Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an online session with poet Reginald Dwayne Betts as part of the Ithaka Next Wave conference. Betts spoke about how one day he was a college-bound high school student, and the next, he found himself headed toward prison for 9 years. When in jail, he called out for a book, and one night, someone slipped a copy of Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets under his cell door. That was the beginning of his transformation and the start of the Million Book Project.
From the Million Book Project web site:
“Who slid The Black Poets under Dwayne’s cell door 23 years ago? He never found out.
But the book got him through some long days, and the books he sought out after got him through longer ones. Now, 23 years after his release from prison, Reginald Dwayne Betts and his team have built the Million Book Project, a way to slide thousands of books like that one — books that open worlds and change lives — to readers in prison across the country.”
Read more about the project here.
At the end of the online session, Betts recited his poem Blood History, a powerful note on which to end.
Check out Betts’ titles at the Hampshire College Library, including his most recent book of poems, Felon. We’ve also got Bastards of the Regan Era, and A Question of Freedom: a Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, among other titles by Betts.