Latifah, and Tupac Shakur spoke far more directly to him than
the books he had been assigned to read in high school.
“Hip-hop saved me,” he notes. “It gave me permission to use
language in a certain way. It validated my community and my
friends. It gave our slang a certain elegance.” The blowback from
people who criticized the music eventually worked in his favor.
“ I have a chip on my shoulder I pet every morning, a constant
feeling like I have something to prove,” Reynolds says. “Hearing
that the canon can’t be diversified, there’s no room for more
brown faces—that fueled my fire. I loved music that people said
was not music, that it was too violent, too crass, too sexual. And
With three books out this fall, the prolific
author continues to exceed his limits
BY SUE CORBETT
On the first Monday in July—a day it seemed like veryone else in Washington, D.C., took off to start celebrating the Fourth early—Jason Reynolds walked from his home to a coffee shop on H Street, a mile or so away. He had work to do.
Reynolds works a lot. He will have published eight novels in
less than three years, including three coming out this fall: Miles
Morales: A Spider-Man Novel (Marvel, Aug.); Patina (Atheneum/
Dlouhy, Aug.), a sequel to his National Book Award finalist
Ghost; and Long Way Down (Atheneum/Dlouhy, Oct.), a standalone YA that will likely ratchet his reputation up another
After 13 years in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, Reynolds moved back to Washington a year ago to be
closer to his 72-year-old mother, Isabell, who still teaches special education in a Maryland public school.
But actually being at home is a rarity for Reynolds, whose
meteoric rise has made him a highly sought-after speaker. He
admits to having trouble saying no. “It’s hard, because I will
hear from a teacher who says, ‘My kids could really benefit from
hearing your story,’ and the kids she’s talking about are like the
kids I grew up with,” he says. “So I give all that I have, three to
four talks a day, 100 times a year, every year for the last three
years. This opportunity means the world to me.”
Kids Like Him
Though he was born in D.C., Reynolds moved “two blocks”
across the Maryland border as a child so his mother could have
a yard and enough space to shelter “grandparents, aunties, and
cousins,” if need be. The third of four children, he graduated
from Bishop McNamara High School in 2000 ( 11 years after
fellow alumnus Jeff Kinney) and went on to the University of
Maryland, where he earned a degree in English while working
part-time at the now-closed Karibu Books, a chain that specialized in African-American literature.
Reynolds says that, until college, the major influences on his
imagination had been almost exclusively rappers. Biggie, Queen