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Jason Reynolds: 2018 National Book Festival

Jason Reynolds: 2018 National Book Festival


>>Fred Bowen: All right,
good afternoon again. My name’s Fred Bowen, still Fred
Bowen for those who have hung around for this talk two. I’m the author of
23 sports books for kids 8 to 12 years old. I also write a weekly
kid’s sports column for the Kids Post page
of the Washington Post. And the Washington Post is
one of the charter sponsors of the National Book Festival. Before we get started with Jason
Reynolds, first a word of thanks to the cochairman of the
festival, David Rubenstein, and the other generous sponsors. If you want to become
a sponsor or donate to the National Book
Festival, look in your program, look on the back,
there’s a way to do it. And it would certainly be a
good use for anyone’s money. We’re going to have questions
after the presentation, and if you could go
stand at the microphone, that would be very helpful. And you might be on the
videotape of the event. It’s now my great pleasure
to introduce Jason Reynolds. First thing you should know is
he is a local guy, all right. [cheers]. He was born
in Washington, DC, raised in Oxon Hill, Maryland. He is a graduate Bishop
McNamara High School and the University of Maryland. It’s so easy to get
yay’s on that. But now the more
important thing is, now he is a really
important voice in young people’s literature,
with such award-winning books as All American Boys, As
brave as You, Long Way Down. And when I say award-winning,
I don’t mean little awards. He was a finalist for
the National Book Award. He had a Newberry Honor Award. He won the Walter Dean Myers
and Caretta Scott King Award. He’s also the author of such
fun books as the Track series. I think there was a
picture of it up there. And Miles Moralas Spider-Man. One thing he absolutely
does not do, he does not write boring books. So he is here to talk
to you about the books. He will be signing his
books at booth 11 at 5 PM. Let’s give it up for
local guy, Jason Reynolds. [ Applause ]>>Jason Reynolds: Hello, hello. Everybody all right? Y’all good? All right. So there’s a whole
lot of y’all in here. And we only got a
little bit of time. So I’m trying to figure out
how to do this because I got like 25 minutes, and
that’s question and answer and everything else
and me talking. And there’s so many
young people here. And there’s so many
not-so-young people here. And I’m trying to figure out
how to best serve everybody. So I could talk a little bit or
we could just do a whole bunch of questions and I could
really answer all the questions that you may have. Anybody have any
questions, first of all, just so I can know
what’s happening? Not yet, all right. So here’s what we’ll do. Really quickly I’m
going to tell you — we’re going to talk
about something else. We’re not going to talk
about books for a second. I got — all right, who’s
from Washington, DC? Is anybody from DC? All right, so we’re going to
talk about DC for a second, and then we’ll talk
about the books. When I was growing up a long
time ago, Washington, DC, had a very special music,
still has a special music, especially if you’re
coming from my community. And when I say my community,
I mean the black community. And what this music is,
it’s called Go-Go music. Has anybody heard
of Go-Go music? [applause]. All right, a whole
bunch of y’all. If you haven’t heard
of Go-Go music, let me explain how it works. Go-Go music was started in
1970s by a wonderful man who is now passed on,
his name is Chuck Brown. Chuck Brown wrote a whole
bunch of really good songs, his most famous song was a
song called Bustin’ Loose. All the old heads in the
house know this song. I feel like bustin’ loose. That music was rooted in
African music, that even mixed with music of Latin America,
soul, funk, house music, and every other kind of
music he could think of. He put it all in the pot and
stirred it up and mashed it up and it became a new music
that he called Go-Go. And the reason he called it
Go-Go is because the point of the music was for
it to never stop. When you went to a Chuck
Brown party, you were supposed to hear the same song
for two hours, right, two hours of you just rocking. The song going and going
and going and going, and it was a beautiful,
beautiful thing. Then when the 1980s and then the
early 1990s, this music started to change as younger people
started to grab a hold to it. So you had new bands come
in and you had Red Essence, you had Proper Utensils,
these are — people, some of y’all are
