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Author Jason Reynolds Visits Convent & Stuart Hall

Author Jason Reynolds Visits Convent & Stuart Hall

The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature met with students and the adult community to talk about his journey as a writer and his many award-winning books.

In a visit to campus on November 16, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds gave two talks in a filled Syufy Theatre, speaking first to students in Grades 4–8, followed by an evening roundtable discussion with high school students and adults in the Convent & Stuart Hall community.

During his morning session, Mr. Reynolds, whose visit coincided with the school’s annual Book Fair Week, talked about growing up outside Washington, D.C. His relatable nature quickly won over the audience of elementary students. “I was a ramen noodle baby,” he began. “We were corner store kids.”

Growing up in the 1980s, Mr. Reynolds found inspiration in rap music and wrote his first poems at the age of 9. However, he told students that his path to becoming an author was an unlikely one: He was 17 before he read his first full novel. Throughout those years, nothing really spoke to Mr. Reynolds until he heard Queen Latifah’s music.

“They sounded like me, they walked and talked like me, their stories were my stories, their slang was my slang, their sneakers and their clothes all felt very familiar to me,” Mr. Reynolds added, referring to the music and styles that emerged from the hip-hop movement.

Mr. Reynolds is able to trace his rise as a writer to his mid-20s when he realized the importance of being authentic. He likes to blend autobiographical elements into his work and told students that “The greatest gift you can give yourself is yourself.” He added: “I want you to read my stories, and I hope you love my stories, but I don’t want you to love my stories more than you love your own.”

Student questions asked on stage by librarians Kathleen Esling and Jennifer Schwartz prompted Mr. Reynolds to talk about what he hopes young people learn from his books, his writing process and the unspoken rules he lives by: Excellence is a habit. There are no excuses. Give of myself all that I have.

In a free-flowing evening conversation moderated by Rachel Simpson, Chief Academic Officer and Head of Convent High School, and Dennis Estrada, Upper Form Dean and Studies in Literature & English Language faculty, Mr. Reynolds spoke of the “weight” of his role as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, reflecting on a pressing desire to honor the youth he represents.

When asked about breaking the rules of writing, Mr. Reynolds said: “If we look at writing in the same way we look at painting, or music for that matter, and we let young folks be as wild and free as they want, I’m always curious about what might happen — the way they might see the language, the way they might see the page as a place for composition. If it works, it’s right. That’s my whole theory.”

A question from the audience led Mr. Reynolds to share a simple yet powerful message with the students in the crowd. “I believe young people are the antidote to hopelessness,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been able to honor the people who built me and honor the people who will hopefully build the world, like you.”

Photo Album
Jason Reynolds Assembly with Gr. 4-8 Students
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