This newsletter is the first in a series of guest blogs from Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and was originally published on the main Library of Congress blog.
In this post, Jason Reynolds urges us all to let our imaginations out of their cages, and we’ve found that one of the best ways to spark imagination is by exploring the objects in the Library’s online collections. Ask learners to perform a quick search on the first word that comes to mind, with adult guidance for younger learners, and let the objects they discover prompt them to imagine.
I’ve been quiet, trying to find the words to offer myself, my family and, of course, you. But the truth is, my words and my thoughts aren’t any more important than yours or anyone else’s—we’ve all got them—and many of us have shared them on our various platforms. This sharing sometimes brings on more anxiety, and other times washes us with hope. And both of these feelings birthed by all these shared thoughts are honest. So, some honesty: The tricky part about my title as ambassador is that it doesn’t come with answers. It doesn’t come with medical education, and there’s nothing inscribed on the back of the ambassador medal that tells me anything that leads us closer to the end of this strange time. But what I’d like to believe is that there are things we all have that can help us cope, help us hold each other up and press on in the face of a peculiar uncertainty.
Things like, I don’t know … cake.
Or better yet, ice cream. But not just any ice cream: ice cream that could change flavors right in the middle of eating it, because sometimes chocolate is good for a spoonful, but not a whole scoop. I know this seems like a silly thing to say right now, but the only thing that’s helping me through all this is my silliness. Not just the clunky jokes rattling around my brain, but the silliness that allows me to stretch out—to think beyond the walls of my home, or the length of my block. The silliness that’s actually not silliness at all, just imagination cloaked in jokes. Yes, imagination—the only thing I’ve ever been able to count on, even though my imagination can’t always count on me. Because these are the moments in which I, unfortunately, convince myself to push imagination away. To force it back behind the wall of fear. And though fear and concern are both very real, they are no more real than imagination, right? I mean, why should they get to have all the fun?
Imagination is what has given us food and shelter. Imagination has given us clothes and education. Imagination has given us social media and video games. It’s given us music. And definitely literature. It’s even given us hand sanitizer, which is basically the same as … well, literature. It’s sometimes a little strange, and a little stinky, but becomes an amazing habit because you know rubbing it in (there’s no washing it off!) kills germs—the invisible germs that have attached themselves to us as we move through life. Literature kills germs! Maybe there is some kind of medical education that comes with this whole ambassadorship thing after all.
(Note: Literature doesn’t kill actual germs. But see how I imagined that? I’m like an imagination machine!)
The point is, as April continues to unfold, which—let us not forget— is National Poetry Month,
let’s try as hard as we can to let our imaginations out of their cages so they can storm the gates of anxiety. Let’s make words that make worlds. Poems that feed us something sweet—or at least something honest. Or maybe something sweet and honest and sour and honest and funny and honest and scary and honest, like ice cream that changes flavors right in the middle of eating it.
Sound good? Sure sounds good to me.
Before you go, check out my new video series.