Poet Dr. Tara Betts speaking with another person

This February, the Creative Writing program welcomed renowned poet Dr. Tara Betts to campus. Program director Jessica Anne Chiang served as the emcee for the evening, providing refreshments and delivering the opening remarks. The intimate setting of the Sullivan Room in Roosevelt’s historic Auditorium Building provided a cozy ambiance for the audience of students, professors, and university community members. 

Betts chose to read from two of her poetry books, Refuse to Disappear (2022) and Break the Habit (2016). The program was insightful yet relaxed as Betts recited pieces like “Think, Think,” “Untitled for a Reason” and “High Fidelity.” The themes of romantic and familial love recurred, which was especially timely given the proximity of the event to Valentine’s Day. So much of Betts’s chosen pieces referenced the work of others that have come before her. Among those mentioned were bell hooks, Gwendolyn Brooks and Margaret Burroughs, three Black women who had an incalculable impact on Betts’s work. hook’s writing on love was specifically identified as formative to Betts’s own experiences and writing. An Illinois native, Dr. Betts was named the 1999 Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award winner. The discussion of Burroughs, however, was especially poignant. Burroughs was an author, artist and co-founder of the celebrated DuSable Museum of African American History, the oldest Black culture museum in the United States.  Burroughs was also a fierce advocate for prison reform, who would visit with and serve as an educator for prisoners for many years. Betts has similarly taken up that charge during her own career.

Betts’s work and the event were rife with affecting themes. The clearest motif, however, was that of the symbiotic relationship between past and present. The poetry of Tara Betts includes references to films like High Fidelity (2000) and Tangerine (2015), as well as musical artists like Solange Knowles and Nina Simone. Bett’s ability to engage with multifaceted influences and produce her own news ideas recalls the principle of the Twi word “Sankofa,” meaning to “go back and get it.” The African proverb indicates the importance of learning from the past to build the future. The poem “The Two Simones” pays homage to Olympians Simone Manuel and Simone Biles in a way that tethers the two history making athletes with regards to their respective sports of swimming and gymnastics. It was fitting that Betts’s reading followed the 50th anniversary of the University’s literary magazine Oyez Review, one of the first publications of her career. The reading concluded with a conversation between everyone in attendance about the writing process and publishing industry. It was a night that celebrated the craft of writing, the season of love and the significance of Black History Month. Roosevelt University’s historic space was the perfect venue to feature such an impactful and iconic writer as Dr. Tara Betts. 

Dr. Tara Betts is the author of Refuse to DisappearBreak the HabitArc & Hue. She served as the inaugural Poet for The People Practitioner Fellow at University of Chicago. Betts currently teaches as a Professor of Practice and Poet in Residence at DePaul University’s Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies Program and serves as poetry editor for The Langston Hughes Review. Betts coedited The Beiging of America: Being Mixed Race in the 21st Century, a new edition of Philippa Duke Schuyler's Adventures in Black & White, and Carving Out Rights From Inside the Prison Industrial Complex. She is currently editing Bop, Strut, and Dance, an anthology of Bop Poems with Afaa M. Weaver.