Barbershop Books Receives 2017 Innovations in Reading Prize

Alvin Irby at the front of a barbershopBarbershop Books, a community-based reading program founded by 2007 Alvin Irby ’07, has been awarded the 2017 Innovations in Reading Prize.

Barbershop Books, which creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops, helps black boys ages 4-8 identify as readers by involving men in boys' early reading experiences. By providing year-round access to culturally relevant, age-appropriate, gender-responsive children’s books in a traditionally male space, Irby hopes to expand book access for and increase out-of-school time reading among young black boys.

The National Book Foundation, with support from the Levenger Foundation, awards the prize annually to an individual or organization discovering new ways to empower communities through literature.

Barbershop Books will receive a $10,000 prize and will be recognized at the second annual Why Reading Matters conference on June 15 in New York City.

Over the past 2 years, Barbershop Books, based in Harlem, New York, has transformed 50 barbershops into community spaces that support positive early reading experiences for boys in 20 cities across 12 states.

"Winning the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize is a tremendous honor for Barbershop Books and for everyone who has supported our work," says Irby, a resident of New York City.

The National Book Foundation has given out the Innovations in Reading Prize since 2009. The foundation works to identify individuals and organizations that have made major local, national, and international contributions to readers. Irby is one of more than a dozen winners since the award’s inception.

Irby says he will use the $10,000 that comes with the prize to expand Barbershop Books to 10 barbershops in his hometown of Little Rock, the state capital of Arkansas. Irby plans to work on the expansion with Charles Blake ’05 who represents district 36 in the Arkansas House of Representatives. The district encompasses a portion of Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock. 

In collaboration with Irby, Blake will organize a local coalition to implement the program in 10 barbershops in Little Rock by the end of the summer. Barbershop Books will provide the books and bookshelves, as well as training for local barbers.

Irby, who will celebrate his 10-year reunion this June, has been invited to speak as part of a panel discussion during Alumni Weekend. The discussion is titled "Starting from Scratch: How Grinnellians Turned Their Passions into Businesses and Non-Profit Organizations."

In 2015 Irby received a $25,000 Wall Award from Grinnell College. This award, he says, greatly enhanced his ability to expand Barbershop Books. "Without Grinnell's early and generous financial contribution in the form of the $25,000 Alumni Service Award, I may have had to take a full-time job and work on Barbershop Books in my spare time."

Irby recently published his debut children’s book, Gross Greg, a humorous tale about a kid who likes to eat his buggers. Gross Greg is available from Irby’s website.

Irby graduated from Grinnell College with a bachelor's in sociology. He also holds a master's degree in education from Bank Street College of Education and a master's degree in public administration from the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University.

From Mumbai to Grinnell to NASA HQ - Adventures in Time and Space

How did you become an astrophysicist? Why? And are we (really) alone?

Astrophysicist Kartik Sheth '93 Astrophysicist Kartik Sheth ’93 will try to answer these questions as he describes his journey from Mumbai, India, through Grinnell, Iowa, to a career as an astrophysicist now working at NASA Headquarters.

Speaking at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, in Alumni Recitation Hall, Room 203, Sheth will share scientific highlights in his field and describe some of the incredible discoveries and opportunities that await the world.​

Sheth is a deputy program scientist for NASA's Cosmic Origins Program, which is concerned with cosmological and early universe questions such as the formation of the first stars and galaxies, the role of dark matter, and the impact of supermassive black holes. This program utilizes state-of-the-art NASA facilities, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Herschel Space Observatory, and soon the James Webb Space Telescope.

Prior to his work at NASA, Sheth was as associate astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory where he worked with the Atacama Large Millimeter-Submillimeter Array (ALMA). Sheth's field of research is galaxy evolution. In particular, he analyzes the mass assembly and development of galactic structures by studying the detailed stellar and gas mass distribution and kinematics.

Sheth is the 2017 Harold W. '38 and Jean Ryan '38 Squire Lecturer. His visit is sponsored by the Department of Physics.

Board Task Force on Fossil Fuel Divestment

April 24, 2017

Dear Grinnell students, faculty, and staff:

At first blush, the fossil-fuel-divestment issue seemed purely to be a question for the Board of Trustees' Investment Committee. And as such, the Investment Committee responded at our February meeting with a new policy for board consideration of divestment requests. However, President Kington reports that students are continuing to raise concerns. I believe the continued student activism indicates that, while the Investment Committee responded to the specific question, the underlying issues are broader and of general board concern.

Grinnell is not alone: students across the nation are advocating for meaningful change around a variety of issues while feeling confused and powerless in the face of new political realities. I believe this discontent and activism presents the board with an opportunity to model how transparent governance and civil debate can and should work.

President Kington has suggested a method employed by the University of Denver's board of trustees to address strategic issues. It lays out a structured set of conversations convened by a board task force, supported by a campus advisory group. From the DU website:

"The Board of Trustees appointed a Divestment Task Force to explore the question of fossil fuel divestment, as advocated by the student group Divest DU....The task force explored the question of divestment in an intellectually serious and transparent way....(They) reviewed a variety of materials and heard from various experts through a series of hearings. Members of the DU community were invited to attend all hearings as observers."

You can read more about the DU process.

With the approval of the Executive Committee, I have appointed a Board Task Force and have requested that President Kington appoint a supporting advisory committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Michael Kahn '74 will chair the task force, with members Edward Senn '79 and Kathryn Mohrman '67. I anticipate that the task force will begin its work this summer and conclude in advance of our spring 2018 meeting.

Please note that creation of the task force does not supersede the divestment policy adopted by the Investment Committee at our February meeting. Regardless of the task force's recommendation, any formal request that the College divest of fossil fuel holdings will be subject to the Investment Committee policy. It is my expectation that such a request and the resulting Investment Committee recommendation will be better informed by this broad-based, transparent process of intellectual discovery.


Patricia Jipp Finkelman '80
Chair, Board of Trustees


Chinese Language Performance Competition

A total of 26 students enrolled in our first-year through fourth-year Chinese classes competed at the Fourteenth Cross University Chinese Language Performance Competition at the University of Iowa on the afternoon of Saturday,  April 15, 2017. Two groups, a first-year and a third-year group, won third prizes. 


photo of First-Year Team winners, Language Performance Competition

Our prize-winning first-year team: Alice Tsui, Stefanie Ochoa, Yeaseul Kim, and Nhi Ngo (from left to right)

Photo of third-year winners of Chinese Language Performance Competition

Our prize-winning third-year team: Anchalee Tantiviramanond, Oen Mckinley, Peter Marsh, and Dana Watkiss (from left to right)