In his own words, “Jason Reynolds is crazy.” About stories, that is. He’s a New York Times bestselling author, a National Book Award Honoree, a Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors. I recently caught up with Jason and picked his literary brain. Here are the deets!
1. I still smile when I think about our first encounter at Busboys & Poets (Is that you? lol) In retrospect, we should not have been surprised. Busboys & Poets has a history of welcoming creatives, especially writers. It’s one of the few restaurants where I feel comfortable posting up for hours. Do you have a favorite place to write?
Hahaha. You know what, I used to be really precious about where I worked. I used to need a specific environment, etc. But now, because of all the travel and the relentless deadlines, I get it in wherever I can. In airports, on planes, trains, in the back of cars, in cafes and restaurants and hotel rooms that stink of old cigarettes. It’s not sexy anymore, that’s for sure. But it ain’t gotta be sexy to be satisfying.
2. I hear you! Jason, your literary career is beyond impressive. And as a new author, I know there’s rarely luck in the literary world. Being a successful writer takes dedication and hard work. When did you start writing and what’s the motivation behind your projects?
It’s been quite a ride for me. But I have to be clear about something; I’ve been in this industry for thirteen years. I got my first deal at Harper when I was 21 years old. I had been writing poetry since I was a kid. That’s what I studied in school and it was a collection of poems bridged with artwork from my homeboy, also named Jason, that Harper bought. It was the editor of that book who taught me how to write narrative. She saw it in me way before I did. And the one thing she always told me was that my intuition would take me farther than my education. So that’s how it started. But when that book came out, they categorized it as Young Adult. I didn’t even know that was a thing. But once I realized it would be geared toward youth, I was all in.
Now, after all these years later, hours, months, years of work, I get to live a life steeped in attempting to proliferate the tradition of black literature, and if I could do that for kids…even better! The sweetest job ever. Ha!
3. Can we discuss All American Boys? What a powerful and timely young adult read on racial tensions. What was it like collaborating with Brendan Kiely on such an emotionally charged story? And was it difficult to write in tandem?
Making All American Boys was an incredible experience. Brendan is my guy, so it’s always good doing anything with him, let alone collaborate on something like this. I mean, he’s someone I trust. And not in this strange superficial sense that we “trust” people these days. I’m talking about the kind of trust that affords me the comfort to say ANYTHING to him. I can get all the things out, lay them on the table in front of him, and ask him to look at them trusting he wouldn’t dare try to rearrange my experiential truths. Nor would I do that to him. So because of that, the process of writing in tandem was like every other conversation around race, brutality, and systemic racism in America we’d already had.
4. Alright. Fangirl moment – Marvel’s YA novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man (Aug. 1, 2017)! Spider-Man envisioned as a teenager of color who lives and uses his spidey senses in Brooklyn. It’s genius! What was it like working with Marvel on such a redefining moment in comics? It has to seem a bit surreal.
The Marvel thing is wild. I mean, listen, it’s not like I could’ve said no when they asked me to do it. Who says no to that? But, of course, there were concerns. Would they let me do my thing? Would they sanitize me? Would they let me push it? And I’m so happy to say they let me roll. I got to stretch out and really do things I had no clue Marvel (and Disney) would go for. It was an intense schedule — I wrote the first draft in 28 days — but other than that, I really can’t complain. It’s honor to be part of such a legacy.
5. Twenty-eight days?! I’m so impressed (and feeling like a bit of a slacker since I’ve been working on my second novel for two years. Ha!) Let’s switch gears to your forthcoming work, Long Way Down, which is scheduled for release on Oct. 17, 2017. The premise gives me chills. Long Way Down “takes place in sixty seconds – the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.” I love storytelling and was excited to learn that Long Way Down is written in a narrative voice. What inspired you to write such a heart-wrenching book?
I’ve been through similar situations, and furthermore, I’ve spent so much time with young people who’ve been through these things. And one of the many things people outside of communities like the one being explored in Long Way Down don’t seem to understand, is that there are systemic issues as well as complicated codes tethered to trauma, woven into these communities that sometimes inform and perpetuate these situations. I’m not attempting to solve it. Just to explore it so that we can ask more questions, instead of “expert” voyeurs pretending to know.
6. In addition to writing wonderful, diverse narratives, you’re also the Artistic Director for Rhode Island Writers Colony, the brainchild of creative Brook Stephenson. (Please read: A Room of Our Own: Brook Stephenson’s Gift Before Dying (NBC News)) RIWC’S objective is to provide space for speculation, production, and experimentation of works and projects for and by writers of color. As a Black woman writer, it’s definitely a residency I hope to attend one day. What have you enjoyed most about working with past residency attendees? *The application deadline for the upcoming 2017 residency has been extended to July 6th! Apply here!*
This residency has been such a glorious experience for me. Brook was my friend. I remember him planning for it, dreaming of it, and to see it come to fruition and be of value is incredible. What I love most about it is what it is at it’s core. An incubator for new family. During the day, folks can do whatever they want. No rules. No expectations. But in the evening we all have dinner together. We cook, and break bread and talk, and it’s those moments that truly stick. That’s the way Brook wanted it.
Thank you, Jason! I’m done picking your literary brain (for now).
Congratulations and continued success with your career!