Including his 2014 debut novel, When I Was the Greatest (Atheneum/Dlouhy), Jason Reynolds has published a total of five novels, which have been nominated for numerous awards, including multiple Coretta Scott King Awards and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. And his prolific pace shows no sign of slowing.
This year, Reynolds has another three books coming out. Two are due in August: Miles Morales (Marvel), a Spider-Man spin-off, and Patina (Atheneum/Dlouhy), the second installment in his middle grade series about an elite track and field team that began with Ghost, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award.
Patina is Reynolds’s first book written from the point of view of a girl—in this case Patty, who runs to relieve the stress she feels from a litany of personal and family problems. “I grew up around a whole bunch of girls, and one thing I realized is what they had on their plate was very different than what I had on mine,” Reynolds says. “The things girls are made to be responsible for is a heavy burden—take care of your younger siblings, do good in school, have some extracurriculars. The pressure is intense.”
Reynolds will publish his first standalone YA novel, Long Way Down (Atheneum/Dlouhy), in October. Written in verse, it gives new meaning to the expression elevator pitch. Fifteen-year-old Will gets on the elevator of his apartment building with a gun, intent on revenge against the person who killed his brother. But as he descends, each new passenger who gets on is a ghost who tells him something that changes what he thought he knew about his brother’s death.
“The whole book takes place in the elevator over the course of a minute,” Reynolds says. “That’s all the time you need to stop and reflect before doing something that will change your life forever. Most of these young kids have no idea why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
At the age of 33, Reynolds may seem like an overnight sensation, but he calls his recent success “a second breath.” After college at the University of Maryland, he and classmate Jason Griffin moved to Brooklyn and self-published My Name Is Jason. Mine, Too. The largely autobiographical account tells the story of two broke young men with the same first name and the same dream: becoming artists. “Foolish children” is what Reynolds says now about his decision to spend $30,000 on the self-publishing venture.
Though the book didn’t find a wide audience, it caught the eye of then-HarperCollins-editor Joanna Cotler, who republished it for teens. The book still didn’t sell well, but it convinced Reynolds to write for young people, specifically those who hate reading. Since his breakout three years ago, he has become a sought-after speaker in schools, doing as many as 100 visits a year. “I have a hard time with people who say they write for children but they don’t really like children,” he says. “I love children. I love talking with them. We have a good time. We talk about sneakers or Tupac, and the books I sneak in the back door.”
All of the recognition Reynolds has gotten from award judges—especially from the Coretta Scott King Awards committee, which gave him a John Steptoe New Talent Award for When I Was the Greatest—has made him want to live up to the potential others see. “[The committee’s] watching me,” Reynolds says. “I can’t make them look like fools. There is more work to do, and the work has to get even better.”
Jason Reynolds will give a keynote address on Friday, April 7, 7:45–8:45 a.m, in Salon 1 & 4.