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About Reading Work

Reading Work is a daily method.
Reading Work is a nonlinear form.

Reading Work ties together a daily practice of reading as compensated labor in tandem with art production, group conversations and other contemplations. The making of the work is structured around the outreach to individuals of every level of our society; including those impacted by the carceral system, artists, organizers, actors, writers and complex thinkers and makers who are already engaged with a multitude of transformative world making practices. The project also holds space for those who simply wish to be in dialogue and respond with the reading materials and the site’s content.

Reading Work is designed to shed the dominance of a patriarchal voice, even inside of artistic, abolitionist, literary, and creative circles. This work is molded by Black, Queer, and Trans persons both inside and outside of prison, alongside supporters and everyday people. Additionally, this work undoes bureaucratic structures by providing precarious individuals with immediate resources; consistently distributing funds to individuals for their reading and response efforts. 

Each book is the story – how many stories can we share and tell together, how many books? Here we ask, how do we present daily meditations centered around collective reading, art making, defining terms and forward momentum towards reparative frameworks and holistic understanding and towards a holistic human source of self regard?

Shifting conditions requires consistent work and new world making. It requires contemplation, meditation and incremental behavioral changes. It also requires engaging those who have firm definitions regarding transformation and those who are not as convinced. Reading Work centers individuals in the United States with an aim to reach individuals in all 50 states, and especially those who have touched the edges of and or have been impacted by the varying layers of incarceration. We meet individuals where they are now through readings that range from widely imaginative new frameworks to the logistics of incarceration, slavery and Indigenous land theft.

This project envisions laboring for resources transformed to a practice of compensating the work of reading and compensating time invested in reading, thinking, reflecting and responding to complex ideas. For those who labor physically, how do we materially support hours traded away from physical labor towards the labor of reading and working through creativity and where one is right now – thus the title Reading Work.

Reading Work is a Project from Xaviera Simmons Studio

Xaviera Simmons engages her sweeping practice of photography, painting, video, sound, sculpture, and installation to explore the construction of landscape, language, and complex histories in the United States and its continuing push at empire building on a global scale. Simmons’ work is exhibited nationally and internationally and belongs to major museum and private collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Deutsche Bank, New York; UBS, New York; The Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Agnes Gund Art Collection, New York; The De La Cruz Collection, Miami, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Studio Museum in Harlem; ICA Miami; Perez Art Museum Miami; The Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro; The Nasher Museum of Art, Durham; The High Museum, Atlanta; among others. 

Simmons received her BFA from Bard College (2004) after spending two years on a walking pilgrimage retracing the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade with Buddhist Monks.  She completed the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program in Studio Art while simultaneously completing a two-year actor-training conservatory with The Maggie Flanigan Studio. She has held teaching positions at Columbia, Yale and Harvard Universities.  Simmons was awarded The Charles Flint Kellogg Award in Arts and Letters from Bard College in Spring 2020, among many honors. Simmons currently has works on view throughout the United States and Europe through 2025.

Reading Work is supported by project director and artist Jesse Erin. Jesse specializes in the creation of live experiences, conducting collaborative projects that create relationships between strangers, spark exchange and influence public space. 

Season One Core Artists

Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter
Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist who creates socially conscious music, film, and visual art through an autobiographical lens. Although it has been nearly 2 decades since her release from a Pennsylvania prison, Mary’s time spent on the inside continues to shape the direction of her art and practice. Her entertaining but poignant works offer a critical perspective on the particular challenges women of color face when they become immersed in the criminal justice system. In 2023, Baxter opened her first solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum entitled, Ain’t I a Woman. Baxter’s work has also been exhibited at venues including MoMA PS1, African American Museum of Philadelphia, Frieze LA, Eastern State Penitentiary, Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury Vermont, Martos Gallery, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Brown University, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

Ms. Baxter is a 2017 Right of Return Fellow, 2018- 2019 Mural Arts Philadelphia Reimagining Reentry Fellow, 2019 Leeway Foundation Transformation Awardee, 2021 Ed Trust Justice Fellow, 2021 SheaMoisture and GOOD MIRRORS Emerging Visionary grantee, 2021 Frieze Impact Prize award winner, 2022 S.O.U.R.C.E Studio Corrina Mehiel Fellow, 2022 Art 4 Justice grantee partner and 2022 Pratt Forward Fellow and 2022 Artist2Artist Art Matters foundation grantee and grantor. 

Akeil Robertson-Jowers
Akeil Robertson-Jowers is an artist, educator, curator, student, returning citizen, and active member of the reentry community. Akeil is an ambassador and a skilled communicator able to bridge the gap between disparate peoples. Akeil is deft at navigating the intersection of social analysis and empirical observations derived from lived experiences. His unique position as both an insider and critic gives him the ability to offer opinions and insights not previously gleaned. Akeil is an multimedia artist, able to extend those skills to all he comes in contact with and uses these skills to create maps, prose, and bridges toward new thoughts and practices in criminal justice thinking and solutions.

