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The Power of Storytelling

The Power of Storytelling

YA author Jason Reynolds visited Dana Hall on May 14 for a Flex Block conversation with Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion Rachel Nagler on storytelling, collaboration, community and the writing process. He also answered questions from students, then spoke with students and faculty and signed their books. O. Littlefield ’28 introduced him to the community in Waldo Auditorium.

Reynolds, who describes himself as someone who does not write boring books, is the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of many award-winning titles, including “Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks,” “All American Boys” (with Brendan Kiely), “Long Way Down,” “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” (with Ibram X. Kendi), “Stuntboy,” “in the Meantime” (illustrated by Raúl the Third), and “Ain’t Burned All the Bright” (with artwork by Jason Griffin). The recipient of a Newbery Honor, a Printz Honor, an NAACP Image Award, and multiple Coretta Scott King honors, Reynolds was also the 2020-22 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

He began by talking about the “colorful” family he grew up in, where storytelling and one-upmanship was a part of daily life. “To me, the most beautiful part of humanity is that each of us has a story,” Reynolds said. “All of us are walking around as libraries, filled with millions of stories – even at a young age. Your story is the most valuable, more expensive think you’ll ever possess in this life.”

Reynolds, who covers race and societal expectations in many of his books, spoke of the pitfalls of others telling your story, especially people who don’t love you. This segued into his thoughts on the power of collaboration, which Reynolds described as some of the most fun he has while working. “I collaborate with my friends,” he said. “I trust these people. When everybody’s excited and everybody’s on board, you might just make a beautiful thing.”

He mentioned that while there are many themes throughout his novels, his central focus is masculinity. “What my books are really about is the spill out of masculinity,” Reynolds said. “In my books, let me show you a boy who is sensitive, who is insecure, who is afraid, who is emotional and crying. This is who they actually are before we put all this stuff on them. What we are really seeing is what happens when you don’t deal with this issue.”

As for working through writer’s block, Reynolds said he doesn’t often experience it because “I’m not afraid of writing badly,” he said. “It’s going to be bad until I make it good. The process of writing is a process of refinement. You’re throwing stuff on the palette first, then figuring out how to make things work. Go ahead and make some trash, then turn this trash into treasure.”

Before his visit, some Dana Hall faculty and staff members participated in a community read of Reynolds’ novel “All American Boys,” with a discussion that centered around his themes in relation to Dana Hall students, like building dynamic community and utilizing curriculum, according to Rachel Nagler, director of Community, Equity and Inclusion.

“Jason Reynolds exemplifies the best in what we do at Dana Hall,” Nagler said. “Coming together to build community and find the humanity in all of us was inspiring, connecting and a mandate to always meet each other with what is human about each of us. We hold our differences and seek to understand but always gravitate and remember that the human experience is more similar than different.”

Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion Rachel Nagler, Jason Reynolds, O. Littlefield '28

Director of Community, Equity and Inclusion Rachel Nagler, Jason Reynolds, O. Littlefield '28

Jason Reynolds signing books for students

Reynolds signs books for Middle School students