Welcome to another week here at #BeyondTheBio! This week, we have the incredible Jason Reynolds joining us. His book All-American Boys (co-written with his BFF Brendan Kiely) is a NY Times bestseller, and his middle grade book As Brave As You has been honored by everyone from Kirkus Reviews to the NAACP. Plus, he's going to be writing the next Spiderman graphic novel! Jason's one awesome dude, and we're so glad he was able to join us today. Let's get to it!
James: Hi Jason! I was thrilled to learn that your MG novel Ghost was recently nominated for one of the biggest awards in writing, The National Book Award. Congratulations! How did you celebrate when you first heard the news?
Jason: Thank you! The thing is, I had just come out of a prison, where I'd gone with Brendan Kiely to talk to some young men. When I got back to the car, and checked my phone, I just had a quiet moment as we rode back to the hotel. It's a hard thing to describe. The feeling, for most, calls for an explosion. But I just wanted to sit with it, let it wash over me.
James: Speaking of Brendan, you and he recently became NY Times bestselling authors for your book All American Boys. What was it like to co-write with Brendan?
Jason: Brendan is one of my best friends, so to work with him on All American Boys was a gift. And I have to say, the making of All American Boys may very well be the most incredible experience of my career thus far.
James: I know I'm not the only one who thinks that All American Boys is one of the most timely and important books in YA. What do you hope your book will add to the national conversation about race and police brutality?
Jason: Well, a few things. The first is that we can't talk about race as if it's the problem of people of color. A one-side conversation isn't a conversation. We have to discuss it wholly, including the complicated issue of white privilege and systemic inequity, framed with a historical context, but presented for the contemporary conversation. The other thing that was important to us, was that we engage young people in this discussion more often. We talk around them, above them, but rarely are we presenting these nuances and complexities to them, though they will be the ones to inherit the results of our fear of exposing them to it sooner. This is their world. We can leave it to them when we're gone, or we can actively give it to them right now.
James: You've written multiple novels for middle grade students and for young adults. How are these two audiences different?
Jason: Such a complicated question, but the best way I can explain it concisely is, young adults are experiencing firsts. Their first love, first heartbreak, first drive, etc. But the young people who follow into that middle grade category, are asking all the questions that will eventually lead to those firsts.
James: You've spoken before about your appreciation for James Baldwin. Are there any books or characters that were inspired by Baldwin's life and writing?
Jason: Honestly, not intentionally. I love Baldwin for his technical skill and his courage to say the hard stuff. He's all heart AND all brain, which is so rare. I love him for that. But I'm sure if I thought about it, "If Beale Street Could Talk," is probably all over my work. Maybe a little, "Blues For Mr. Charlie" too.
James: Which of your characters is the most like you?
Jason: Ha! Too hard to say because they all have some of me in them. Maybe, Genie from "As Brave As You." Maybe, Matt Miller from, "The Boy in the Black Suit." Definitely Rashad Butler from, "All American Boys." Jazz from, "When I Was the Greatest." Too hard. All of them!
James: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
Jason: I honestly don't know the schedule, so I'm not sure what's coming next. There will be the second installment of the TRACK series coming next year, revolving around the character, Patina. There will also be a novel in verse next year, "A Long Way Down," which I'm super excited about. And, the Miles Morales (Spider-Man) novel is coming next year too from Marvel.
James: In addition to writing, you also speak at schools and perform spoken word poetry. What advice do you give to teens who are interested in writing themselves?
Jason: Listen. Listen to everything around them. And also listen to themselves. That voice in you, the one that feels most natural, the one that people say isn't "correct" or "proper," that's your gold. That's your magic.
James: Your books seem to resonate in a powerful way with teens who might not consider themselves big readers. Why do you think that is?
Jason: Honestly, I have no idea. But I'm so grateful for it. If I had to take a guess, I think it's just about voice. Most of my books are written so conversationally, that I think it helps young people feel like they're talking to someone about something, and not reading for information. No one likes to be preached to. If I can make teenagers feel like there's a voice that resembles their own, that captures their lives (which is why so many of love hiphop SO much) then I've done my job, and I trust it will work. Young people know what's authentic, and what's not. It's me on that page.
James: What changes would you like to see in YA books over the next decade?
Jason: Just more of what we've been pushing for. More inclusivity. More voices.
That's it for today's interview with Jason. But don't forget to stop by our Twitter page and participate in today's giveaway, which features a copy of All American Boys signed by both Jason and Brendan. If you have any questions for Jason or want to let him know how his books have impacted you, be sure to check out his website and reach out to him on Twitter. And, whatever you do, be sure to come back again next week, when we'll be talking to Daniel José Older, author of the incredible Shadowshaper novels!