Poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, fourth guest at literary festival



Maria McGreary



Poet and memoirist Reginald Dwayne Betts drew an audience of nearly 100 to Falvey Memorial last Thursday, March 30, in the fourth installment of the 2017 Literary Festival. Betts is currently on tour promoting his latest collection of poems, “Bastards of the Reagan Era,” selections of which he read on Thursday in addition to excerpts of his memoir, “A Question of Freedom.” Published in 2009, the memoir chronicles the eight years Betts served in an adult prison for a car jacking he was convicted for at age 16.

 “The bulk of what I learned about being who I am I got in prison,” Betts told the audience. Cell phones, laptops and constant access to Internet were all foreign when he was released. “I still remember the first thing I Googled.”

    After his release, Betts attended Prince George’s Community College, earned his B.A. from the University of Maryland, and graduated Yale Law School. He earned fellowships to the Warren Wilson College M.F.A. program and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. In addition to three publications of his own, Betts has been published in literary magazines including Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review and Poet Lore. In 2012, he was appointed to the council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention by President Obama. 

 “Betts’ work is a collection of memories, or even nightmares that are personal, political and sometimes collective,” Matthew Zarenkiewicz, a senior undergraduate enrolled in the Literary Festival class, said in his introduction of the poet. “His poetry avoids causality in these dreams, while his memoir focuses on recounting a series of events before prison, in prison and briefly following release. These events are detailed painstakingly as one would write a history rather than a memoir.”

 Betts currently works in the Public Defender’s office. In addition to reading his work, he spoke at length of his experience with criminal justice reform. 

 “It’s really easy for people to support me now because I got a degree from Yale, because I published three books,” Betts said. “But the reality is that most people, there are just no lobbyists for young people or adults who commit crimes. So most people just don’t think about it.”