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Best of the National Book Festival: Jason Reynolds, 2020

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

The following post was written by Sasha Dowdy and Monica Valentine, program specialists in the Library’s Young Readers Center.

This event from the National Book Festival Presents series is especially for children and teens, and this blog post includes prompts for thinking and exploring that young people, teens, families and teachers can use to explore the author and the author’s work. Recommended for ages 9+.

Jason Reynolds was inaugurated as the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in January of this year. The National Ambassador program was established to emphasize the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden led a conversation with Reynolds during the ceremony, which also included a special appearance by 2018-2019 National Ambassador Jacqueline Woodson. 

Please note that today at 4 p.m. EDT you can join Jason Reynolds and Jacqueline Woodson in a conversation with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden about ways to hear and support kids during a period of nationwide protest against injustice. It will premiere with closed captions on both the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube site, and will be available for viewing afterwards at those sites and on the Library of Congress website. This event is part of the new National Book Festival Presents series “Hear You, Hear Me,” featuring conversations on race in America.

Timestamps for major topics from the inaugural program are below:

  • Jacqueline Woodson describes the role of the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: “one thing we want to do is basically spread the gospel of reading” (17:18)
  • Jason Reynolds: “I really believe that every person walking this earth has a story. Everybody has a story that could change the outlook of life for somebody else.” (29:50)
  • Interview between Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Jason Reynolds begins (32:06)
  • How young people inspire Jason (56:58)
  • Q&A starts (1:01:23)

Both Jacqueline and Jason are inspired by and admire young people.

  • Jacqueline: “I think the role of the ambassador is to go around the country and see people and let you know how much you all matter to us. We love you all so much, young people. … I’m so glad that you’re here and you’re changing the world.” (21:24).
  • Jason: “Maybe it’s that young people honestly just don’t know yet what it feels like to know that their voices have power. Right. That their voices can move and change a room, can shift the temperature and the climate of a country and can literally knock the world off its axis. Maybe young people just don’t know, and maybe that’s because we’re not doing, we as adults aren’t doing, a good enough job at letting them know and creating spaces for them to do so. We’re not giving the microphone to you to say, ‘Go ahead, say your thing, sing your song, do your dance, talk your talk, tell your story, right.’” (35:58)
    • If the whole world could listen to you, what would you want people to know? What are the most important things you want adults in your life to understand about you and your experiences? What is something that you feel silenced about?
    • Think of a person in the public eye who represents what you believe in. Look closely at how that person expresses their beliefs. Think about the words that make you nod your head in agreement. Read everything this person has to say. Reading a lot and emulating your heroes will help you find the tools to tell your own story. Start preparing today.

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At 48:50, Jason Reynolds talks about his major influence, author and poet Richard Wright: “Richard Wright was writing in the ’20s and ’30s, and then I started to read everything in the Harlem Renaissance, right, because what I realized also was I could connect. They don’t sound like me, but they sound like my mother. … They sound like my family during the holidays at the table, right, the way that my uncles are sounding, my grandparents, right, and so at least I could identify with something familiar. And so I sort of just [started] really working my way up in that way before sort of expanding out.”

At 51:40, Jason Reynolds starts talking about the influence of rap and poetry: “I think that anyone who believes that rap music is not poetry doesn’t know much about poetry and has a very limited scope of what poetry is. You know. That’s like saying that Shakespeare is all play and no poetry.”

  • Explore the Library’s collection on Hip Hop/Rap
  • The song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott-Heron (1970) was added to the National Recording Registry. This poem, first released on Gil Scott-Heron’s debut album, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” served as a rallying cry to black America and proved a foreshadowing of the more politically active strains of rap music.

Jason Reynolds, more than anything, wants to hear a “sample set of America’s oral history from the mouth of babes” (51:00). These resources will give you an introduction to oral histories. Consider recording your own story or your family’s story today.

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will celebrate its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.