like, what is he talking about? You have homework tonight. Go home and look these bands up. And then in my generation,
you had bands like the Northeast Groovers,
Junkyard Band, Backyard Band. These are all Washington,
DC, bands. These are young people
with minimal resources who have taught themselves
how to play instruments, who have formed 15 person bands
and who are playing shows night after night for kids who are
coming from their neighborhoods. Imagine, imagine coming to
see a whole bunch of kids from neighborhoods that most of us are too afraid
to walk through. And those kids have formed
basically their version of a symphony orchestra. It’s the most beautiful
thing you will ever see. And so we would go
to the Go-Go as kids. You would go in and
you’d see the band and there would be 15 people. A bass player, a keyboardist. There’d be four people
on a microphone. A guitar player. A singer or two. There’s always a girl in the
band to sing, a guy in the band to sing, whose voice was
always terrible, right. A rapper who was
a terrible rapper. You had a man who played
the conga — the congas — or as we say in DC, the congas. And usually this
is two conga drums. But in this city for this music, we played four, four
conga drums. Rototoms, timbales, these
are instruments used in salsa, reggae. Everything is mixed
up in the same pot. And all these kids are
there and they’re rocking. Now, here’s the position for
the people on the microphone. You had the rapper, the
singer, the yeah man. And what the yeah man was, was he was the guy whose
job was to say yeah, right. That’s it, his only role was
to stand there and every now and then just say yeah! That’s it. And we loved him, right. He was the ad-lib
guy, the hype man. And then you had what we
called the lead talker. The lead talker was the
maestro of the band. He was the leader, the
captain, the quarterback. He was the boss. And his job was to conduct the
band and to control the crowd. And the way he did this
was by making sure everyone in the crowd felt important. Here’s how it worked. Halfway through a Go-Go
set there’d be a breakdown. And what that meant was that everybody would stop
playing their instruments except for the drummer and
the conga player. And during this breakdown, the
lead talker would then look out into the audience and he
would ask a couple of questions. Number one, where y’all from? And number two, what’s
your name? And if he was good, he’d
ask, and who’s your crew? What we would do before
we went to the Go-Go, was we would make signs. People in DC would
make signs, right. They would say, Minnesota
Avenue Crew, right. The Kennedy Street
Honeys, right. All these different crews and
neighborhood affiliations, blocks that they lived on. The 1300 block of this, the
1400 block of this, right. Wherever you were from. Southside, Wheeler Road, all these different
neighborhoods represented. And you would come with
your sign or your T-shirt with your neighborhood
and your name and your crew written on it. And you would hold it up. And when the lead talker
said, let me see who we got in the building, he’d
look out into the crowd and he’d call out your name. He said, where y’all from? And you’d say, you know,
I’m from, you know, uptown. Where y’all from? You’d say, commentaries. Where y’all from? We’d say Berry Farm. Whatever he was saying. And then he’d say,
well, what’s your name? Right. And you’d
yell your name out. Right. Or he’d see
the sign and he’d say, I see you little
Jason, good to see you in here tonight, little brother. I see you, Rasheed, I’m glad
you came out tonight, sis. Shouting you out on
the microphone, right. And then after all that, he
said, and who’s your crew? And you’d say, oh, you
know, you’d name your crew. It was a big deal. Now, here’s why this
was important. Follow me, here’s why
this was important. The day after the
Go-Go, what we knew was that all these parties
were being recorded on to cassette tapes. And you could go to the store, what they called
the PA palace — which was basically a kiosk
in any mall in the area, that sold cassette tapes of
the Go-Go you just came from. So you’d walk up to the man
and you’d say, hey, man, you got last night’s
Backyard Band? Last night’s Junkyard Band? And the guy would say,
here you go brother, $5. You’d give him the $5 and you
get in your car, or you get back to your house, and you turn
the tape on, and you wait and you wait and you’d wait. And then the breakdown came. And he’d say, let’s see
who we got in the building. And you’re like, here it comes. And he’d say, tell me
