Story by John Lane / Contributing Writer and Photographer
On Monday, New York Times best-selling author and poet Jason Reynolds held a virtual keynote address and Q&A sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University..
The event was open to the community, including MTSU students and faculty, and drew a crowd of high school students and educators from across the state, many of whom have been reading Reynolds’ work for class.
Reynolds is an author of multiple award-winning novels and poetry collections aimed at young audiences, including Stamped, All-American Boys, and the Track series, many of which draw closely from his own experiences growing up in the inner city during the 80s and early 90s.
“I’m always tickled when I’m invited to do a distinguished lecture, because I’m not much of a distinguished lecturer,” he joked during his introduction.
Reynolds did not read as a child or teenager. The reading required of him for school did not interest him because it had no relevance to his experiences. “Why would you ask a kid to read a novel about a guy hunting a whale if he’s never seen a whale?” he asked. The first novel he ever completed, Black Boy by Richard Wright, he did not read until age 17.
Reynolds’ passion for the written word began not with novels but with rap. He described the first rap tape he ever purchased, Black Reign by Queen Latifah, as having a profound effect on him as a teenager. As he read the lyrics via the liner notes included with the tape, he felt he had finally been introduced to stories that he could relate to.
This is what inspired him to begin writing poetry and, later in life, novels. It was by writing about his own experiences and the things relevant to him that he found satisfaction and, eventually, great success.
At the end of his address, he offered an important final takeaway.
“The greatest gift you can give yourself is: yourself.”
He answered questions on a variety of topics, including activism, his inspirations and writing process. He concluded the Q&A with two pieces of advice for budding writers
“If you’re afraid of difficulty, this is gonna be a terrible experience for you.” And “writing is about actually writing.”
You can follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonReynolds83 or on Instagram at @jasonreynolds83.
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