Author Jason Reynolds can write anything — poetry, essays, movie scripts — however, his specialty happens to be Young Adult books. He is the author of several novels including: When I Was the Greatest, The Boy in the Black Suit and most recently, All American Boys. In his stories, you’ll find the nuanced lives of high schoolers in Brooklyn. Reynolds exposes their anxieties, social agendas, along with all the innocent revelations that emerge from youthfulness. His latest novel, co-written with Brendan Kiely, follows this distinct style of storytelling; intimately intricate and thought-provoking.
Although is a work of fiction, it could have easily been pulled straight from today’s headlines. The tale is told from two different perspectives: Rashad, a black teenager who is accused of stealing and is brutally beaten by a white cop, and Quinn, a white teenager who witnessed the beating. The power of this narrative lies in the richness of the main characters, who must address issues of race, public perception, and stereotypes in their community. Reynolds and Kiely do a remarkable job of telling a compelling story about police brutality and what it means to be an American teenage boy.
Reynolds and I chatted over coffee recently — the conversation ranged from our favorite childhood books to developing a tacit understanding of how privilege informs meaning in literature. Learn what inspires the author’s writing and which books influence his outlook on the world. —Glory
What are you currently reading?
So many things, but what’s standing out the most is the fact that I’m re-reading (for the gazillionth time) James Baldwin’s, Notes Of A Native Son.
Describe yourself as a reader.
As a reader… hmmm. If the book is something I’m REALLY into language-wise, I’ll read it slowly, sometimes going over lines a few times before moving forward. But if it’s just a good story, and the language is just the mechanism to disseminate the narrative, I’ll zoom through it just to see how it all ends. Honestly, as a writer, I have to admit that I read like one, always seeing what I can learn… ahem… steal.
What specific genres do you enjoy reading?
I LOVE contemporary realistic fiction. I really admire anyone who can take the world I already live in, and make it seem fresh and surprising.
Who is your favorite author of all time?
OF ALL TIME? Too hard. But, I’ll say James Baldwin is up there. But, Richard Wright’s, Black Boy is the book that changed my life. Walter Dean Myers is up there. Zora Neale Hurston. Audre Lorde. Countee Cullen. John A. Williams. Sonia Sanchez. Shakespeare. And on and on.
Tell us about your favorite childhood character.
I didn’t read much as a child. Actually, I didn’t complete any books on my own until I was seventeen. But I’ll never forget Piggy from Lord of The Flies, Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, or Lenny from Of Mice and Men, only because they were all taught in school. But if I had to pick a character that I love now… it would have to be Esch from Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage The Bones. One of the best characters ever.
What book(s) do you find yourself recommending to friends?
Books that contain depictions of black life. I’m always pushing the multiple narratives of black people to folks because 1.) I’m proud, and 2.) because I think we (black people) are often portrayed in a hyper-distilled, limited way. We are complex, and nuanced, and… well… awesome.
How do you decide what book to read next?
I ask my writer friends what they’re reading. Then I ask my non-writer friends what they’re reading. And if they’re reading the same things, I’ll pick up those books. Other than that, I choose by the book cover, duh.
What do you hope to teach young people in your stories?
I don’t really want to “teach” them anything. I just want them to feel cared for. That’s all.
You can follow Jason Reynolds on .
and , in stores now, , out in May 2016!
Reading Spaces is a new column written by , where we peek into author bookshelves and personalities.