Jason Reynolds in Austin with new history of racism for young adults
Jason Reynolds wasn’t at all sure he wanted to write this book.
When historian Ibram X. Kendi approached him to create a “remix” of his 2016 National Book Award-winning “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” for young readers, Reynolds said no at first.
“I write from my imagination, from the childlike part of my psyche that I’ve been able to hold on to,” Reynolds explained in a phone interview. “This is a different beast. I was so intimidated. … But there was a moment I realized that this is bigger than me, this is bigger than him — this is something bigger than both of us that will exist when we’re long gone. If we have an opportunity to change the way people think about race, it almost feels irresponsible to not say yes.”
That yes became “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You” (Little, Brown, $18.99), which publishes Tuesday. Reynolds — a National Book Award finalist for “Ghost,” part of the New York Times bestselling “Track” series; a Newbery honoree for “Long Way Down”; and the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature — will be in Austin on Wednesday to discuss the book.
It’s a translation of Kendi’s deeply researched original, illustrating how racist ideas have reinforced inequities and discrimination throughout American history. And it was by request.
“The readers. They kept saying it. They kept saying that this book should be in every school,” Kendi said in an email interview. “They kept saying every young person should learn this history … I wanted to transform, completely remix this book for young readers. I wanted a completely different reading experience that feels authentic to young people, that is accessible to young people, that can transform young people, that meets them where they are.”
Reynolds gets right to it in “Stamped’s” opening chapter: “This is not a history book. I repeat, this is not a history book,” he writes. “At least, not like the ones you’re used to reading in school. The ones that feel more like a list of dates (there will be some), with an occasional war here and there, a declaration (definitely gotta mention that), a constitution (that too), a court case or two, and of course, the paragraph that’s read during Black History Month (Harriet! Rosa! Martin!).”
So while there are familiar figures from more traditional renditions of history, readers will see them through a different lens: “Thomas Jefferson might have been the world’s first White person to say, ‘I have Black friends,’” Reynolds writes. It’s the same for black icons, whose nuanced depictions include both their highlights and their challenges. W.E.B. DuBois, for example, is celebrated for his support of his black compatriots and dinged for his early insistence that black success only mattered if it matched white standards.
“This is how I would explain it to my little brother, who’s 18,” Reynolds says of the book’s conversational, accessible style. “I don’t value airs. I don’t value pomp and circumstance. I value informed irreverence. Uninformed irreverence is irresponsibility. This book … helps us put young people into the conversation.”
And not just young people. Both Reynolds and Kendi say while “Stamped’s” remix is billed as a young person’s version of the original, its subject matter and style can loop in adults.
“It’s been filtered in a way so everyone can wrap their brains around it,” Reynolds says, adding that parents and their children can and should read the book together. “I think we can use this as less of a pedagogical tool and more of a conversational primer.”
What: “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” discussion and signing
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Eighth St.
Cost: $20-$25; includes a copy of “Stamped”
Information: bookpeople.com/event; 512-472-5050