The Freedom Takes is a podcast from the Freedom Reads, produced for listeners in prison and out, that explores the relationship between literature and freedom.
Freedom Reads was founded in the knowledge that in a world with prison cells, freedom can begin with a book. And in a country with two million people incarcerated, the offer of a million books to provide solace, affirm dignity, enable imaginative escape and bridge human differences is a duty. So we are sending tens of thousands of books into prisons and juvenile detention centers across this country.
On the show, poet, lawyer, and founder of Freedom Reads, Reginald Dwayne Betts talks to some of the authors of these books about their lives as writers and as readers, and about what it means to them to be free.
The Past's Presence: Jesmyn Ward
In today’s episode, Jesmyn Ward reads from her third novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is at once a bildungsroman, a ghost story, an epic, and a road novel. In portraying the suck of Parchman Prison on the generations of one Mississippi family, Ward deftly explores how the real threat of incarceration haunts these psyches and, in turn, these familial relationships. In this moving conversation, Ward reflects on living with grief, on listening for communications from beyond our immediate reality, and on the central commitments of her work: to restore agency to the kinds of characters too often denied a voice--and to grant acceptance to the ones harder to forgive.
As True As I Can Write It: Erika Sánchez
Our guest, Erika Sánchez, reads from her masterful debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. Sánchez's writing is unflinching in its reckoning with teenage pain, while also somehow making you laugh out loud. This conversation combines the same qualities, returning bravely to humor between ventures into serious terrain like the stigma attached to mental health struggles in the Latinx community, and the dark places a writer needs to go in her own mind to get despair right on the page. Sánchez reflects on a family dynamic recognizable to most of us who were once adolescents: the desire to be seen for who we are and want to be, alongside the failure to imagine the lives of our parents -- and the alienation and tension this can cause, especially for the children of immigrants. For Sánchez, reading can exacerbate the distance we feel from our kin, carrying us to a million other worlds, but it's also an exercise in revolutionary empathy -- with the potential to reconnect us, and more deeply than before.
Telling Stories of Inside: Susan Burton and Rachel Kushner
Today's bonus episode of The Freedom Takes is a collaboration with the National Book Foundation. Over the last three years, the foundation's Literature for Justice committees have curated thought-provoking reading lists on the topic of mass incarceration. Dwayne is a former committee member and a selected author. The Foundation has partnered with Freedom Reads to send Literature for Justice titles to reading groups in prisons and juvenile detention centers nationwide.
On today's episode, Dwayne returned to moderate a discussion with authors and committee members Susan Burton (Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women, 2019-2020 Reading List) and Rachel Kushner (The Mars Room, 2019-2020 Reading List) in conversation on their work and the larger work of literature inside and outside of prisons to open new worlds of possibility.
Reclaiming Voice & Self: Randall Horton
Randall Horton is the author of a memoir and four powerful poetry collections, including his most recent #289-128 – once his state Department of Corrections number, now reclaimed for his art. The collection explores the experience of imprisonment, remembers the voices and yearnings of people inside, and pushes back against hollow language about mass incarceration. On the show, he talks about the power in taking back for poetry's purposes the state number that followed and follows him, pays tribute to Etheridge Knight, shares a few secrets from his creative process and sneaks in some credit to his steadfast mom.
Shooting Baskets in Verse: Natalie Diaz
It was a joy to have Natalie Diaz on the show, drawing vital connections between basketball, dance, poetry, discovery and love. How to let poetry belong to more people; how writing can clarify "what you mean, and what you want"; how loving is sometimes easier on the page -- these are among the themes of our conversation with Diaz. She also shares about the creation of her latest collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, touches on her private work of language revitalization, and models speaking of and from the heart.
The Interior Landscapes of Church Ladies: Deesha Philyaw
We recorded this interview with Deesha Philyaw shortly after she found out that her debut collection of short stories, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, had won the Story Prize (2020/2021). We spoke with her about these stories and their masterfully readable exploration of the intersection of Black women, sex, and church; writing about home when you've made home elsewhere; and how to navigate consent issues that arise when writing about your children.
Thoughtful, lively, profound conversations from writers who understand the high purpose of their craft. Can’t wait to hear more!