Reginald Dwayne Betts is the Founder and Director of the Million Book Project. A poet and lawyer, he transformed himself from a sixteen-year old kid sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written three acclaimed collections of poetry, the recently published Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era, and Shahid Reads His Own Palm. His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, is the story of a young man confined in the worst prisons in the state of Virginia, where solitary confinement, horrific conditions, and the constant violence threatened to break his humanity. Instead, Betts used the time to turn himself into a poet, a scholar, and an advocate for the reform of the criminal justice system.
He is the recipient of an American Book Award, PEN/New England Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, Radcliffe Fellowship, and a 2019 National Magazine Award for Getting Out, his New York Times Magazine article about his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney, amongst numerous other awards and honors. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, where he was a Holden Fellow; and, a J.D. from Yale Law School. He is a Ph.D. in Law candidate at Yale and as a Liman Fellow, he spent a year representing clients in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office.
James Ford is Associate Professor of English and Black Studies and Chair of English at Occidental College. His first book, Thinking Through Crisis: Depression-Era Black Literature, Theory and Politics won the MLA’s William Sanders Scarborough Prize. He is currently working on two book-length projects: Phillis, the Black Swan: Disheveling the Origins of African American Letters and Hip-Hop’s Late Style: Liner Notes to an Aesthetic Theory.
This conversation will be introduced by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Director of Creative Writing at the University of Notre Dame, and moderated by Francisco Robles, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is the author of Call Me Zebra, winner of the 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award, the John Gardner Fiction Award and longlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award. She is a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and a Whiting Writers Award Winner. Her novel, Savage Tongues, is forthcoming in 2021. She is the Director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Notre Dame and a Fellow of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.
Francisco E. Robles teaches and researches in American Literatures of the twentieth century, focusing in particular on Multi-Ethnic American Literature. He has articles in Latino Studies, Post45: Peer Reviewed, MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, ASAP/J, Killing the Buddha, and Post45: Contemporaries, reviews in the Journal of Popular Music Studies, sx:salon, and The New Mexico Historical Review, as well as a chapter in the edited collection Decolonizing Latinx Masculinities.
This event is co-sponsored by the Archives of the Disappeared Research Seminar, University of Cambridge.