Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, essayist, and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice. Prison is a central theme in his early work and functions as both location and metaphor for the consequences of human desperation. The author of A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Avery, 2009) and the poetry collection Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), Betts imbues his work with a careful, complicated, and often difficult-to-confront intimacy that challenges conventional ideas about crime, masculinity, and redemption.
As a Radcliffe fellow, Betts will finish writing “Near Burn and Burden.” This collection—anchored by the long poems “Southampton, VA” and “For the City That Nearly Broke Me”—will weave poverty, incarceration, and race to confront important issues in contemporary American society. These poems will rely on the concept of “Signifyin(g)” to assert the continuity (of experience and cultural traditions) among generations of black men in the nation’s capital and to reimagine their troubling history.
Betts’s Shahid Reads His Own Palm won the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award. In 2010, he won an NAACP Image Award for A Question of Freedom and a Soros Justice Fellowship to complete “The Circumference of a Prison,” a work of nonfiction exploring the criminal justice system’s role in the everyday lives of Americans who have not committed crimes. Betts holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and a BA in English from the University of Maryland.