51st Annual UND Writers Conference
Authors and Artists
About Reginald Dwayne Betts
In October 2018, The New York Times Magazine published Reginald Dwayne Betts’ long essay “Getting Out.” Several months later, the piece was awarded a National Magazine Award. The publication was another example of Betts entering into a new genre and bringing the same depth and richness of self-reflection and exploration of the central problem on this generation: incarceration and its effects on families and communities.
Betts transformed himself from a sixteen-year old kid sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written two collections of poetry, the recently published and critically acclaimed Bastards of the Reagan Era and Shahid Reads His Own Palm. When he was awarded the PEN New England Award for poetry for his collection, Bastards of the Reagan Era, judge Mark Doty said: “Betts has written an indelible lament for a generation, a necessary book for this American moment.” His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, is the story of a young man confined in the worst prisons in the state of Virginia, where solitary confinement, horrific conditions, and the constant violence threatened to break his humanity. Instead, Betts used the time to turn himself into a poet, a scholar, and an advocate for the reform of the criminal justice system.
Betts’ latest collection of poetry, Felon, was published in October 2019 by Norton. His poetry interrogates and challenges our notions of justice. Longtime New York Times critic, Michiko Kukatani calls Betts’ work both “haunting and harrowing.” A recent collaboration with visual artist Titus Kaphar lead to The Redaction, an exhibition of prints at MoMA PS1. Drawing inspiration and source material from lawsuits filed by the Civil Rights Corps on behalf of people incarcerated because of an inability to pay court fines and fees, The Redaction features poetry by Betts in combination with Kaphar’s etched portraits of incarcerated individuals. Together, Betts’ poems and Kaphar’s printed portraits blend the voices of poet and artist with those of the plaintiffs and prosecutors, reclaiming these lost narratives and drawing attention to some of the many individuals whose lives have been impacted by mass incarceration.
Between his work in public defense, his years of advocacy, and Betts’ own experiences as a teenager in maximum security prisons, he is uniquely positioned to speak to the failures of the current criminal justice system and presents encouraging ideas for change. As a result of that work, President Barack Obama appointed Betts to the Coordinating Council of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and, more recently, Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut appointed him to the Criminal Justice Commission, the state body responsible for hiring prosecutors in Connecticut.
Named a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 NEA Fellow, Betts’ poetry has long been praised. His writing has generated national attention and earned him a Soros Justice Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Ruth Lily Fellowship, an NAACP Image Award, and New America Fellowship. Betts has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, as well as being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air, The Travis Smiley Show and several other national shows.
He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, where he was a Holden Fellow; and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was awarded the Israel H. Perez Prize for best student note or comment appearing in the Yale Law Journal. He is a Ph. D. in Law candidate at Yale and, as a Liman Fellow, he spent a year representing clients in the New Haven Public Defender’s Office.
About Roy G Guzman
Roy G. Guzmán is a Honduran poet whose first collection is coming out from Graywolf Press on May 5, 2020 (preorder available). Raised in Miami, Florida, Roy is the recipient of a 2019 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 2017, they were named a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow. They are also the recipient of a 2017 Minnesota State Arts Board Initiative grant and the 2016 Gesell Award for Excellence in Poetry. Their work has been included in the Best New Poets 2017 anthology, guest-edited by Natalie Diaz, and Best of the Net 2017, guest-edited by Eduardo C. Corral.
In 2016, Roy was the recipient of a Scribe for Human Rights Fellowship, focusing on issues affecting migrant farm workers in Minnesota. That same year, they were chosen to participate in the fourth Letras Latinas Writers Initiative gathering, sponsored by Letras Latinas, the literary initiative at the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies, in partnership with the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the MFA Program at Arizona State University. Roy returned to Arizona as a Letras Latinas Scholar in 2018.
