Poems About the Challenges of Life After Prison
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Reginald Dwayne Betts has one of the more remarkable stories in contemporary literature. After spending more than eight years in prison for a carjacking he committed at 16, Betts earned a graduate degree in writing, then a doctorate in jurisprudence from Yale Law School, and has become an acclaimed memoirist and poet.
In his third collection of poems, “Felon,” he writes directly about the challenges, stigma and vulnerabilities that come with life after incarceration. “I wanted to think about the ways in which it’s just this whole landscape of harm that exists that we don’t address,” he says on this week’s podcast. “I wanted to find ways to write about all of it. Then you got some love poems, too, you got some poems about the ways in which love doesn’t work, you got some poems about the ways in which men let people that they love down. It’s me trying to explore the complicated ways in which we figure out how to be human once we come home.”
Jung Chang’s new book, “Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister,” is about the Soong sisters, siblings whose lives say a great deal about China and the 20th century. Chang visits the podcast to talk about, among other things, the way that writing a biography of these three characters differed from writing about her own life in her beloved memoir “Wild Swans.” “I kept my distance from them,” she says of the sisters. “I leave my readers to make up their minds whether they feel sympathy or distaste toward them. So it’s a different writing process.”
Also on this week’s episode, Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai talk about the books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.
Here are the books discussed by The Times’s critics this week:
“The Book of Eating” by Adam Platt
“Serious Eater” by Ed Levine
“The Story of a Goat” by Perumal Murugan
“The Crying Book” by Heather Christle
We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].
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