where y’all from in here. And you’re waiting to
hear your voice scream out your neighborhood,
scream out your street. He’s saying, what’s your name? Or you wait for him to say,
I see you little, Jake, good to see you,
thanks for coming out tonight, little brother. And that’s me, right. Imagine what it felt like for
the whole city to know the name of my block, the
name of my friends and what we called ourselves. And to hear my name on a tape that was circulating
all over town. See, when we were growing up,
we didn’t want to meet Jay-Z, we wanted to meet Big G
from the Backyard Band. He represented something for
us because he had the control and the power to make the whole
city know that we existed. That’s all I think about
when I’m writing these books. I’m the lead talker. That’s my job. My responsibility is to
look out in the crowd and say, where y’all from? Right? What’s your crew? Right? What’s your name? And to put those names,
those neighborhoods, those feelings in a book. We don’t value how important
it is for young people just to see themselves, to feel
represented in a book. It meant the world for
kids growing up in DC to hear their names
on those tapes. Something so small
that nobody outside of our community even knew was
happening, yet for a lot of us, it was the biggest
deal in the world. It was like winning a Grammy! To hear your name on a
tape coming out of a mouth of somebody you respected. Somebody that you felt
like could see you and understand what it is
you were going through. That’s what it means
to write Ghost. People are like, well,
why you write Ghost? Because it’s a true
story about Matt Carter, one of our best friends
who grew up in [inaudible]. True story. Right? His story is now — it now exists outside of his
own mind and his own world. The whole world gets
to call his name out. Gets to hear him call
his own name out. Gets to hear me call
his name out. What an amazing, amazing
experience for him, who is 36, 37 years old, to
give to his children who are now 15, 16
and 17 years old. It’s amazing. And some of you are
probably like, well, what if we’re not from DC? What about us? What if we don’t understand the
community in which you’ve come? What if we don’t understand
the experiences that Ghost had? What if we don’t know
how to hear that music? Here’s the thing
about Go-Go music. If you hear it and
you’ve never heard it, you will say it sounds
like noise. If you hear it — and
anyone from DC knows this. If you hear this music and you
have never heard it before, you will say that it
sounds like noise. It is never recorded on state-of-the-art
recording equipment. So it’s always a little muffled. And the music has so
many different sounds, that if you’re not familiar
with the way it sounds, if your ears haven’t been
trained to the rhythms and the multi-rhythms of
that music, you will say that it sounds dissonant. But if you give it some time
— if you give it some time — give it a fair ear — a
fair listen — lean in — have some patience — right? Be a little more disciplined and
a little more active in trying to understand what
the music is about. If you go see it live,
step into the spaces that you normally
don’t step into. Be around the people that
you’re normally not around. Diversity your friendship
circles. Diversify your schools. Diversify your libraries. Diversify your bookshelves. Right? [applause]. Then perhaps you
would at least — you would at least
understand why the music sounds so good to the rest of us. You would at least maybe be able
to understand the brilliance that it takes to make the music, even if the music
isn’t something that directly connects
to your life. There’s a way for
us to still connect to the things even they’re not
rooted in our own experiences. We can’t use that
as a copout anymore. Do a little work. Try to understand. Your kids need you
to try to understand. Because you are not
necessarily living the life that your kids are living, even
if they’re living in your home. So you will have to
do a little work. It’s going to sound a
little noisy at first. But be a little patient. And if you are, then you’ll be
able to hear your name called out on the cassette tape. And you can learn how to
rock with the rest of us. I got about 15 minutes,
10 minutes, I’m going to take
some questions. And we can boogie. All right, you can ask any
question about any book or anything and I’ll give
you an honest answer. Have at it. What you got? [ Inaudible Question ] So the question is,
how did I pick out the name Aralia for Sunny? Because her name — I picked