Roy also participated in the first Poetry Incubator, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Crescendo Literary, and was invited to run a workshop during the Incubator's second year. After the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, their poem “Restored Mural for Orlando” was turned into a chapbook with the help of poet and visual artist, D. Allen, to raise funds for the victims. With poet Miguel M. Morales, Roy edited the anthology Pulse/Pulso: In Remembrance of Orlando, published by Damaged Goods Press.
In 2015, they were awarded a GRPP Graduate Research Fellowship to investigate trauma caused by violence in and migration from Honduras. In 2018, Roy was awarded a second GRPP Graduate Research Fellowship to travel to Honduras for research.
Roy holds degrees from the University of Minnesota, Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, and the Honors College at Miami Dade College. They currently live in Minneapolis, where they are pursuing a PhD in Cultural Studies (Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society) at the University of Minnesota.
About Jessica Fischoff
Jessica Fischoff is the Editor and Owner of [PANK], the Editor and Owner of American Poetry Journal. author of the little book of poems, The Desperate Measure of Undoing (Across the Margin, 2019) and Editor of the upcoming Pittsburgh Anthology (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2020). Her thoughts on editing appear in Best American Poetry and The Kenyon Review. Her writing appears in Diode Poetry Journal, The Southampton Review, Prelude, Fjords Review and Yemassee.
About Laila Lalami
Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco, a place whose past and present permeate her writing. A novelist, short story writer, and essayist, Lalami is a unique and confident voice in the conversations about race and immigration that increasingly occupy our national attention. She is a regular contributor to publications including The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times Magazine, weighing in on contemporary issues in the Arab world and North Africa. With “tremendous and powerful” language (Gary Shteyngart) and “carefully-wrought characters” (Paul Yamazaki), Lalami’s fiction confronts the questions of race, displacement, and national identity that she addresses so eloquently in her essays and criticism.
Her first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was inspired by a brief article buried deep within a French newspaper. It mentioned, in just a few lines, that fifteen would-be immigrants from Morocco had drowned crossing the Straits of Gibraltar. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is a collection of intimate character portraits of a group of immigrants trying to escape Morocco for a better life in Europe. Lalami explores the overlaps between her own experiences and those of her characters, while offering up a lens through which to view today’s immigration issues. As hundreds of migrants continue to cross the Mediterranean for safer shores—many of them perishing along the way—Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits remains devastatingly timely.
Lalami’s novel Secret Son revisits questions of identity and class. The main character is Youssef El Mekki, a shy, bookish young man living in a slum in Casablanca who discovers that his father is a wealthy businessman. When Youssef’s father welcomes him into a sophisticated, highly corrupt world, Youssef must renegotiate complex issues of family, ideology, and society. Lalami’s depiction of contemporary Moroccan life, “illuminating the social, political, religious and poverty issues facing its citizens—especially its still-hopeful young—is both sensitive and startling” (The Los Angeles Times). Secret Son was longlisted for the Orange Prize.
The Moor’s Account was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and was longlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the International Impac Dublin Literary Award. It imagines the life of the first non-native person of color to explore America—a voice entirely absent from our history books. In 1527, a Spanish expedition to Florida met with disaster, leaving only four survivors, among them a Moroccan slave. Years later, the Spaniards wrote and spoke about their ordeal, but the slave—Mustafa al-Zamori, always called Estevanico—never shared his story. Finally, Lalami gives Estevanico a voice in The Moor’s Account, which Reza Aslan, New York Times bestselling author of Zealot and No God But God, calls “a beautiful, rousing tale that would be difficult to believe if it were not actually true.” Ilan Stavans, author of On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language and general editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature, dubbed The Moor’s Account “a mesmerizing reimagining of one of the foundational chronicles of exploration of the New World and an indictment of the uncontainable hubris displayed by Spanish explorers…a worthy stepchild of Don Quixote de la Mancha.”
