Alumni Spotlight: Tara Betts
“It’s like making a meal,” Tara Betts (MFA in Creative Writing ‘07) explains of what inspires her poetry. “You can make the same dishes, but you stir and add your own secret ingredients, and it’s yours.” She draws poetic inspiration from a variety of sources: art, movies, history, other writers, overheard conversations, and stolen moments. Betts uses these ingredients—the same ones that probably inspire a number of writers—to make poetry that is uniquely hers.
Her poetry includes two published collections, Arc & Hue (Willow Books, 2009) and Break the Habit (Trio House Press, 2016). Her third collection Refuse to Disappear will be published by Word Works Books in 2022 as part of the Hilary Tham Capital Collection, which publishes full-length collections from poets who volunteer to assist a literary organization or project. Refuse to Disappear, Betts says, focuses on how she sees and celebrates women of color. “The message of this collection is we must insist that we aren’t going anywhere.”
In addition to her collections of poetry, Betts has published two chapbooks, a libretto The Greatest!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali (Winged City Press, 2013) and 7 x 7: kwansabas (Backbone Press, 2014). She has served as coeditor of The Beiging of America: Being Mixed Race in the 21st Century (2Leaf Press, 2017), a critical edition of Philippa Duke Schuyler’s long out-of-print memoir Adventures in Black and White (2Leaf Press, 2018), and Carving Out Rights From Inside the Prison Industrial Complex (Hat and Beard Press, 2021).
Outside of writing poetry, Betts has taught poetry for over 15 years. This fall, she is teaching a correspondence course in poetry with writers at Statesville Prison, where she taught in person for three years before the pandemic. She has also been teaching short-term classes at the Whirlwind Learning Center, a small nonprofit she founded, in Chicago.
Back in 2005, though, Betts was working as a touring poet and wanted to deepen her craft. She joined NEC’s MFA in Creative Writing program. “As a poet, the MFA program affirmed my ability to excel at an academically rigorous level, but it also reminded me that there is still a lot to be added and celebrated in the canon of American literature.”