Author Jason Reynolds virtually visits Portage PS

Astrid Code, News Editor

Last year, many students read Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds as part of the annual Portage Communiteen Read. Unfortunately, just as Reynolds had been scheduled to visit PN in person for an assembly last March, the Covid-19 pandemic closed schools across the country and his visit was postponed. However, on March 16, Reynolds was able to a virtual assembly during 3rd hour to talk about Long Way Down. In addition, the Portage District Library and This is a bookstore hosted a zoom called Antiracism & You with Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, authors of All American Boys. 

Astrid Code - Screencast

During the assembly, Reynolds shared his journey becoming a writer and talked about how he originally didn’t like reading. “I’m dealing with all this noise, and then I get to school every day, and my well meaning teachers would look at me and say, ‘Jason, we want you to read this book about a man on a boat chasing a whale.’ And if you’re a kid coming from a neighborhood like mine, you’re thinking to yourself what I was thinking, which was, ‘No… I’m not interested in that,’” said Reynolds. He continued to explain the conflict between his teachers and his inability to relate to the books they wanted him to read. “The teacher says, ‘Jason, you need to read something’ and I say ‘Well I don’t see the need in reading anything when the people who wrote these books don’t even know I exist, when they don’t even believe that I’m visible,’” he said. 

Reynolds described how he was inspired by reading the lyrics to his favorite rappers to start writing poetry. “Every single tape you bought back in the day came with all the words. So Queen Latifah starts rapping and I start reading along … And when the album is all over, I go back and I read all the lyrics all over again and I realize that … all of our heroes back then were all writing poetry,” said Reynolds. “Every single day forward I started writing my Queen Latifah poems.”

Long Way Down is written in verse, so Reynold’s connection to poetry directly relates to the novel students read. “I really liked the formatting of the book and all of the messages included in the story,” said freshman Libby Ertl. 

Ertl was one of the students who got a chance later in the assembly to personally ask Reynolds a question. Since the assembly was conducted virtually through a Google Meet, students were pre-selected. “My English teacher put out a Google Form if we wanted to submit a question for extra credit so I thought about it and submitted my question,” said Ertl. “I didn’t actually think my question would get chosen and that I would have to ask him myself. I didn’t word my question correctly when I asked him so I just wish I could have gotten a real answer for the question I meant to ask.” 

The event concluded later that night, when from 6-7:30, over 250 people from the Portage and Kalamazoo community joined a virtual talk with Kiely and Reynolds about antiracism.