This post was co-written by Monica Valentine and Alli Hartley-Kong of the Library’s Informal Learning Office
On January 16, 2020, award-winning writer Jason Reynolds began his tenure as the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. While the role of the ambassador is to “raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature,” Reynolds focused specifically on helping young people see the value in their own stories though his signature platform GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story. On Tuesday, December 13 at 10:30 a.m. the Library of Congress will celebrate Reynolds’ unprecedented three-year term and vision. We encourage you to follow along on livestream here or watch after the event.
Critical to Reynolds’ platform was his goal of visiting students in rural areas across the United States. As he shared in his 2022 National Book Festival appearance, “I wanted to make sure that I sent the message to the rest of the country that everybody’s child is a valuable child despite where you live, or what you have, or if there’s a train or even a library, you deserve an author visit like everybody else.”
While the pandemic delayed his goal of traveling to see students in person, Reynolds didn’t miss an opportunity to create a treasure trove of digital resources for students, teachers and families. Reynolds created, “Write. Right. Rite.”, a 30-part video series with prompts designed to encourage creativity and GRAB THE MIC, a newsletter series that Reynolds used to connect with readers of all ages.
During Reynolds’ third year, he was finally able to fulfill the goal of visiting students in person. He traveled three schools in Montana and schools in New Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Additionally, the Library and Reynolds partnered with publisher Short Edition, maker of the Short Story Cube, adding another unique element to his term. The Short Story Cube allows students to create, edit, and print stories of their own, further supporting Reynolds goal of amplifying young voices.
In addition to exchanges with students in their local communities, Jason also elevated the voices of young people here at the Library of Congress. During the 2021 virtual National Book Festival and 2022 in person event, Jason was interviewed by participants from the Library’s teen intensive summer internship program. Check out his appearances below.
No matter how big the stage, Jason welcomed young people.
- 3:38-5:55: Reynolds shares about how attending college grew his sense of identity as a Black man
- 6:38-10:23: Reynolds talks about the energy of youth
- 13:00-16:37: Reynolds shares how curiosity drives his imagination
- 18:00: Reynolds shares about how he writes his books to be revisited by readers throughout their lives
- 26:15: Reynolds shares how advice from musicians helps him deal with difficult times
- 29:33-31:46: Reynolds shares how his books are rooted in real-life experience
- 2:40-6:50: Reynolds discusses how the pandemic shifted his early focus as an Ambassador
- 10:00-17:16 : Reynolds discusses how he struggled to find “oxygen masks” during the early pandemic, but was inspired by the concept of “taking three deep breaths”
- 21:40-24:00: Reynolds curiosity allows him to grow, which he incorporates into his writing
- 34:00- 37:00: Reynolds discusses how writing requires discipline
- 43:00-45:00: Reynolds discusses how to find your “fingerprints” as a writer
- 49:00: Reynolds shares with an aspiring writer “to write real people, you gotta know real people” and how his family and friends appear as a mosaic in his books
As we reflect upon Reynolds’s years as ambassador, we caught up with one of Jason’s teen interviewers, Brandon Marshall. Brandon is now a college freshman, and he reflected that interviewing Reynolds as an 11th grader was “eye opening and a great experience.” He noted that Reynolds is “very humble and down to earth, he’s super easy to talk to. Any nerves I had before starting went away once we got a conversation going.”
When asked why he thinks young people respond to Reynolds’ work, Brandon shared, “the way he writes young people is actually accurate to how young people think and operate. It doesn’t feel like he’s trying too hard to portray a young person, and you can actually see yourself in his characters’ shoes.”
At the Library
If you are local, we invite you to stop by the Young Readers Center & Programs Lab during open hours (Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m. through 4 p.m.) between December 9 and December 18. You’ll have the opportunity to reflect on Jason like Brandon did. We will be hosting a “Jason Station”, where visitors can share responses to three of his “Write. Right. Rite.” prompts in a fun visual way, as well as write thank you letters that will delivered to Reynolds.
In Your Community
Reynolds’ term as ambassador is winding down, but he has left students, families, and aspiring writers with a digital footprint that includes creative prompts, interviews, newsletters, and more. Even more importantly, he left an impression on the many young people whose voices he elevated during his ambassadorship.
If you’d like to explore Reynolds’ resources with your family, make sure to check out his research guide. Finally, if you have any appreciations or reflections that you’d like to share with Jason Reynolds, please leave them in the comments below!