This newsletter is the latest in a series from Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. It was originally published on the Poetry and Literature Center’s blog, From the Catbird Seat.
You know what I’ve been thinking about lately? Awards. Maybe that’s because we’re in the midst of awards season in the entertainment industry, the Oscars and Grammys having just recently taken place. And every year, during this time, I’m glued to the television, watching people get nominated for their talent. And every year, I watch about 90 percent of them lose. The handful that win, they usually get on stage and thank their fellow nominees, their families and their teams, but most of them also make it a point to take a moment to shine light on something a bit more serious than a movie, or a song.
This is usually the part of the speech that brings me to tears. The reason being, it’s the part of the speech that actually matters to me. Because though I am happy for the winner (usually), I don’t know their families, or their agents and managers, or the directors of their movies, or the producers of their albums. I don’t know any of the people who have helped to get them where they are, on that big stage with the bright lights, dressed in gorgeous garb, glammed up from head to toe. That feels far away. But to bring light to an injustice, to some of the loose threads in our world, some of our jaggedness, I am suddenly transported from my living room into the theater. Or maybe they are transported from the theater into my living room, and we are now crying together. On my couch. Crying for our lives, or loves, or world.
And sometimes, I wonder if some of the artists who didn’t win had something even more poignant to say. What if one of the nominees who stayed seated had the key to some part of my emotional prison and could’ve set a sliver of me free? Or could’ve said the thing to spark a global movement? Or could’ve honored a quieted human who deserves more light than any of our entertainers? How would we ever know? What if? What if?
What’s the point of all this, you ask? Well … I don’t know. I guess, as someone who has received awards, I’m just thinking about how we want to win them for our work, to be praised for our efforts and abilities, but I’m not always sure our work is worth anything if the people we make it for can’t be free. It doesn’t mean we can’t provide a smile or a moment of respite, but a broken world can’t be healed by a Band-Aid, no matter how creative it might be. So maybe we — or at least I — will start thinking of awards as just opportunities to shine light on someone other than myself. And if we all were to think of awards that way, no one, or at least the people who actually matter, could ever lose. We’d be fighting, yearning, hoping for the victory of us all.
Or at least the opportunity to say that victory, as it pertains to free life, should stretch beyond any red carpet or ballroom.
Thinking of Ukraine. And you.