Akeil’s practice is based and steeped in an idea that critical thinking is central to the way forward. Shying away from easy answers or binaries that separate and divide our communities on opposite sides of a restorative justice framework, in his work and scholarship Akeil seeks to take an honest look the intersections we all share and help us form bonds that encourage the will remove barriers in our ability to find common ground. Akeil is studying at Villanova University where he has a full scholarship to pursue his degree in the Liberal Arts. Akeil has been a partner in several projects including the Inaugural Philadelphia District Attorney Office Artists in Residency, Reading Work and Art For Justice Led Collaborative Web Project to forward Abolition Studies, and Assistant Muralist of Several Years. Akeil’s primary mode of Artistry is photography and he uses his camera to focus on and exalt humanity in a vision that we all deserve to celebrated as the heroes we are in our own right.

James ‘Yaya” Hough
Working in ballpoint pen, pencil, and watercolor, often on the backs of bureaucratic prison forms, James “Yaya” Hough’s work conveys the burdens of incarcerated life, revealing not only the brutal reach of the carceral system, but laying bare its affects. Sentenced to life without parole in 1992, Hough went to prison at age 17; after 27 years, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that such sentences for juveniles is unconstitutional, and Hough was released. The artist, both independently, and as a member of a network of other artists who share a similar history, is one of the key voices working at the intersection of art and the criminal justice system today.  His work was included in Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, curated by Nicole R. Fleetwood, which opened at MoMA PS1, New York, and traveled to the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts, Birmingham, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati.

Jesse Erin
Jesse Erin is a director and organizer specializing in the creation of live experiences. She conducts collaborative projects that create relationships between strangers, spark exchange and influence public space. In the theater of the real, combining her political training with her background in art, she works with groups to collectively imagine and enact interactive public actions, such as campaigns (like Resistance School, Oak Creek Village and the Innovation School Project) and devised immersive theater / participatory performance art (like Push Thru, Now! Now! Neverland! and Ballenarca). She is a Live Arts Boston grantee as well as a New England Foundation for the Arts Creative City grantee for The Way We Live Now, a public art / public health project. In addition to directing and organizing, she works as a visual and performing artist.

Season One: Contemplating the Mechanics of the Carceral State and New Imaginings

This multi faceted project engages hundreds of people across the United States. Participants receive books from the project’s theme at no cost and are provided a stipend for responses created and collected. Artists and responders to Reading Work reacted to conditions of the carceral system, the construction of race, gender and whiteness, and the need for reparations and repair. The group laid groundwork for inventive seasons of imagination, experimentation and new visions for a holistically liberated way of life.

Season Two will continue to expand this offering of ideas, conversation and resources. Reading Work will invite thinkers across all 50 United States and its surrounding territories to not only contemplate the logistics of incarceration and “abolition”; but also engage in individual and collective holistic practices that will be shared as a daily practice and contemplation on this website from 2024-2025.

