The next Thornton Reading will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, in Hall Campus Center’s Memorial Ballroom. At the event, poet, essayist, playwright, and lawyer Reginald Dwayne Betts will read from his work, participate in a Q&A, and sign books. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.
Betts, a 2021 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow, is the executive director of Freedom Reads, a nonprofit that installs “Freedom Libraries” in prisons across the U.S. He won a 2019 National Magazine Award for a New York Times Magazine essay that tells the story of his journey from prison inmate to licensed attorney, holding a JD from Yale Law School.
In a recent feature on CBS News, Betts explains that it was during his prison sentence that he decided to become a writer. Now, for more than 20 years, Betts has used his poetry and essays to explore prison life and the effects of violence and incarceration on American society.
He is the author of three poetry collections — “Bastards of the Reagan Era,” “Shahid Reads His Own Palm,” and “Felon” — and a memoir, “A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison.”
He has been awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He also was an Emerson Fellow at New America and a Civil Society Fellow at Aspen.
Betts will also visit an Introduction to Creative Writing class on campus taught by Jer Bryant ’03, ’10 MA, assistant professor of English and Richard H. Thornton Chair.
“I am beyond grateful and excited that Betts will visit my class,” Bryant said. “Personally, I am fascinated by how he uses the erasure method to transform legal documents into poems, exposing the narrative that is often hidden within these records.”
“Undoubtedly, through Betts’ visit, my students will be empowered to seek new ways of turning everyday documents into powerful art.”
Erasure poetry, as defined by poets.org, is also known as blackout poetry, and “is a form of found poetry wherein a poet takes an existing text and erases, blacks out, or otherwise obscures a large portion of the text, creating a wholly new work from what remains.”
Betts’ visit is part of the Thornton Readings series. Each year, the Richard H. Thornton Endowment in English brings established novelists, poets, playwrights, journalists, essayists, and other writers to campus.
For more information about the Thornton Readings, contact Bryant at email@example.com or 434.544.8588.