Jason Reynolds’s term as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature is shaking out a little differently from how it was supposed to be. Just three months into his two-year appointment and about a month into a U.S. pandemic, Reynolds is having to connect with young people like everyone else is doing: online.
“Due to the current changes in our way of life, my approach as Ambassador has had to change too,” Reynolds said in a release. “My role and goal is to get young people to express themselves and see value in their own narratives, and since I can’t, at the moment, physically come to them, I’ve created [a] video series.”
“We had to be more proactive on the front end because the kids aren’t in school,” Reynolds told PW, explaining that his original schedule of activities on his “Grab the Mic: Tell Your Story” platform had to be tweaked as “all of a sudden all of America’s children are trapped in their homes. We wanted to do something functional and useful that would encourage children to stretch their imaginations.”
On April 14, Reynolds is launching “Write, Right, Rite,” a biweekly video series for young people designed to encourage them to tap into their creativity with writing prompts and other activities, such as video games. The videos will be posted twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. ET throughout the rest of April and all of May. Additional videos will be posted throughout the summer as well. If the series takes off, Reynolds says, he’s happy to continue recording the videos “into perpetuity” while he is ambassador because, he explains, “I only like to do things that are effective.”
Reynolds told PW that the videos are short—two minutes—and will feature him sharing snippets from his own personal experience and then giving prompts inspired by that disclosure. When asked for some examples of the writing prompts, Reynolds reported that one involves tattoos (inspired by his father’s tattoos) and another imagines correspondence between one’s hero and oneself (inspired by actual correspondence between Langston Hughes and a fan). Write, Right, Rite participants will be encouraged to share their projects on social media using the hashtags #WriteRightRite and #tellyourstorywithjason. The videos, along with a newsletter for parents and educators focusing on relevant topics, will be available on Reynolds’s online resource guide, Grab the Mic.
Reynolds was appointed ambassador in January by the Library of Congress in partnership with the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader. The original itinerary had Reynolds traveling around the U.S. this fall making stops in small towns that don’t often receive visits from such luminaries, leading young people in exercises designed to empower them by sharing their personal stories with him and with each other.
Reynolds has already been engaging his fans on Instagram Live for the past two weeks with his “Imagination Stretch,” which takes place on Fridays at 1:30 p.m. ET. Using index cards labeled with random, common objects, participants have 20 seconds to create new inventions using the two objects selected, such as, Reynolds cited as an example, a lawnmower and a shovel. Reynolds will then pick two participants to discuss their inventions with him on Instagram Live; another five or six participants receive gift cards from Reynolds to their local indie bookstore.
“It’s incredible,” he says of the game. “These kids are pushing themselves to think beyond what is given them, to give life to something that doesn’t exist.”