Her most recent novel, The Other Americans, is about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant in a small California town. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters whose invisible connections—even while they remain deeply divided by race, religion, or class—are slowly revealed. It is at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, infused with questions about America’s treacherous legacy of violent discrimination. The Other Americans “confirms Lalami’s reputation as one of the country’s most sensitive interrogators, probing at the fault lines in family, and the wider world” (Financial Times).
Lalami’s writing has been published in The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Nation, where she is a monthly columnist. Her writing has been translated into ten languages. A graduate of Université Mohammed-V in Rabat, she also attended University College in London and the University of Southern California, where she earned a PhD in linguistics. Lalami has received a Fulbright Fellowship, a British Council Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was awarded the 2019 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize. She teaches creative writing at the University of California at Riverside.
About Richard Tsong-Taatarii
Through his documentary photography work, Richard Tsong-Taatarii brings attention to the joys and tribulations of Minnesotans as a staff photographer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. He also enjoys covering communities within our larger society that escape the attention of the mainstream media. His traveling monograph “Lakota Resistance: the Bison, Horse, and the River” is a five-year documentary on the legacy of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Reservation and his extensive coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests on the Standing Rock Reservation. In 2017, he garnered an Award of Excellence in newspaper portfolio from POYi, and awards in picture page and portrait series from the NPPA Best of Photojournalism competition. He has also won numerous awards from the Minnesota News Photographers Association and the Upper Midwest Regional Emmy for multimedia journalist of the year.
To learn more about Richard Tsong-Taatarii, visit his website.
About Matt Young
Matt Young holds an MA in Creative Writing from Miami University and is the recipient of fellowships from Words After War and The Carey Institute for Global Good. He is an assistant professor of English at Centralia College in Washington and author of the memoir Eat the Apple (2018).
To learn more about Matt Young, visit his website.
About Jenny Zhang
Jenny’s debut story collection, Sour Heart, conjures the experience of adolescence through the eyes of Chinese American girls growing up in New York City and is the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN/Robert. W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. The New Yorker writes, “Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart combines ingenious and tightly controlled technical artistry with an unfettered emotional directness that frequently moves, within single sentences, from overwhelming beauty to abject pain.” The collection has been optioned for film by A24, and Jenny is co-writing the adaptation alongside the director, Cathy Yan.
In 2012, she published a book of poetry titled, Dear Jenny, We Are All Find. Jenny’s second collection of poetry, My Baby First Birthday, will be published in 2020 from Tin House Books. Of the collection, Dorothea Lasky writes, “Jenny Zhang will always be one of the most important poets writing today. She consistently and constantly stretches the lyric to its necessary and best intentions, telling it where it only may dream or dare to go.” In addition to her fiction and poetry, Zhang’s essays have been published by the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Rookie. Her essay “How It Feels,” which is a meditation on depression, suicide, and excess, was published in Poetry Magazine and a finalist for a National Magazine Award. A wearer of many hats, Jenny has also written for television and worked in TV writers’ rooms for HBO and Facebook Watch. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Stanford University.
Jenny once taught English at a lycée in the South of France and also in a Hungarian mountain village on the side of the Romanian border. Today, she lives in New York City where she’s at work on a novel and screenplay.
The Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys
Founded in the fall of 2017, the Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys are a North Dakota bluegrass band that takes pride in spreading authentic, traditionally-grounded bluegrass music around the Upper Midwest. Built on the founding trio harmonies of Michael Prewitt, Joe Andrus, and Reid Buckley, the Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys also bring an intense instrumental drive to their songs that hearkens back to some of the bluegrass greats, like Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and Jimmy Martin. To this vocal and instrumental mix, the band adds a focus on original material. Playing new songs that range from topics such as sleeping in graveyards - the standard woe-is-me lonesome bluegrass dirge - to the excited romp of a Red River Valley farm laborer heading to the big city of Winnipeg for a night out on the town, the Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys represent the best of high-energy bluegrass in the Upper Midwest
To learn more about The Flatt Mountain Bluegrass Boys like them on Facebook.