Felon – An American Washi Tale

A conversation about recycling…  

“Ruth, Papermaker, take these tattered grey sweats. 
Make paper of my bid: a past I won’t reject after prison.” 

 -Reginald Dwayne Betts, Felon 

Poet-lawyer Reginald Dwayne Betts and Recycling: washi tales collaborators, Japanese paper artist Kyoko Ibe and theater maker Elise Thoron (ACC 2008, 2010, 2015) explore their work together on Dwayne’s solo performance of his recent book of poems Felon and the Million Book Project.   

In this program spanning theater, poetry, and papermaking, Kyoko and Elise share video excerpts of Washi Tales, and Dwayne performs an excerpt of Felon. The set, itself, is a collaborative piece, created by Kyoko from "prison paper" that Dwayne made from inmates' clothing and towels. They also discuss the Million Book Project, bringing micro-libraries of 500 books and their authors to 1000 prisons across the country, and incorporating bookshelves made from recycled paper pipes that Kyoko is designing in Japan with Nippon Kako-Kizai Co., Ltd to later be assembled in prisons. 

Watch the full recording below or on ACC's YouTube Channel

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He is the Director of the Million Book Project, an initiative out of the Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory to radically transform the access to literature in prisons. For more than twenty-years, he has used his poetry and essays to explore the world of prison and the effects of violence and incarceration on American society. The author of a memoir and three collections of poetry, he has transformed his latest collection of poetry, Felon, into a solo theater show that explores the post incarceration experience and lingering consequences of a criminal record through poetry, stories, and engaging with the timeless and transcendental art of papermaking. In 2019, Betts won the National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category for his NY Times Magazine essay that chronicles his journey from prison to becoming a licensed attorney. He is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2018 Emerson Fellow at New America and holds a J.D. from Yale Law School.  http://www.dwaynebetts.com/


Kyoko Ibe is a Japanese paper artist based in Kyoto. After completing a master’s degree at the Kyoto Institute of Technology in 1967, Ibe continued working with paper and has been invited to more than 20 countries for exhibitions, workshops lectures, teaching, artist juries, panels and stage art installations. Her work pushes the limits of paper, transforming a craft into an art form. Her radical new approach to paper combines a respect for tradition with technological experimentation. She has exhibited in many museums, including Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2011) and Stockton University Gallery (2017). Her works are in the collection of the Chicago Art Institute and many others. She is author and editor of Guidebook of Contemporary Paperwork and co-author of Encyclopedia for Paper, Culture, and Science;  Papermaker’s Tears (Volume 1) and others. She has received many national and international awards. She was chosen as a special Advisor for Cultural Exchange in 2009 by the Agency of Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, and received the Kyoto Cultural Merit Award in 2019. She is a professor Emeritus of the Kyoto Institute of Technology.  http://www.kyokoibe.com/  


Elise Thoron is a playwright, director, translator, who works cross-culturally within the United States and abroad developing new work. She has received multiple grants from ACC (2008-2015) to travel to Japan for her work on Washi Tales. Her productions incorporate the work of fine artists, musicians, poets, and are often performed in multiple languages. Hatuey: Memory of Fire her Afro Cuban Yiddish opera, based on an epic Yiddish poem, went from development at Sundance to a production at Opera de La Calle in Havana, to Peak Performances in the USA. She is co-founding artistic director of Literature to Life, a highly successful theater literacy program, now in its third decade nationwide, adapting books into verbatim solo performances with facilitated discussion and workshops to spark a passion for reading in young people.  www.elisethoron.com 

Special shout out to our friends at Asia Society (presenters of Recycling: washi tales in 2016)! You can watch the full 2016 performance here