Meet the Author: Jason Reynolds

the following program is a production of the Fairfax Network Fairfax County Public Schools [Applause] welcome to meet the author I'm your host Emily Godfrey I am thrilled today to introduce our guest New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds thank you some of Jason's award-winning book titles are the boy in the black suit as brave as you all-american boys ghosts patina and many more also joining our studio discussion our students from Fairfax County Public Schools welcome everyone so Jason I'm a librarian and as library and I did some research for this interview and I found out that you were once a reluctant reader and that you used to give away or put aside your books to read later any gifts that you were given for sure reluctant I think is a bit generous actually I think I think for me I just wasn't a reader I don't there was no reluctance about it it was it was um I was insistent about not reading right and the reason why is because the books that I was given where I was giving Christmas Christmas presents every year for my aunt who would give me these books as if that's a good Christmas present really when you're like five and six and seven right and I get it I know we're supposed to be promoting this what toys I won toys and toys right but I had this on who'd give me these books but they were only the classics and so like Treasure Island or Little Women Moby Dick and and when you're when you're eight years old and you're growing up in a community where none of those things make any sense to you I I wasn't interested I wasn't interested I wanted to read about like the ice cream truck but there were no books about the ice cream you know I think that's a lot of kids feel like they want to see themselves in a book that makes a lot of sense yeah so I put them to the side and left them to the side for a very very long time well you mentioned something about wanting to see yourself in books like your community and I was just wondering um a lot of our students might not know that you grew up relatively nearby in Washington DC and how has that impacted your stories I mean growing up it's weird I I think for me more than anything there's texture to the neighborhood's that I grew up in right there's texture there's there's an energy and there's there are cultural codes right you know mrs. Whitaker next door and you know mrs. nor'easter schoolteacher and you know that she doesn't take no stuff from nobody on the block right and you knew Lainie up the up the street who suffered from schizophrenia but he was a part of our community so we looked out for him we loved him even though he would talk to himself and recite movie movie scripts right every single part of the movie just talking to himself for us it was like that guy's amazing because he's one of us because he lives here so we protect him right and I think that's what you're seeing in a lot of these books you're seeing you seen the fiber the fibers of the fabric right it's not just sort of like here's the community clothed in this thing it's more like here's a community clothed in this thing and here are the fibers of that fabric that is closing them so that we can better understand the beauty and the details of neighborhoods like Matt so that I could see it right and if I could see and if I wanted to see it that I know other people wanted to see it too and so that's that's really how it affected me more than anything I mean plus is a little age there you know and anybody who's read any of my books knows that these books are they're not clean they're not sanitized is this like no there's gonna be a little edge there's gonna be something that's a bit jagged right something that's sort of a little a little left of center because that was my life and that's my neighborhood and those are the neighborhoods that still love and you can really see that in your characters they all fit together and all the books you can see how tightly woven they are and how they all have to be there and they all have a purpose in their community absolutely so we are going to move to some of our students they'd like to join our conversation as well so let's get started with Michael what is your question for mr. Reynolds hi so I finished reading Miles Morales and I'm currently reading the boy in the black suit and I noticed in both of them their characters named Alicia and I was wondering if that name is significant to you and wow that's super super point of you know it's like a it's funny because I thought about that recently I didn't think about that when I was writing Miles Morales though it's there are names that have stuck and if you are a child of the 80s which you are not but if yeah exactly your folks probably are we're children of the 80s right there were certain names right Jennifer Rene Alicia these are names that were just really really popular during that time Jason John Christopher Brandon you know William and then if you were in a black neighborhood you had like Arabic and Muslim names were huge right so like Rashad Malik Jamal Khalife these were named Shamika Tamika right these Lakeisha Alisha which is actually right these are names that I just grew up around and so the kind of that kind of stuck to me you know it's funny because when it comes time to pick names I have like six of them right and then I'm like I gotta I gotta find some like there are six names right which is why these sort of shows that something more than once I got to do better but that actually is an interesting thing that was honestly just an oversight but [Laughter] syndrome that's a good question so I've had many jobs right I've worked in sort of coffee shop and then bookstores and I worked in schools and clothing stores and one of those jobs was I was a caseworker which is why Ali's mother works in a clothing store and as a social worker that's the reason why because I those were two jobs that I had and a mist of a ton of other gigs until I figured out how to do this right and while I was a caseworker had 27 clients on my caseload dealing with all types of mental differences and it was a fascinating job because what the job forced me to do was be around human beings that were not like me in terms of the way that they viewed the world we have to be very careful about the way we talk about what we say mental illness is and and talk about it as a difference because not everyone is mentally ill it's just the way that they view the world is different from