Author Imprint

S2017 E3 | CLIP

Author Jason Reynolds on Connecting to the Power of Books

Author Jason Reynolds discusses the need for creative thinking when it comes to inspiring readers of all ages and backgrounds. He talks about leveraging cultural trends to connect people with books. And he discusses "Ghost," the first installment of his Track series - about how adults choose to interact with young people.

AIRED: July 26, 2017 | 0:06:17

>> Hi. I'm Lisa Lucas.

I am the host of

"Author Imprint," and today I'm

going to be speaking with

Jason Reynolds, who has been

here today at the

Why Reading Matters Conference

hosted by the

National Book Foundation,

where I am the

Executive Director.

Jason, thank you so much for

joining me today.

>> Thank you for having me.


>> Today we talked a little bit

about why reading matters.

>> Yeah.

>> And you had some interesting

thoughts on why it does matter.

I didn't expect you to start

with why reading didn't matter

to you as a young person.

>> I know you didn't

expect that.

[ Laughter ]

>> But why do you think it's

important to frame that

conversation that way for


When you're trying to explain

why reading matters to someone,

why do you start

with the negative?

>> Because I think that,

especially in a crowd

like this crowd, right?

Like, for this crowd, which is a

crowd where everyone is sort of

working in books in some

capacity, right?

We're already the readers,


We're the readers already.

And so, for me, I think

sometimes we can forget that

there are a lot of young people,

specifically, who are totally

disconnected from the power of


And the reason why isn't --

Like, the reasoning behind that

isn't their fault.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> It's not their fault that

they're disconnected.

It's on us. It's up to us

to figure that out.

And so I want to make sure that

I always drive home the point

that, like, yes, today I am this


But my entire childhood I was

disconnected from the power of

books, and the reason why I was

disconnected is because there

were no adults in my life to get

a little creative.

>> Mm-hmm. Yeah.

>> There was no one to say,

"Well, what are you looking for?

What do you need?

What do we..."

It just was a different time.

>> Yeah.

I think about that a lot, too --

the parents.

You know, we talk all the time

about inspiring young people to

read and building this new

audience, but, like, how do you

talk to the parents?

Somebody who's spent 30 years,

40 years not reading at all,

how do you actually get them

involved in the act of reading?

Because it's like, if you're a

kid and your parents don't care,

and they don't think it's

worthwhile, even if there is

something for you --

which, like, authors like


>> Right.

>> Lots of people are starting

to provide those options.

>> Yeah.

>> How do you then get the

parent to value the books in the

home, and books in their own


>> I think therein lies the rub,


Like, I don't know if I have the

answer for it.

I think that is where...

It's like anything else.

Whether we're talking about the

technological gap, whether we're

talking about -- the gaps are

the gaps, and our job is to

figure out how to close it.

I'm not exactly sure I have the

answer, but I do know that --

I remember in 1999, 2000, 2001,

I was working in a bookstore

in D.C.

No. 2003, 2004,

'cause that was college.

I'm working at a bookstore in


This, as I'm sure you remember,

was the boom of the

street novel.

>> Right.

>> Right? They were everywhere.

Of course, we feel how we feel.

Like them, hate them,

whatever, whatever, whatever.

They flooded the market.

And in this bookstore, which was

a Black bookstore, we carried

65% of this kind of novel.

And what I was seeing was tons

of adults rushing into the

bookstore to read this novel.

Now, do I think these are

"good" books or well-written


Not necessarily.

But there's something to be


>> Oh, yeah.

>> Right? The same thing that

they were finding in those

novels is the same thing that I

was finding in Tupac.

There's something there,

and if we could figure out how

to harness that thing, and

figure out how to place it other

places and draw the connection

that way, I think that we can

start to bridge the gap

a little bit.

But that takes time and effort

and creativity.

>> Yeah.

Do you talk to parents ever?

>> All the time.

>> Yeah. And what do

they often say?

Are they thankful for the work?

Are they reading it themselves?

>> That's what I was gonna say.

A lot of times, they're reading

the books, too.

And so what will happen is a kid

will say -- like a lady who was

just here.

She was like, "You know, my

daughter met you in some school.

She read your book, and then

came home and said, 'Mom, you

have to read this.'"

And in that moment, there's a

bridging of the gap.

And I think it's happened even

with reluctant adult readers.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> Because, one...

And people tend to be a bit

pretentious about the way we

talk about these things.

But one, there's something a

little less...

There's something disarming

about reading books for

young people...

>> Mm-hmm.

>> ...especially for adults

who are reluctant readers,

and adults who may struggle

with literacy.

There's something disarming

still -- that doesn't make -- we

shouldn't look at them as

less than.

We shouldn't look at those

adults who are "reading down"

as less than, either, because

there is something to be gained.

Whether it be a relationship

with your child, whether it be a

relationship with literature and

letters and storytelling

and literacy --

All of those things matter.

>> Mm-hmm.

And I think there's a way to

frame it to encourage parents.

You should be reading what your

kids are reading.

>> You should.

>> You should be able

to have that discussion.

And I think that takes a little

bit of the, like, stink of

"reading down."

>> Exactly. Exactly.

>> Which it isn't, right?

But, you know, back to your own

book -- "Ghost" was the last one

that I read, and I have three

new books of yours on my stack

to read, which are all coming

out soon, which is exciting.

But I remember there was one

moment where a little kid was

eating sunflower seeds.

>> Yeah.

>> And the recognition, the

spark of recognition of my own

youth and, like, hanging out,

you know, in the summertime

eating sunflower seeds with


Which is such a, like,

Black reference.

>> Very Black.

>> Which is such a -- like,

something that I don't talk

about every day or think about,

but I certainly have never seen

it in a book.

>> Yeah.

>> This simple thing, eating

sunflower seeds and spitting

them out, you know.

>> Yeah.

>> And, like, figuring out how

to, like, break them open, lick

the salt off, get the seed out.

And I think that there's so much

value -- and this is maybe less

of a question and more of a

statement about being able to

find that recognition

in your books.

But I think that --

>> There's something to the

sunflower seeds, though.

>> Yeah.

>> Like, I also wrote --

So, the sunflower seeds in

"Ghost," it's interesting,

because I wanted it to be this

really familiar Black reference

about this snack food that we

all eat sort of passively, this

thing that we all do.

It's the same where my

grandfather would eat peanuts.

Like, that was his sort of form

of this --

It's like a continuous snack.

You're just kind of eating them

all day, and you're

spitting them out.

But what I also wanted to do

with the sunflower seed was use

it as a motif.

The truth is that the sunflower

seeds were also reference to the

adults in his life.

You have choices when it comes

to how we deal with young


You can chew them up...

>> Mm-hmm.

>> can lick the salt.

Or you can take your time

to crack the shell.

That is literally what...

>> Yeah.

>> I mean, that's what "Ghost"

is about, you know?


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