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The Brink Literacy Project

By Francesca Harnett, Natalie Klinkenberg, Chloë Marshall and Alice Fusai

 

The Brink Literacy Project started life as a website, under the name Tethered By Letters, in 2007. Chief Executive and Founder, Dani Hedlund, initially aimed to offer writers free educational resources, but the project has since evolved into a global community, spearheading a range of initiatives to promote literacy and to provide access to storytelling within marginalised populations. In 2015, the team decided to up the pace: developing education programs targeted specifically at those on the “brink,” they hoped to use storytelling as a tool for empowerment and a trigger for positive change. Today, Brink organises multiple social projects focused on education, community outreach, and publishing, inspired by the belief that “literacy is more than the ability to read and write.”

 

Although they do accept donations through their website, Brink’s creative funding strategies such as their Kickstarter project The Literary Tarot demonstrate their effort to engage new audiences and to develop innovative approaches to storytelling. Through their triannual literary journal, F(r)iction, their Frames Prison Program, and their online publishing internship program, The Brink aims to target illiteracy through the accessibility to and cultivation of storytelling amongst low-literacy, low-income, and marginalised populations. Further, they partner with universities and other humanitarian and literary organisations, extending their outreach to those with important experience and connections.

 

Founded primarily to address low literacy rates, Brink’s efforts largely focus on educational outreach programs. Ranging from professional internships geared to make industry connections easier for underrepresented groups, to writer mentorships offering free online resources to aspiring artists, Brink emphasises guidance and education. As the non-profit has expanded, new programmes have emerged, such as the educational fellowships that started in 2022. These two six-month fellowships offer fellows the opportunity to spearhead the implementation of the Frames Prison Program and F(r)iction in the classroom.

 

While all of Brink’s educational programmes have merit, their most prominent is the Frames Prison Programme. After growing concerned about the high correlation between incarceration rates, low literacy rates and re-offending, Brink's CEO Dani Headland set out to revolutionise the system. Abandoning the traditional approach of literacy programs in prisons, she structured her sessions around the prison library's most checked-out books: comics. Within the first year, Brink’s classes had waiting lists, and after a further year of growth, Headland was invited to bring these lessons to Scottish prisons. Beyond basic education, these sessions create spaces for prisoners to reflect and reinvent themselves. Currently, Brinks is in the process of publishing a Prison Comic Anthology to give incarcerated persons a tangible copy of their achievements and to increase awareness.

 

The project also boasts its very own literary imprint F(r)iction. In a world where conventional literature is losing its grip, F(r)iction emerges as a beacon of literary innovation. This literary magazine, published three times a year, is not just a collection of stories; it's a platform for emerging voices, a catalyst for genre-bending creativity, and a tool for fostering literacy in underserved communities. F(r)iction embraces the new, the weird, and the unconventional, pushing the boundaries of literary conventions and advocating for diverse and under-represented voices. With its stunning full-colour illustrations and captivating visual experiences, F(r)iction aims to revitalise the reading experience and ignite thought-provoking conversations.

 

The imprint boasts an impressive spectrum of genres encompassing traditional literary fiction, speculative fiction, or genre-bending sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. They accept short stories, flash fiction, poetry, essays, creative nonfiction, and short comics but there is one rule of thumb the writing must challenge the mainstream assumptions about our world. Most importantly, the imprint is used as a primary teaching tool to address readers who otherwise would not have been able to access this rich variety and quality of content.

 

Since the very beginning of the nonprofit, as stated on their website, Hedlund’s belief was that “storytelling can empower people and change lives.” Through its initiatives, it’s clear that the Brink Literacy Project has in fact devoted itself to that belief, empowering others to be able to tell their own stories and create a positive impact on their lives. The Frames Prison Program helps strengthen participants' writing and reading skills despite their current proficiency, allowing them to learn skills throughout the graphic memoir course that they can use for their own personal goals. Brink has partnered with the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver, giving students the opportunity to become instructors within the Frames Prison Program, opening doors to expand the program to other locations to help provide resources to a wider community of people. With their imprint F(r)iction, Brink shows how important publishing is and why it matters; they have given those who would have never had the chance to share their stories to do just that, letting their hardships and perseverance spread to readers and writers all around the world, connecting people together through the power of words.

 

Brink has shown that everyone deserves to be able to share their stories, proving how important the ability to do so is in creating safe and supportive communities for underserved communities. Through their efforts, Brink has solidified itself as a reputable program to uplift people on the brink, and they will continue to make their mark on the world by bringing together communities to foster a love for storytelling.

 

 

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