Author presents life experiences to students

New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds visited the high school

Author Jason Reynolds speaks to Bexley students about his life and his experiences of becoming a writer at a Feb. 23 assembly. (Photo by Nikolas Robinson)

Wednesday, Feb. 23 to speak to freshmen and sophomores.

Reynolds has received awards such as the Newbery Medal, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People Image Award and a Printz Award for works such as “Long Way Down,” “All American Boys,” “Ghost” and “Patina.”

Reynolds began the assembly by discussing his writing. He said his first works were poetry and his first novel, “When I Was the Greatest,” was published in 2014.

In the beginning of his talk, Reynolds spoke about what his life was like growing up. He discussed how drugs were prevalent in his community, the AIDS epidemic was occurring and rap music had started to grow.

He prefaced this discussion by talking about this generation of high schoolers as a whole. He said this generation could change the world, but certain groups of people are not represented in the media enough.

Reynolds said that when he was younger, he wished he could have seen himself reflected in the books he read. He didn’t enjoy reading because he couldn’t relate to the stories or characters he read about, and he doesn’t want this for the current generation, he explained.

“If I could figure out how to write something that’s not boring, reading wouldn’t be such a chore,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds acknowledged that reading and writing in school can be dull at times. He said that a professor he had in college was the first person to help him expand his views on reading. The teacher taught him that reading can strengthen your imagination and broaden your view of the world, he explained.

The rest of the presentation was led by juniors Lydia Baker, Madison Ingram and Mason Louis. The students asked him questions, the first of which concerned his inspiration.

Reynolds explained that his grandmother passed away when he was 10 years old, and he thought writing something would help his mother deal with grief.

Reynolds said he wrote a poem that his mother put on the back of the funeral program, and the feedback he received from his family was what inspired him to continue writing.

“I realized in that moment that words had power, and that’s all I needed,” he said.

Reynolds argued that while books about controversial topics are often removed because of their content, they should not be banned.

“Discomfort today could mean the safety of someone’s body tomorrow,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds suggested that stripping students of an opportunity to learn about the world and figure out who they are is a terrible thing, and students should be upset about this.

He also gave writing advice to students and was very honest about the writing process. “Get used to the idea that everything is hard,” Reynolds said.

“The question is, are you going to do it or are you not going to do it, and if you are, then don’t be scared of a little difficulty.”

Reynolds talked about being inspired by his teachers to continue working and shared the lessons he learned from them.

Middle school librarian Rachel Riegler first set up this presentation in May 2019. She said for a variety of reasons, mostly due to COVID-19, his presentation was rescheduled four times.

Reynolds was most recently set to visit Oct. 14, 2021, but he tested positive for the coronavirus days before, Riegler said.

The presentation was then rescheduled for Feb. 23, she added. Riegler said she hopes this was a good experience for students.

“I hope students were able to see what you can do, how you can use your voice, and that everyone struggles with communicating,” Riegler said.