Jason Reynolds had given up on writing. A couple of his manuscripts had been rejected—they “sucked,” he said. So his plan was to just work, maybe do a little teaching or retailing or whatever. But there is a saying that goes, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Life came in the form of his friend, Christopher Myers—author, illustrator, and son of the prolific and award-winning writer Walter Dean Myers. The younger Myers encouraged Reynolds to read some of his father’s work and consider shouldering the literary mantle of the aging author, whose writings predominately feature Black male protagonists in urban settings. That was a huge task for someone who was nearly seventeen-years-old before he was able to read a novel from cover-to-cover not because he was a struggling reader, but because he was uninspired and reluctant.
Hip-hop resonated more than literature; to some, it was the literature of the hood—storytelling and poetry. Reynolds recalled that “lots of us ran to music to see ourselves because books reflected either a rose-colored cliché or a tale of old—something surely important, but seemingly irrelevant, especially to teenagers.” Through hip-hop, particularly Queen Latifah’s, “Black Reign,“ he discovered the power of words. So by the time he had that fateful conversation with Myers, he had acquired a love for the language but a distaste for rejection. The Young Landlords was the book Reynolds chose to read. He expressed feeling a “chemical change.” It was as if Myers’ style of writing gave him permission to “write in [his own] voice…tongue…language.” What resulted was the 2014 young adult release, When I Was the Greatest. Since then Reynolds has released three novels, one of which is for middle-grade readers. Ghost, another middle-grade novel—and the first book in Reynolds’ Track series—is due out in August. To learn more about Jason Reynolds, see the sources and additional readings below as well as his website and social media.
I know there are a lot — A LOT — of young people who hate reading. I know that many of these book haters are boys. I know that many of these book-hating boys, don't actually hate books, they hate boredom.