Felon Endorsements

On every page of Felon, a book unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, there’s something far more playful, resonant, and ruggedly revealing happening. Reginald Dwayne Betts animates and really embodies the minutiae of revision in this once-in-a-lifetime art object…Betts’s artistry shows and proves a necessary breaking and blurring of the lines between wandering into yesterday, wondering into tomorrow, and wrestling with the funk of today. Betts has written the twenty-first-century book that will dictate how freedom, power and consequence are written about until the sun says enough. It is that good.
— Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
Felon is the keenest of testaments to what it’s like to have lived behind the walls, to the crucible of having one’s humanity challenged, changed, erased, to how―for the anointed―prisons persist beyond the walls. While there are poems aplenty on the mental and physical violence of prison and our unjustice system, the collection is also a moving exploration of love―romantic and familial―and how one nurtures that love against odds that at times seem impossible. Felon is bracing, revelatory work. Read it and be transformed.
— Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math
Felon is a stunningly crafted indictment of prison’s dehumanization of Black men and their loved ones. Through his unvarnished descriptions of the path to prison and its aftermath from myriad vantage points―son, husband, father, cellmate, Yale-educated public defender―Betts does nothing to protect himself, or us, from what he has done and suffered and witnessed. His compassion and breathtaking literary gifts make it impossible for us to look away or remain complicit in mass criminalization’s status quo.
— Sujatha Baliga, Director of the Restorative Justice Project
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Felon News

With the groundbreaking Felon [W. W. Norton & Company; October 15, 2019; $26.95 hardcover], celebrated poet Reginald Dwayne Betts tells the story of a man confronting post-incarceration life, struggling to reenter a society that doesn’t offer open arms. The reader follows Betts’s speaker through the pains of reentry, homelessness, underemployment, drug abuse, domestic violence, fatherhood, and finally redemptive love. As Betts makes clear, the trappings of life on the outside don’t make prison simply go away: “You come home & become a parade / of confessions that leave you drowning, / lost recounting the disappeared years” (51).

These stories are extraordinarily personal to Betts. As he wrote about last fall in a National Magazine Award-winning New York Times Magazine essay, “Could an Ex-Convict Become an Attorney? I Intended to Find Out,” Betts himself served nine years in adult prison, and came out the other end; he went back to school, started a family, and ultimately was accepted to and graduated from Yale Law School.  

In this powerful collection, Betts swings between traditional and newfound forms, from the crown of sonnets that serves as the volume’s conclusion to revolutionary erasure poems. Redacting legal documents that challenged the continued incarceration of individuals simply because they did not have the money to make bail, Betts illustrates the injustice of a legal system that exploits and erases the poor and imprisoned from public consciousness. Traditionally, redaction expunges what is top secret; in FELON, Betts redacts what is superfluous, bringing into focus the profound failures of the criminal justice system and the inadequacy of the labels it generates. From “In Alabama:”

With astonishing skill, formal inventiveness, and rare insight, Betts brings us a book that is not only a must read for poetry lovers but a necessary contribution to the effort to understand what it means to be a “felon.”

Buy Felon

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