you right and so I had clients 27 clients ranging from bipolar mania to schizophrenic to drug drug addicts and and former convicts and I mean all kinds of people who have done some terrible things but aren't necessarily terrible people and my job was to humanize those who the rest of society has and will continue to vilify and to make sure that I can help them do everything they can to be productive members of society despite what they had done or despite who they were and I had kids who struggle with Tourette's and so it's it's interesting right so Rex is interesting for a few reasons one because it it only effects it doesn't affect the way you think it just affects the impulse when it comes to speaking but it like the brain is working it's functioning in terms of like thought process critical thought decision-making all that's firing off just fine it's just about whether or not you can control the impulse when it comes to the outburst and involuntary tics and so that's where the whole thing comes from the other thing about it is I wanted to figure out a way to take Lenny in my neighborhood the schizophrenic buddy that I grew up with and to show that in many neighborhoods around America we have people with mental differences who who are are still a part of the quilt that is our community right and that and then and that we can we can tease him you just better not seize him right it's like my neighborhood it was like we would look at Lenny over there we laugh and joke with Lenny and pick at him and then a new person will move in and call the cops and we would flip all right my mother would run outside and it'd be a whole thing right and so I wanted to also show that one neighborhood can have several different kinds of people and still be a United Community United neighborhoods that's where it comes from needles so out to needles lovely thank you so this has been a great discussion Chrissy I know you have a shin-hye what do you focus on when you're like doing character development and like fitting other characters to the main character a good question you know I so I had this theory about teenagers and the theory is that teenagers are like we speak about young people that is really I mean I say we I mean adults and it's really strange dismissive way right and we say we ask questions that I think are dismissive and are limiting and unfair a lot of times one of the questions that I really can't stand is what do you want to be when you grow up right I think it's such a silly thing to ask I understand the root of that question but I think a better question is what do you want to be like right now who do you want to be today right and better yet who are you today because who you are at 15 at 16 is whole right it's a whole 16 year old right it's a whole 15 year old right and I think we talk about teenage life as if it's like it's like oh you're almost there you're not quite whole yet but you will be when you're 20 and when you get 20 and you're like oh you will be when you're like 25 oh wait till you get to 30 then you really figure out how to be a whole person when the truth is your whole in every single part of the every every single step and so my job is when I'm writing these characters or when I'm adding the secondary and tertiary characters to sort of figure out how to fortify the protagonist it's all about making sure that every single character is 100% every single character is a whole person which means every single character has to have struggle and every single character has to laugh right every kid has to cry and he has to laugh all of them they all have to have trouble and it all has to have triumph I've never met a teenager who's had a hard life who that was so hard that he or she did not laugh ever I've never known a young person who didn't find who didn't find humor in hardship ever right and there's so much to learn from that and I think sometimes we're like man it's either young people all they want to do is laugh and not pay attention to anything important or young people all they are is doomed and it's a strange thing when every oddity is that almost everybody I've ever met is somewhere in that sweet spot where it's like man I'm not sure if like I've got my issues and life is tough and his family stuffing is my mom yelling to me like yelling at me about social media and the dangers of it in school is hard and I'm being bullied in school and I got this going on and that going on and then that same kid is like but when I get around my friends all we do is laugh and we joke and we read Harry Potter or we go to the basketball court or we do each other's hair or we tease our little brothers and all this other but that part of your life is just as important and I so I think about all of that for every single character that seems like they don't matter but the truth is that it's in their wholeness that the protagonist becomes more whole right they are the ones feeding the protagonist to make sure the protagonist is fortified and buttress to be an actual person everybody around them matters matters in order for that to be the case you don't matter unless I like think about who you are right it's just funny and I wrap it up in the product like what this is funny thing about Alfred Hitchcock famous filmmaker right if you guys don't know who he is just his tisk Alfred Hitchcock right has his famous quote he says the human face does not exist until I shine light on it right a person is not a person until I put light on that person right which means that no matter how great you are until I understand all that is shining around you right I won't necessarily understand you have to know the rest of the things happening satellite around you orbiting you to understand you and that's what I try to do with the characters all right Trey I believe you have a question for mr. Reynolds soin ghost when Castle was walking the coach saw potential in him has anyone like an adult or a coach saw potential in you did you do that yeah so I had this coach so and when I was so first of all the coach in Ghost which is coach Malloy right I was a basketball coach I had whose name would whose name's coach Brody I mean in that book and and the basketball coach the name was coach Brody drove a cab and he would drive us around in his cab right and we all felt special because we were in a cab we were kids in the back of a cab like you know this is what it's like the people and he drive us around and so like that's a real person who