Monday, January 11, 2010

R. Dwayne Betts

R. Dwayne Betts' poetry has been widely published and he is the winner of the 2009 Beatrice Hawley Award. His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, was published by Penguin last year.

Last week I heard from him about what he was reading. His reply:
A while back I listened to Victor LaValle read from his latest novel Big Machine. LaValle's reading left me wondering what happened to his unlikely narrator, Ricky Rice. After the reading, I waited almost a year for the book. There was no disappointment, as Big Machine brought to the page, with rare nuance, the lives of people on the outskirts of society. There was a group of them coming from every place you wouldn't expect the hero of a tale to come from: drug addicts, ladies of the night - men and women who had lived rough lives. They all found themselves amongst the Unlikely Scholars - and that is only where the story begins. Part mediation on what it means to live a life parallel to mainstream society (while never being a part of it), part journey into what makes anyone believe, in anything, Big Machine does the work of all good literature. LaValle's Ricky Rice has the intelligence and grit of someone you'd want to have a long conversation with. I was lost in the telling, and find myself going back to insights. Imagine this: one afternoon you get a note calling you to Burlington, Vt. It says: "You made a promise in Cedar Rapids 2002. Time to honor it." That is the beginning - any fan of good literature, of stories that unfold in surprising ways and reveal something about our every day lives, should pick this up. After I finished it, I went out and bought another LaValle book and that's the highest praise I can offer any writer.
Visit R. Dwayne Betts's website.

--Marshal Zeringue