Participants and Responders in Season One

A’miyah Williams • Aabidah Muhammad • Abby Pierce • Abigail Mariam • Adrienne McCauley MacInnes  • Alan White • Alana Baum • Alexandra Martinez • Alicia Marshall • Ana S Pierre-Louis • Anandi L Gangaram • Anastatia Starr Abraham  • Andrea Walls • Angela Harris • Angela Johnson  • Angie Benge • Aniyah Lee • Anonymous  • Antoine Spruill  • Anwulika Okafor • Atrian Wagner • Ave Gould  • Ayeola Omolara Kaplan • Barbara Pleas • Black the Creator • Brianna Wallace • Cadeatra Harvey aka The Creator C • Camila Pareto • Car’Reisha Headen • Carol Mitchell • Catie Lawson • Cecelia Hamilton • Charlyn/Magdaline Griffith/Oro • Chelsea Ray • Chris Pounds • Chrissy Crenshaw • Christina Tran • Chyna Woody  • Claude Rushia • Corenia Smith • Corey Oden • Cynthia Kenderson • Darlene Sanders • Darnelle Chambers • Daroneshia Duncan-Boyd • Dawne Young • Day Watson • Deanna Hamilton  • DeAris Greenidge • Deborah Pretlow • Denice Williams • Denise Lewis • Dev Luthra • Dominique London • Donald Tavares • Donna Harati • Dr. Ravi Shankar • Dumichael • Elias Kubiak • Elizabeth Lancaster Breeden • Elizabeth Lorraine Mitchell • Elle Kim • Erica Olivencia • Genelle Faulkner • Ginger • Gonzalo Escobar Mora • Gretchen Bailey • Hannah Brown • Hendrix Berry • Ian White • Iyo Aghedo • Jacey Eve Rubinstein • Jada Carter aka Jaquarious Washington • JaiLyn Consenta • Jamel T Marshall • Jamila Batts Capitman • Janet Nguye • Janice McKie • Javis Jackson • Jazmyne Gallegos • Jeanne Hubbuch • Jennifer Berry • Jennifer Mancuso • Jerome Link • Jerry McCorkle • Jino angelo • Joie Ha • Jonathan Tarleton • Jordan D Dickerson • Josh Hall • Juan H. Perez • Jude Glaubman • Julie Murphy • June Handy • Justin • Kamora Lee • Kate Martin Mytty • Kathy Lebron • Kay-Ann Henry • Kean O’Brien • Kelly Forbes • Kelly Marshall • Kendall Allison • Keri Akemi-Hernandez • Kerri Guarascio • Kim C. Banton • Kimberly Uresk • Kimya Loder • Kristy Robinson • Latasha Crawford • Lisa McCorkle • LJ Boswell • Logan Boyd • Lou Crockett • Luz Estrella Cruz • Lynne Sullivan • Magpie Scheel • Mahogany Toney • Maia Dolphin-Krute • Makshya Tolbert • Marcel Woodruff • Maya S Malik • Melissa Nussbaum • Michael Corzen • Michelle Aguirre • Michelle Winbush • Misty Noiles • Mitzi Goins • Morgan Bailey • Mshairi Siyanda • Nadia Wolff • Narada White • Nathan Velasco • NIchole D’Esposito  • Nichole Penney • Niki Franco • Noemi Saafyr Paz • Nycola Hayes • Nygia Phifer • Olivia Hull • Olu Niyi-Awosusi • Pam Estepa • Pamela Starks • Peaches Croskey • Peter Handy • Princeton Mason • Rachel Gelfand • Rachel Rimm • Rachel Starks • Raven Mallett • Raven Ziegler • RDK • Rebeca Acosta • Rebecca Gray • Regina Daughtry • Renita Phifer • Rev. Susan Smith • Ricardo A. Reyna • Rick Urben • Rita McCorkle • Rob Davis • Robyn Barcomb • Roz Freeman • Ruth Boyajian • Sabrina Beydoun • Sabrina Diaz • Sade • Sandhya Krishnaswamy • Sandra Morris • Sara Sargent • Sarah O’Malley • Seth Pinckney • Shameka Green • Shari Berk • Shoshana Alexander-Daniels • Sudara Herndon • Suezanne P.  Bruce-Tavares • Sydni Lewis • Tameeka W. Cowley • Tamieka Pearson • Tanisha Rodriguez • Tanya Scruggs Ford • Tatiana Rodriguez • Terie Starks • Teryy Mckinney • Ti’Aira Davis • Tina Terranova • Tracy Mack • Trent Andersen • Troy Veal • Tyran Robinson • Valerie Dunne • Valerie Gambrell • Veronica Crance • Wytesha J Lawrence • Xochitl Duran • Zak • Zulay Holland

Reading Work Season One includes responses from individuals in 26 states

Alabama • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Florida • Georgia • Illinois • Kentucky • Louisiana • Maine • Maryland • Massachusetts • Minnesota • Missouri • Nevada • New York • North Carolina • Ohio • Oregon • Pennsylvania • Rhode Island • South Dakota • Texas • Virginia • Washington

Contribute to the formation of Season Two of Reading Work

In this project we pay people to read and respond to selected books. Your support provides a stipend and a book for participants who will engage in Reading Work Season Two.

In 2024 Season One of Reading Work will transform into Season Two where having a foundation of contemporary “abolitionist” thinking and strategies we will engage texts that point us to what is needed on the individual, group and systemic level to enact measures of transformation within our systems.

Seasons Two will add a set of texts in book and audio form for an active response and inspiration surrounding the foundations of a just life. Imaginings, writings and creative projects around nutrition, mental and physical health as well as other modes of non-extractive and personal care fortified by mutual aid and the dynamics of stabilizing the home in various ways will be foundational to this season. How can we digest the conversations on the other side of our wildly creative imaginative thinking, reading and making while also fortifying our mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing? This all through the practice of compensated reading and responding.

Add financial resources to Reading Work Season 2:

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To mail a check or for other arrangements to provide resources please contact: [email protected]

Accessibility Note

The content of each day’s post comes from far and wide in many forms. We are working toward making this site and the ideas presented accessible in every way possible. If there are any accessibility needs that are not being met for you please contact us: [email protected]


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