expand even further. She would like to collaborate with more youth, and hopes to involve the library as well. “Even in New York City, I know the Redefining Realness wait list is so long, there are 50 holds. I want these books to be even more accessible, and I think the library could be a space people can really rally around.”
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