EXCLUSIVE: Insecure star Jay Ellis is behind a new podcast series that will aim to give voice to formerly incarcerated young authors.
Written Off will feature the likes of John Legend, Issa Rae and Randall Park reading the works of these young authors.
In each episode, former New York Times reporter Walter Thompson-Hernández, who also previously hosted the California Love podcast, will interview young people who wrote stories and poems while locked up in the U.S. prison system before a star performs their work.
Yvonne Orji, Keke Palmer, Karamo Brown, Julio Torres, and Jesse Williams are also involved.
Around 4,000 youth are incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States and America leads the world in locking up young people. The series kicks off with Fresh Off The Boat and WandaVision star Randall Park. Listen to the trailer below.
The series will be produced by Black Bar Mitzvah, the production company set up by Ellis and Aaron Bergman, and Lemonada Media, the company set up by Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer and behind podcasts such as Good Sex and Our America with Julian Castro.
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The 13-part series, which will launch on July 14, will also feature an original soundtrack composed by Xander Singh of indie-electronica band Passion Pit. Each episode features the theme song and an individual composition inspired by the author and story told in that episode. The artwork for the podcast was created by painter Russell Craig, a self-taught artist who survived nearly a decade of incarceration after growing up in the foster care system
“So many times, I hear folks say they’re looking for new storytellers and don’t know where to find them. Storytellers are all around us, and in this case, we are bringing stories from voices who have been impacted by the system and are often overlooked because of their past,” said Jay Ellis. “It is an honor, a privilege, and a joy to be able to bring their beautiful writing to everyone in the world and have some of my friends be the voices that read their work. I’ve been a fan of Walter Thompson-Hernández’s work for years, and the minute we met, I was like, ‘Yo, we’re gonna be best friends and we’re going to work together every single day.’ We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect host, voice, point of view, and connection to our writers.”
“I believe this series will help to drastically erase the stigma surrounding formerly incarcerated people,” said Walter Thompson-Hernández. “As a former youth offender, hearing the stories, poems and art that our interviewees have shared speaks volumes to the idea that a criminal record shouldn’t erase any person’s humanity. For me, Written Off means going back to my early teenage self and reminding him that I was always more than what society perceived me to be.”
“Our commitment to creating platforms for the unheard drives us every day,” said Lemonada Media CEO and executive producer Jessica Cordova Kramer. “I nurtured young writers as a teacher,” added Chief Creative Officer Stephanie Wittels Wachs, “and these authors are some of the most talented individuals. It’s an honor to bring their voices to the forefront through this podcast.”
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