Reginald Dwayne Betts (poetry, 2010) Awarded 2021 MacArthur Fellowship

The MFA Program for Writers is proud to announce that 2010 poetry graduate Reginald Dwayne Betts is among the 25 recipients of a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship. The MacArthur Foundation awards unrestricted $625,000 fellowships annually “to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

Dwayne’s work as a poet and lawyer is informed by his years spent in a maximum-security prison after being tried as an adult for a carjacking at the age of sixteen. “A single book,” he said, “Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets, slid under my cell in the hole, introduced me to the poets that had me believing words can be carved into a kind of freedom.” Dwayne recently launched the nonprofit Freedom Reads , which donates books and shelving for libraries, organizes author visits, and sets up book circles in prisons and juvenile detention facilities.

In addition to his 2010 MFA, Dwayne holds a BA from the University of Maryland and a JD from Yale Law School. He is currently completing his PhD in Law at Yale. His numerous awards include NEA, Guggenheim, Soros, Ruth Lilly, and Radcliffe fellowships. Dwayne’s publications include the poetry collections Shahid Reads His Own Palm (2010), Bastards of the Reagan Era (2015), and Felon (2019), and the memoir A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (2009).

Dwayne’s recent honor expands the family of MacArthur recipients within our MFA program. Four of our faculty—Eleanor Wilner (1991), Andrea Barrett (2000), Heather McHugh (2009), and Ellen Bryant Voigt (2015)—as well as 2017 fiction alumna Laura Otis (2000)—are all previous Fellows. We’re grateful for all we gained from having Dwayne in our program, for all he’s achieved in the decade since, and for what this extraordinary fellowship will make possible in the years ahead.