it out because it’s you. You know what I’m saying? I knew. You didn’t even
know I was thinking about you the whole
time, you know. But in truth, Aralia came
from one of my good friends. I called her and I said,
look, you’re a dancer, you’ve been a dancer
for a very long time. I have no idea how to
write dance into this book. So if you give me all the like
secrets to how write dancing into a book, I’ll put
your name in the book. And that’s how Aralia
sort of happened. So shout out to my home
girl Aralia who told me how to write all the like
weird dance moves that Sunny does in the book. Let’s go — I got
your microphone. Yeah. Say it again.>>What’s your favorite
book that you wrote?>>Jason Reynolds: What’s my
favorite book that I’ve written? It’s hard. What’s your favorite
book that I’ve written? Patina. Mine too, my man. Yeah, mine too. I don’t know if y’all know
how big of a deal that is, that my man’s favorite
book is Patina. Anybody else? Yeah, we’ll go back and forth. If you have a question,
I’m going to get you, but it might be easier for
you to get to the microphone. I’ll promise I’ll
get you though. Yep?>>So I’m a happily
married school librarian, but I refer to you as my
fictional literary boyfriend. I think you are amazing.>>Jason Reynolds: Thank you.>>I will not ask you to marry
me because that would be weird. But.>>Jason Reynolds: A little bit.>>I read your books and I
sense in them a mixture of anger and frustration about the things
that we see in our communities and in our country, coupled with
this joy of just what it means to be human and a family.>>Jason Reynolds: Yeah.>>How do you prioritize when
you’re writing your books, what I’m going to be
angry about in this one and talk about in this one? And then keep that
intention with the joy and happiness that we feel too?>>Jason Reynolds:
I think it’s tough. I think that’s a good question. I think it’s tough. My mother always says,
don’t ever trust nobody who is all cry and no laugh. Right. I think that like
if we were being honest about humanity, there’s
no way that we could talk about the bad things without
talking about the joy. I’m around kids all the
time, right, young people who are experiencing
heavy things. And it’s interesting because
anytime a young person has experienced trauma or
anything that has sort of been heavily weighted,
there are still never moments where they aren’t cracking
jokes with their friends. Right. Like no matter
what you’ve been through, if you’re 11 years
old, you’re goofy. Doesn’t matter, right. And there’s beauty
in that in a way that I think I’m
always thinking about. I think children get
it right in that way. I think as we get
older, we sort of — the hardness crystallizes
in a different way. But as young people, they’re
a little more malleable. They understand that
you can be both and. I could be upset and still laugh
at the things that are funny. Because that’s life. Anybody who’s ever had
loss in you life — I don’t know everybody’s
sort of death traditions. But in the black community,
there’s nothing sadder or funnier than a
funeral, right. It’s just the way it works. You know what I mean? And I think I try to show that in the books as
often as possible. It’s fair to the kids too. I just think — look, I’m
not interested in sort of writing what we all
call pain porn in life. That’s not me. I think life is good
and bad and complex. And I want to put that all that
in every book the best I can.>>Thank you.>>Jason Reynolds: Thank you.>>Why do you write books?>>Jason Reynolds:
Why do I write books? I ask myself this every day. There’s so many other art
forms that are so much easier. You know what it is? I write books because at the end
of the day, I think that you — I think you deserve —
look, the greatest gift that we can give one another is
the gift of own stories, right. If I can give you my story, that means that I’ve basically
given you a huge part of myself, and I’m trusting you with that. And so I wanted to do
is say, you and I — the minute that you read one of
my books, you and I are friends. We know each other. That means that you know
there’s somebody in the world who you may see or you may not
see, who is thinking of you. And that is a powerful, powerful
tool when things get tough. Right. That’s the reason that
I do this every day, you know. Thank you. It’s a pretty dress you got on.>>What advice would you
give to future writers?>>Jason Reynolds: What advice
would I give to future writers? Well, there are a couple things
I’ll tell you really quickly. The first two are going
