September 10, 2009
Jason Reynolds, an author from Rockville, Maryland, will perform spoken word poems Saturday as part of the Africa Alive! Community Day 2009 sponsored by the National Museum of African Art. ATM talked with Reynolds about his current projects and what he has in mind for the future.
How did you get involved in spoken word and poetry?
I got started around the age of 14. They used to let me into Bar Nun on U Street [in Washington, D.C.], and I would just wait until the end of the night and perform my little poems and things of that nature. The original reason I started writing poems was because my grandmother died, and I wrote this poem, and the poem was shared at the funeral. From there it kind of just spun out of control.
You just had a book published this past spring.
Yes, so the new book is called “My name is Jason. Mine Too.” It’s written with a co-author, a buddy of mine who’s an artist. We do what we call hybrid art. The book basically is a creative and artistic memoir of our lives in New York City. It’s a classic New York tale of packing their bags and heading off for the big city. When they get there, they go through tons of trials and tribulations trying to figure out how make their dreams come true. What’s different about our story is that instead of being a story, it’s written in poems and paintings. So you read the poems and look at the paintings, and you can experience the entire story. It’s a different way to approach literature.
Did you write it with a specific audience in mind?
It was written for the teenager, the 15-year-old who may not be into literature or who may not understand poetry or art. It’s a little more palatable. It’s creative; it’s exciting. There are tons of different stimuli going on. It’s not just words on a page like all books are for that age.
What’s next for you?
I’m developing a software that will create interactive books. Taking the concept of an e-book and meshing it with a concept like Google Earth or video games for that matter. It’s turning literature into something very interactive. The truth is that paperless books are the way of the future, unfortunately. As much as I like to fight it, the truth is that as the world gets greener and as the economy continues to suffer books are going to become paperless. My job is to figure out a way to make these paperless books creative and interactive because that’s the next wave. It’s not quite a video game and it’s not quite an e-book, but it’s somewhere in between.
What kind of stories would you tell this way?
Let’s say we were writing a story about a kid in New York City. The reader would be the kid. The reader would be experiencing the story. The story could be anywhere. The story could be written in graffiti on the wall. The next part of the story could be written on a menu at a restaurant, but he gets there as he experiences the story. The graffiti on the wall basically explains to you where you are, what you’re doing and what’s about to happen. As you move about the neighborhood you read the other parts of the story. So it’s more like choose your own adventure, but it’s incorporating technology into it. Like the old choose your own adventure books. It’s that same concept but its becoming more interactive, using technology to bridge the gap.
So what are you going to do on Saturday?
I’m going to take a different perspective. I know we’re doing Africa Alive, and everyone is going to be doing blatant African themes. I’m going to come at it from the angle that Africanisms are interwoven into our everyday lives, especially of African Americans. I think we forget that African Americans are just five generations removed from Africa. But the Africanisms and a lot of the African traditions are still a part of our everyday lives. We just aren’t aware of the things that we do that are very African. Some of my pieces are going to be tied into that. It’s going to be pointing out the Africanisms that we take part in without even knowing because they are so natural and so normal for us. It kind of proves that Africa is alive in Africa and in America.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.