was there for me and also and when I was the greatest there's Malloy who's the boxing the boxing coach up the street he was a basketball coach in real life and he had this big what we used to call a party van a big ol astro van which is the vans back in the day from like the 70s with the TV in it like is the whole thing and he would pick all the kids up in the neighborhood and a lot of us didn't have fathers in the home and so he pick us up we get in his van and in this van he would let us say anything we wanted to say so might we be cussing and everything right he'd be great right we just be kind of when they're talking crazy and in the van it was a safe space it was a space for us to figure out who we were and to express ourselves without any sort of with any sort of like parental you know down pressing nobody was there to say don't don't say that or don't talk like that in that van we could say anything and he would drive us around him take us to the court he would teach us all kinds of he gave us all kinds of terrible advice but it but it changed me and it helped me sort of you know grow up and be a better person so there were those two and there were a lot of people I had things got funky at certain points in my life but there was always somebody there just ye and in all the books right mr. ray and the boy in the black suit you know is is that same sort of character I mean teeth man and as brave as you is that same kind of character you know the father in Miles Morales is that same kind of character and all of his friends is that same kind of guy I mean every book has that one guy who's like I see what's happening and I got my hand on you um and I had those people in my life for sure the community members that are there to reach out and be part of your extended definitely yeah yeah yeah Andrew I think you had a question next how'd you come up with what the idea was to go series so okay so uh all right so here's the truth I was offered this I was given an opportunity to write a different series about a basketball team and I was a little put off by that because because black kids do more than play basketball to be quite frank with you right black and brown kids do more just play basketball and it's always dislike you should write about basketball and it's like we have really good basketball books right we have all of what to demeyers as books we have Kwame Alexander's books we have phil building there's books we have tons of basketball books I don't want to write it's the same reason Rashad doesn't play basketball and all the American boys intentionally write we have enough of that and so I wanted to figure out a way to spin that and say well what are some other sports that we could talk about that I think I could unpack a little more and kind of dive into a little more and so I chose track because one because the first sport anyone plays is running we all race before we do anything else right the first competition when it comes to athleticism is who can run the fastest all of us experience the same thing right who can run the fastest the second thing about that is running in and of itself like think about it all of you I'm sure have run right it's a terrible feeling it feels horrible right because what's happening to your body when you're running is basically it's fighting against suffocation right your body is trying not to suffocate that's what's happening to you right that's why that's why most adults don't run cuz we're like I know better than that it feels like I'm dying and I don't want to die right but but think about that now in the framework of like what it means to be a teenager right there are so many teenagers who who literally feel like they've grown comfortable with the idea of suffocation every day in school if you have a bully or if or if school is complicated for you because you have a learning difference so whatever it is it feels like suffocation every day you feel your lungs sort of like contracting and everything in your body becoming tight and in order for you to succeed you've got to basically get over the discomfort and fight through the discomfort in order for you to do anything in life that's literally what your lives are right now that's what mine was when I was your age funny thing is it's what mine is now still right it never goes away it just becomes a new kind of race you have to run right now I've got to figure out every time I put one of these books out the discomfort of knowing that one of you might dislike it what does that feel like and I still got to push through and run that race for this because I know what it feels like to get get on the other side of that finish line right or when I'm writing these books I never know what's gonna happen it feels like I'm drowning it feels like I'm out of breath all the time my body is breaking down right my metaphorical body is breaking down and I'm not sure I had the stamina to complete another book and then I do and it feels so glorious to get to the finish line this is life and so I figured if I could talk about track I could I could really talk about a lot of things I would love to discuss more that's a little harder to discuss when you're dealing with a sport like basketball the other thing about track 2 just round off your question is it's the it's one of the only sports where you're only competing with yourself the people who are running next to you are only running next to you as inspiration and because we don't want to see 50 individual races with the truth is when you look at the track meet the coach has a stopwatch not the time everybody else just the time you you're running against your best time you're running against you you're their only competition right that's the beauty of this particular sport and what I could say in terms of a statement right using this book as a framework to talk about young life in the book ghost he it was really interesting to hear what you had to say because it felt like you felt suffocated in all of the other areas of his life as well is that a theme that you think you'll continue with through this series as you explore others it changes it changes right so the me running is a such a broad term what does it mean to run from something what does it mean to run towards something what does it mean to run something which is what you see in patina right patina runs the family right she feels she feels a necessity to be responsible right to run the lie to run the entire family she feels that wait