to sound really silly. You got to read. You got to write. I know that feels
obvious, but the truth is that you’d be surprised how many
writers don’t read or write. Therefore, they ain’t
really writers but they call themselves
writers, right. The other thing that you have
to understand whether you want to be a writer or whether
you want to be anything, is that excellence is a habit. Never forget this, okay. Excellence is a habit. It’s not something you
can turn on or turn off. You’re either going
to be excellent or you’re not going
to be excellent. You’re going to create
positive habits for yourself right now, right. You want to be a writer? Let’s say — you
want to be a writer?>>Yeah.>>Jason Reynolds: You turn
your homework in on time?>>Yeah.>>Jason Reynolds: All right, you headed in the
right direction then.>>Thank you.>>Jason Reynolds: You got it.>>What gave you the idea to
write your Miles Morales book?>>Jason Reynolds: What gave me
the idea to write Miles Morales? Well, Miles Morales book
is, of course, as you know, a little different than
a normal Spiderman story. And the reason why is because
I feel like Peter Parker as I know, as beloved as he is, I think it’s a little
bit corny, right. Here’s what I mean. I think that Peter Parker says, that with great power comes
great responsibility, right, that’s his whole thing. And that’s true, by the way. I think that’s true. But that’s not true for
a 15-year-old, right. When I was your age —
let’s say right now, right — how old are you?>>11.>>Jason Reynolds: 11. So let’s say I said,
look, I’m getting ready to give you all this power. You’re going to be able
to jump from here to here. You’re going to run this fast. You’re going to be the
fastest person on earth. You’re going to have
superhuman strength. Are you going to be
responsible with it? Go ahead, tell us a lie in
front of all these people. [laughter]. What you going to do with it? You going to go the
basketball court? You going to go to
the soccer field? You going to go to
the baseball mound?>>I’ll probably just
play around with it.>>Jason Reynolds: There you go. And that’s an honest
answer, right. And guess what? So would I. Like that’s actually
what anybody in this room would do, right. And so what I wanted to show was
a young man with all that power who just honestly wanted
to play around with it, or at least his friend wanted
him to play around with it. Because that’s who we
are as human beings, especially when we are
a little bit younger. And that’s why, that’s
what I wanted to get at, make it a little
more real, you know. Thank you for reading
it, by the way.>>I have two questions to ask.>>Jason Reynolds: Okay.>>The first one is: What’s your
favorite part of writing books?>>Jason Reynolds:
My favorite part of writing books
is finishing books. Next question? [laughter].>>What’s your favorite sport?>>Jason Reynolds:
What’s my favorite? I grew up playing basketball. I’m always going to be a — and I was lucky to grow
up in the time of Jordan, even though I really like
LeBron a lot these days. But I grew up playing
basketball, man, that was my sport, still is.>>Okay.>>Jason Reynolds: Thank you.>>How long does it
take you to write books?>>Jason Reynolds: How long
does it take me to write books? It depends on the book. Every book is different. Ghost took six weeks. Long Way Down took two weeks. And it took me a year
and a half to edit. Right. Patina took a year,
almost a year to write. Every book is a little
bit different. You never really know. I just kind of sit down
and do the best I can. But some books take
a little bit — I mean, All American Boys
took six weeks, you know. It just kind of depends
on what the book is, man. Every book’s different.>>So how many books
did you write down?>>Jason Reynolds: How many
books did I write down? How many books have I written? I think we’re at number
12, something like that. I don’t know, 12, 13. We’re up there somewhere. I just do my work, I
ain’t worried about it. Just keep it going, you know.>>Okay.>>In your opinion what is
the scariest sea creature?>>Jason Reynolds: In my
opinion what is the scariest sea creature? Any sea creature I can’t see. [laughter]. For sure. Yeah.>>I have read all of the Track
series books except for Lu because it isn’t, you
know, released yet.>>Jason Reynolds: Yeah.>>But how do you think Lu
will like as a story play out?>>Jason Reynolds:
So you want me to tell you what the book is — you want me to break
it all down for you? [laughter]. So here’s what — I won’t tell
you that because I want you to read it and I want
it to feel fresh to you. But what I will say is, every
