From a small town in Oxon Hill, Md., Jason Reynolds knew he wanted to become a poet at age 8. At 31, Reynolds lives his dream and continues to invent future work as a graduate from University of Maryland. He has published three books, was honored with a Coretta Scott King Award, featured during Black History Month on singer/actress Beyonce’s website, and has just finished a 30 Poems in 30 Days work of art in April.
On April 28 at Hyattsville Branch Library, Reynolds spoke to over 30 middle and high school students about his journey to becoming an author. He dreamt of being the next Queen Latifah (former ’80s female rapper) and Langston Hughes (American poet). “I realized from here on out I’m going to be the next Queen Latifah and Langston Hughes put together. . .that was the connection that I made, said Reynolds”
He struggled throughout college, especially in his English classes, thinking his professors did not understanding his writing style. Reynolds said, “I didn’t read any books until I was 17 years old . . . .most people don’t know this about me, but it’s true.”
Two weeks after Reynolds graduated, he moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, New York to immerse himself in his career of writing poetry. He worked as an English teacher and in radio just to make a living, but soon connected with a publishing company to publish a book with over 30 poems he had written during his younger years, called My name is Jason, Mine Too.
Reynolds believed that was the start of his big-break as a poet until the 2008 recession. He eventually moved back to his childhood home with his mother. “I realized then that my dream had come true and my life hadn’t change,” he said.
Reynolds eventually moved back to New York to start a new career as a retailer, but quickly went back to writing. He decided to write novels, inspired by Walter Dean Myers’ book, The Young Land Lords. He realized there were no books related to the 1980s and 1990s era and began to writing his first novel, When I Was the Greatest. “For some strange reason, during the 1980s and the 1990s no books were being written about any of the things that I’m telling you right now,” he said. “There were no books being written about hip hop and drug usage . . . about what that was like – that struggle.
He gained major success at this point, and knew this was just the beginning. His most recent novel, released Jan. 6, is titled The Boy in the Black Suit. It is about a man who works at a funeral home grieving over his mom’s death from breast cancer.
Reynolds poems, 30 Poems in 30 Days are published on his blog called, I am Jason Reynolds. “I’ve done it for the last 5 years, but this is probably the hardest year because my brain can’t really think outside of multiple . . . outside all of the drama,” said Reynolds. “It is challenging.”
Reynolds mentioned that his next novel is centered on the issue of police brutality. He believes it will be a difficult one and that his readers may have a hard time discussing the issue.”We all know what’s going on in Baltimore. . . . It is up to us to control the story,” he said.
In closing, Reynolds talked about being featured on Beyonce’s website during Black History Month. “I probably should have lead off with that,” he said. “It’s so weird . . . I felt a few ways . . . I’m just glad I had the opportunity to say what I wanted to say.”