and so you'll see all these different iterations of what it means to run in every single book Toria I think you had the next question hi so my question was what inspired you to write the book all-american boys you know Tori I that book is a but the obvious answer is these things are happening right and you all know this your generation is fully aware about what's going on in our country on all the different fronts right you have social media or something that we didn't growing up and so because of that you all are more astute politically and newswise than we ever were a mama bill you should watch the news and I'll jet I'm like nobody watching no news like it's so boring that that was me you all are get into news and in like these like tid bits and bytes and and snapchats and instagrams all this sort of really consumable and accessible and sometimes dangerous but sometimes not right way and because of that I think that Brendan I felt obligated to make sure that when it comes to the issue of police brutality in the issue when it comes to prejudice in general whether it be about brutality or racism or systemic racism or religious you know being intolerant about religion all the things that we're dealing with right that we all know we're dealing with we felt like the the one demographic left out of the discussion we don't people it's all these old people talking about it right every time I turn the news on his to Oh usually old men sitting at a desk screaming at each other about who's right and wrong and no one is saying I wonder what the teenagers are thinking wonder what there's I wonder how they feel about it have we asked them lately right how do we have we asked them if they're afraid or if they're hopeful or if they have answers or if they have ideas have we tapped that world yet or do we but or once again do we continue to dismiss you are and wait for you to become something in 10 years from now instead of saying but let's see what they think maybe they know about what's happening and maybe they have at least an expression toward how they feel about it either they don't have answers we should at least hear maybe how they feel because it's affecting their lives some of these people who are dealing with these things are your age right when that when it happened to me when I had my own run-in I was 15 the first time right I watched my 18 year old buddy deal with it I mean I did mean I've been through these things but I've seen these things and as an adult and as someone who loves you it seemed like just a responsibility to at least try to put together a narrative to not give any answers but to ask more questions so thank you and I just wanted to let you know we have three more students I'm who have questions in Michelle I believe your question is next castle struggles often with other people's perception of him do you have any advice for teens or other people who also have like worried about what people of course of course first of all it's human so be forgiving of yourself right it's human right listen I wish I could tell you at 34 years old that I didn't care what other people thought about me but I read every book review scared to death it matters right I understand it on the flip side what I will say what I always tell young people is um for the rest of your life people are gonna tell you to be somebody else you should just know that going going as you continue to grow just know that this doesn't it doesn't stop right like and it's okay it isn't stopped or there's gonna be they're gonna say that you're not the right color or you know you don't come from the right family even if you come from a great family right that you don't have the right hair or the right weight you're not the right size you got the wrong shoes on you speak the wrong language you speak the wrong kind of English you come from the wrong neighborhood you come from the wrong city you come from the wrong country it's always going to be something right no matter who you are people are gonna tell you that you're supposed to be or you're better off as someone else and so I always tell people that though I love that there are so many young people who love the narratives that I write and love my stories it's more important that you all figure out now how to love your own right now make that decision now it doesn't mean that it's that it's gonna get any easier but you've got to be okay alright even though in the moments that like like for instant meditation is yoga and meditation are now like the biggest things happening in America for adults right it's like Lord everybody is like in a yoga studio stretching right many interesting thing about those sort of practices is they tell you that like you're supposed to clear your head right but that but that you're not supposed to like don't be but to be okay with the fact that you're gonna think about things and when you think about them think about them and then let them go right and so the same thing applies to your lives when it comes to you accepting your story and it's like accepting who you are and its totality knowing for a fact that there's gonna be outside forces that say you should be more than that and in those moments you you can have your moment to be upset about those things and then let it go and go back to loving you and loving your story if I knew that when I was your age it wouldn't have taken me so long to be okay with myself thank you um I believe you have a question what motivated you to become a writer in an author you know I I didn't necessarily want to do this I didn't know I didn't grow up reading any books I didn't read any books until I was almost 18 years old it was for me rap music was everything right rap music saved my life and I like to make sure I always make sure people know that because I'm not ashamed of that and I think you know rap music has all kinds people have all kinds of opinions about it and all those opinions are valid but for me and for the majority of my generation especially if you were coming from marginalized communities and communities of color rap music was like literally salvation for us because the books that you are are reading now the books that this is this expansive sort of library you have with all these books with all these topics and all this diversity and all this stuff that wasn't the case right so when I was a kid we were reading like anything written from the 50s 60s and 70s but I grew up in the 80s I grew up with like the three major