question will be answered. All the questions
will be answered. And Lu is a very
different kind of character, and that’s all I’m going to say. And thank you for reading the
other three, I appreciate that.>>Okay.>I’ve read — I
started reading your books in like seventh grade, and I’ve
been following them since then. And I feel like I’ve watched
you grow in popularity as I go to each of the events you’re at. And like your books are too. Like I think Long Way Down
is becoming a play, right?>>Jason Reynolds:
Yeah, for sure.>>Like how are you responding
to that, dealing with it?>>Jason Reynolds:
To the success?>>Yeah.>>Jason Reynolds: That’s
a very good question. So my best friend
is here, right, my best friend in the world. Somebody that I’ve
known since I was — it’s been 31 years of
friendship with this person. And he’s in the crowd. And people like him are
sort of the anchors — like things get crazy and they
get noisy, and it’s easy for me to look out into the audience — and I’m so grateful for
all of you who have come. And I’m so fortunate that
any of you care anything about the things
that I’ve written. But this isn’t my
real life, right. Like this is a part of my life
and it’s a part that I love and I’m sharing it with you. But my real life is at
my mom’s kitchen table. My real life is with my home
boys who’ve known me my whole life and know all the things
that y’all will never know. Right. And so I try my
best to surround myself with like the people who
love me and who know me. Because they’re the
ones who are going to always tell me the truth. And we all need the truth, even
when it makes us uncomfortable. And that’s how I deal
with it, you know. [applause]. You got to wait till the end. I got you the very
last question, but I can’t get you right now. Yeah?>>Hi. So I really admire
your craft because you try so many different things. You’ve done a verse novel
that took place like in a day. You’re on to four
of the Track books and then you’ve done a
Spiderman book that is based on a character that we love. So what is your craft
process like? Or maybe I’m mostly
just thinking of who is the hardest
character you’ve ever written?>>Jason Reynolds: So first
of all, I want to thank you because I do these talks and
I do panels all the time, and you know what people
never ask me about? Craft. Ever. People want to know whatever
it is they think I represent. But I work as hard as
everybody else in this business. I sit down at the page and
— you know what I mean? Like for me it’s craft, right. [inaudible] So thank
you for that, right. And so in terms of the hardest
character I’ve written — oh, it’s hard. That’s a tough question. I mean, there’s so
many different — I mean, Patina was not a
difficult character to write, but she was one that I wanted
to take really, really, really good care of and to
think about and be thoughtful about how to write her. Because I didn’t want — I wanted to write a girl
character as a human being. And that took time
and compassion, me dealing with my own stuff. Me really sort of like
taking my time to make sure that I nailed this down, that
I’m not swaying too far this way or that way, slipping into
all the cliches that so many of us slip into and
really writing a young lady as a human being dealing with
all the things that young ladies that I grew up with deal with. And so that was probably
not the hardest character, but the character that
was most challenging. Thank you for that. I got time for one
last question. And even though you
broke all the rules, I’m going to take your question. What’s your question — oops, actually, I’ll
take your question too. Real quick, what’s
your questions?>>When you write a book, normally how many
drafts do you write?>>Jason Reynolds: It depends. I mean, Long Way Down
I think was 20 drafts. Ghost was two. Sometimes it just kind
of works, you know, and other times you
got to work it out. It just kind of depends
on the book, you know, every book is different. You ready? You ready? Y’all ain’t ready. Last question real quick. I gave you a shot,
you know what I mean?>>When you were little,
did you like candy?>>Jason Reynolds: That’s the
perfect question to end on. When I was little,
did I like candy? The question is,
did I like candy? And the answer is not only
did I like candy then, I just had like a brownie
and a blondie upstairs. Anything with sugar in it
is for me, you understand? Not you though, but
for me for sure. All right, y’all, peace. Have a good night. [applause].

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