Illustration by Erick
Ramos/ All rights reserved
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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
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,
Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry
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This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista
The National Ambassador for Young
People’s Literature — and a magnificent source of wisdom for human
society as a whole.
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
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.
The On Being Project’s Wisdom Team
Wisdom and Social Healing in a Time of
July 7th, 2021, 7:00pm - 8:30pm
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
more information and sign up here.
Wind Down: Sunday Edition
July 11th, 2021, 5pm
A special invitation from Krista:
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