Author Jason Reynolds was recently named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress. He spoke with TFK Kid Reporter Jack Doane.
1. What’s your goal as National Ambassador?
My goal is to visit small towns and encourage young people to share their stories. We usually think stories are just in books. But our lives are books in themselves. We might believe our stories aren’t valuable, but they are. Imagine if everybody’s story could be made valuable.
2. You visit schools often. Why is that important to you?
When I was a kid, there was no such thing as an author visit. I never knew that I could grow up to be an author. My job now is to show up so kids can see that the person who wrote these books is a regular person, a person with fears and desires and joy, just like them.
3. What’s it like to write a novel?
The truth is, it’s difficult. You can’t really master it. You just do the best you can, and make it as clear as possible. You try to make something beautiful with the words you know.
4. You write especially for young people? Why?
Who else is there to write for? Young minds are wide open. I want to write about how interesting and resilient young people are. I see this as my opportunity to help you become who you’re trying to be.
5. So fiction can be very powerful for young people?
Fiction takes you into the lives of others. You see what other people are going through, if they’re suffering or being treated unfairly. And you learn to care about them. That’s an amazing thing. Fiction teaches that better than anything.
6. The boys in your novels often show their emotions. Why is that?
I grew up in a neighborhood where you had to be tough. You couldn’t seem scared or sensitive. But boys can be all these things, because they’re human. I want to show boys that it’s okay to have a range of emotions. You don’t have to be just a tough guy.
7. Why is diversity important in books?
America is a diverse country. It’s got people from all over the world, believing all kinds of things, living all kinds of lives. That’s the beauty of our country. Why not have that beauty shown in our literature?
8. You publish books frequently. How do you do it?
I work six or seven hours every day. My mom worked for 50 years and never got an opportunity like this. So I never take it for granted.
PRIZED AUTHOR Reynolds wears his medal from the January 2020 Library of Congress ceremony.
SHAWN MILLER—LIBRARY OF CONGRESS