the three major sort of benchmarks of my time specifically in my community was like crack cocaine HIV and rap music and there were no books about any of those issues zero right you guys get to read you today right that wasn't the case for me and so I grew up wanting to be when it says a study rap lyrics I study Queen Latifah and I studied to popular it's not I read the liner notes and was seeing what they were doing with language and from there sort of put together this idea that maybe these rappers are doing the same thing as the poets they're teaching me in school even though no teacher ever told me that so maybe I can just do this and so that's what I did I wrote poems forever I wanted to be the next Lincoln Hughes and it wasn't until I was 26 27 that I felt like I had permission to tell my stories because a buddy of mine said you know you could just put your own language on the page you could put it on the page the way you speak it right you guys are talking to me now the books were sound now the books were sound much more familiar and that you've spoken to me because it's just me it's the same voice literally my voice on the page and and once I got that permission I started to tell my own these are all my stories those is a true story about one of my best friends that happened to him right or like these are all like out when I was a great this is about my older brother Alan right but brave is you is about me and my older brother Jason Eugene Reynolds an island Ernest Reynolds Jeannie and Ernie hanging out with that blind grandfather this is all true these are all my personal stories once I felt permission to do that I was like maybe I can't do this right I'm not Tony Morrison or James Baldwin and I always felt like I had to be because that's what was taught to me in school but once I let that go and say but I and me and that's gotta mean something and once I figured out what that meant and put that off and sitting on the page life changed forever and then I realized I could give to you or what I did not have and that sort of fueled the fire and our final question from whisk hi not my question was what would be your advice for someone who's going to college or you know going on into the real world yeah that my advice for anyone who's going to college or going on into the real world two things number one processed before progress this is a mantra I live by process before progress which just means there are no shortcuts there are steps to everything and so your generation is probably the most brilliant generation to ever live unfortunately you all don't know that which is the problem second of all the other issue and I say this lovingly the other issue is if the spectra at the spectrum from beginning to end is from one to ten when it comes to like getting to the level you want to be at right you are basically coming at five right because of the convenience of information you come in at five get to ten but if skip steps one through four and usually half the back can't hold onto what's that ten right and so what I would just suggest is don't be afraid of stepping one through four right even though you know you can come in at five please believe it will not serve you it will not serve there is no skipping steps at number two excellence is a habit a habit you can't choose to turn it on and turn it off either you are going to be excellent or you are not and you have to think about it that way everything in your life everything you decide to do has to be your personal excellence it doesn't mean that it has to be perfect it means it has to be your personal best at all time because it needs to be a habit for you to do everything to the best of your ability if you do that success is inevitable right happiness is inevitable this idea that like all I know is to give all I have to the things that I choose to love how can you lose right how can you lose and instead of instead of arguing or being afraid of that which is hard because s what happened let me kill the light mr jasen british is so hard easy and hard is irrelevant irrelevant that's an irrelevant conversation the only thing that matters is are you going to do it or are you not and if you're not stop talking about it right that's it whether it's easy or hard does it matter everything's hard get over it all that matters is are you down to do it or are you not if you keep that in my UVI well Jason we're almost out of time but before we go I was wondering if you have any last bit of advice about writing or our life for these students yeah I mean at the end of the day I think I'm but my job is to tell you how to read and write so read and write you know but but but furthermore I want you to it within reading and writing it isn't just about reading and writing it's about engaging with humanity it's about perpetuating empathy right I guess I and I say I am speaking of the collective we right and by that I mean all everybody on earth needs your generation to be more empathetic than mine we need you all to be more open more compassionate than my generation and the generations before me is a necessity right now in our world and though and one of the best ways to do that because not everybody has the resource to travel the world or to you know meet people in Turkey or meet people in Pakistan right one of the best ways to do that is to read it breaks down barriers in a very real way it takes you places that you might not be able to get to but it helps to humanize the people that we fear so so terribly humanizes people and so I beg you all to keep reading and writing for that reason for that reason alone other than that all guys like it I love you and I always tell y'all that I tell young people all the time I love you because you need to hear it from somebody that doesn't know you because I ain't got to know you to care for you and you all gonna have to know people to love them remember that as well well thank you so much it's been a real pleasure getting to be with you and hear your questions guys it's been wonderful appreciate you thank you so much yeah for more information about Jason Reynolds and his books visit his website for more information about the Fairfax Network and our upcoming programs visit our website for the Fairfax Network I'm Emily Godfrey keep reading keep writing and keep dreaming you

3 thoughts on “Meet the Author: Jason Reynolds

  1. Omg that’s my library teacher! And she going on next week!

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