Jason Reynolds. author of many books, brings his wisdom about language, imagination, and narrative to this conversation in the podcast, On Being, especially as those features relate to racism, oppression, and freedom. Reynolds is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, but his audience is far wider than just young people. He communicates with the precision and plain-speak necessary for addressing the crises of our time to people of all ages, as demonstrated in this searing definition of antiracism: “Antiracism is simply the muscle that says that humans are human. That’s it. It’s the one that says, I love you, because you are you.” His message is one for people of all ages and is honed by his profound respect for the analysis and accountabilities he hears from young people.
In this 51 minutes of conversation, we hear how Reynolds takes a word like freedom and invents words like breathlaughter to explore it; then invites audiences to suggest words of their own invention. The main aim for him is to delve into the imaginative capacities of audiences, honoring creativity and agency, and demonstrating a practice of listening and appreciating their contributions. Coming up with a new way to say a word is linked with coming up with a new way to live a life: the way we language ourselves might be a way we could live ourselves. He doesn’t only consider words like freedom; other words, too, are explored in this conversation: rage, anger, power, fortitude, learning, growing, failing, together. Language — and its renewal — is a vital component in how safety can be ensured for populations of people. Someone imagined language and story in a particular way and centuries of oppression followed, he highlights; and in his work, he seeks to enliven the imaginations of audiences so that stories of safety can be unfurled with comparable power.
Speaking about young people, he says: “I think sometimes we reduce children and young people to half-formed things. And so we write half-formed stories about them. And even that ties to the way people talk about children’s literature. People talk about children’s literature as if it is a category that is full of half-formed work, but that too is because they believe children are half-formed.” Young people, he asserts, are sophisticated intelligent people with questions, needs, articulations, and insight. The literature for and about them is — or, at least should be — correspondingly sophisticated.
This interview draws out Reynolds on his book, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a companion to Ibram X. Kendi’s famous 2017 book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Jason Reynolds’ Stamped is something that speaks plain truth, recounting historical fact while demonstrating the interior life of the imagination as the source of profound events and change. If you have the time, check out this interview: