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Dear friends,

When I was young, I read books. I also spent hours at the library. For about four years — maybe five — I would finish school at 2:30pm, walk to the library, do my homework, and then put away all the books that had been returned to the library that day. The librarians would leave them for me to do. I was seven, eight, nine, and ten.

During those years, there were two different librarians: Deirdre and Anne Marie. When Deirdre left, I was heartbroken. But she must have left word for the new librarian. Anne Marie picked up where Deirdre left off, leaving stacks of 40 or 50 books for me to put away on a daily basis. I loved it. Kind work, hard work, no questions. Neither of those librarians ever asked why the library was preferable to going home. I wouldn’t — couldn’t — have told them anyway. The library was home, for those hours at least: the smell of books; the weight and heft of them; the sound of quiet voices and the satisfaction of sliding a book into its proper place. 

Books were my familiar. I was theirs. There were the characters in them, yes — I read and reread books with a hunger that was insatiable — but there was the feel of them too, the trustability of them. There were lives lived in books that helped me live mine, helped me escape mine, helped me imagine mine into something it wasn’t expected I could imagine it to be. 

Krista’s guest for this week’s On Being is Jason Reynolds. Author of many books, he brings his wisdom about language, imagination, and narrative to this conversation, especially as those features relate to racism, oppression, and freedom. Appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in January of 2020, his audience is far wider than just young people. He communicates with the precision and plainspeak necessary for addressing the crises of our time to people of all ages, as demonstrated in this searing definition of antiracism: “Antiracism is simply the muscle that says that humans are human. That’s it. It’s the one that says, I love you, because you are you.” His message is one for people of all ages, and is honed by his profound respect for the analysis and accountabilities he hears from young people. 

In this hour of conversation, we hear how Jason takes a word like freedom and invents words like breathlaughter to explore it; then invites audiences to suggest words of their own invention. This invitation goes much deeper than mere skill of synonym-making, however; the main aim for him is to delve into the imaginative capacities of audiences, honoring creativity and agency, and demonstrating a practice of listening and appreciating their contributions. Coming up with a new way to say a word is linked with coming up with a new way to live a life: the way we language ourselves might be a way we could live ourselves. He doesn’t only consider words like freedom; other words, too, are explored in this conversation between Jason and Krista: rage, anger, power, fortitude, learning, growing, failing, together. Language — and its renewal — is a vital component in how safety can be ensured for populations of people. Someone imagined language and story in a particular way and centuries of oppression followed, he highlights; and in his work, he seeks to enliven the imaginations of audiences so that stories of safety can be unfurled with comparable power. 

Speaking about young people, he says: “I think sometimes we reduce children and young people to half-formed things. And so we write half-formed stories about them. And even that ties to the way people talk about children’s literature. People talk about children’s literature as if it is a category that is full of half-formed work, but that too is because they believe children are half-formed.” Young people, he asserts, are sophisticated intelligent people with questions, needs, articulations, and insight. The literature for and about them is — or, at least should be — correspondingly sophisticated. 

Krista draws out Jason on his book, Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a companion to Ibram X. Kendi’s famous 2017 book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. In this book, Krista sees an exploration of how a limited imagination of the human project has been marked upon humanity by racist practices and systems. Jason Reynolds’ Stamped is, then, something that speaks plain truth, recounting historical fact while demonstrating the interior life of the imagination as the source of profound events and change. 

In the work and words and artistry of Jason Reynolds, we are brought into the rich territory of how the imagination of language can influence how action is inspired in citizenship and community. We are moved to imagination and action by this conversation; we hope you are, too.

 

Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound

 

 


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This Week at The On Being Project


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On Being with Krista Tippett
Jason Reynolds
Imagination and Fortitude

The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature — and a magnificent source of wisdom for human society as a whole.

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screens on the new On Being Wisdom aapp

If you missed it, in just a few weeks we will be launching our new adventure: the Wisdom app. Starting with a 20-session course, Hope Is a Muscle, this will be a place to explore, reflect on, and find companionship in the shared endeavor of becoming more fluent in our own humanity.

We are not launching this with splashy marketing. We are instead inviting close friends, partners, and Pause subscribers to begin at the beginning and shape this with us. We invite you to take a moment and complete this five question survey about the Wisdom app. This is an opportunity to suggest curated content, forms of engagement, and other insights into ways we can do this well, together. You can also sign up to be notified when it launches and share your thoughts with us. 

With gratitude,

The On Being Project’s Wisdom Team


Events


Seeking Wisdom and Social Healing in a Time of Division
July 7th, 2021, 7:00pm - 8:30pm EDT
Online Event

Krista and Lucas will be in an online conversation with Keith Allred, the Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD), and Rev. Heather Shortlidge, who is Transitional Head Pastor at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (NYAPC). Together, they will share some of the main insights they have gleaned as a result of listening to and talking with many different people through the years, and how this wisdom informs the different types of healing we need in our country.

All who register will be invited to submit questions for the discussion. Find more information and sign up here.

The Wind Down: Sunday Edition
July 11th, 2021, 5pm EST
Online Event

A special invitation from Krista: 

Meditative Story is a beautiful podcast I've recommended before — and it's produced by WaitWhat, which happens to be the excellent and wonderful organization we're partnering with to create the Wisdom app. They have innovated a wonderful, immersive, and utterly unique online experience called The Wind Down for their members. In this live event, I’ll offer the "meditative story" I created with them — about a pivotal juncture in my life that led to this adventure. They're curating the whole hour around the theme of wisdom. And they're making room for 1,000 non-members to join, and opening that to subscribers to the Pause. To join The Wind Down, please RSVP here.

 

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