Racism, Antiracism and Woo: Jason Reynolds Visits Campus

Image of Kennedy Pope ’23 and Cam Love ’24 interviewing Jason Reynolds. Image courtesy of Mike Schenk via The Daily Record.
Grace Pryor, Contributing Writer

Last Thursday night, McGaw Chapel was filled to the brim with students, faculty and Wooster community members, all waiting to hear a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author speak. Jason Reynolds is the award-winning author of “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” which was the required reading for incoming first-year students over the summer. It is a “remix” of co-author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning,” which follows five historical figures and their interactions with racism throughout their lives. “Stamped,” which Reynolds described as “[his] book with [Kendi’s] info,” covers more broadly the evolution of racist ideas throughout history and the potential for a new, antiracist future.

Reynolds came to the College for the annual Peter Mortensen Endowed Lecture on Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. Sitting comfortably onstage at McGaw Chapel, he was interviewed by Kennedy Pope ’23 and Camron Love ’25, with questions pulled from many First-Year Seminar classes.

Following this experience, Pope said that, “being able to hear [Reynolds] speak and explain the way he envisions people sitting with the book makes me want to reread it. Because something about meeting authors really breathes life into their work.”

One of the many issues on the agenda for the evening was an examination of the process of “remixing” an already-established nonfiction book for Reynolds, who primarily writes original fiction work. Admitting that he usually hates history books (though not “Stamped from the Beginning!”), Reynolds discussed the process of rewriting Kendi’s lengthy, highly academic original to make it more accessible for teens – as well as for everyone. Marlena Rozner ’26 commented that this part of the lecture enhanced the book for her. She particularly found the conversation “about opening up the antiracism conversation to everyone who can read, not just those who can read academic jargon” to be “inspiring.”

One of the greatest crowd-pleasers of the night was when Reynolds noticed Sunflower the cat, who had wandered onstage during the event. She was subsequently escorted off by President Webster, to much applause.

Reynolds is also the author of over a dozen books for middle grade and young adults, including fiction novels, nonfiction and poetry. He is currently the 2020-2022 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, for which he encourages youth to enjoy reading and writing while using their own authentic voices.

The Peter Mortensen Lecture Fund was introduced in 2006, gifted by Peter Mortensen ’56 to support lectures and performances relevant to the First-Year Seminar courses that every first-year has to take.

Looking back on the event, Pope hopes that attendees will take a lot away from the interview, especially either “a better understanding of this book or [to] give work like this (literature by current Black authors) a chance in the future.”

True to his work as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, one of Reynolds’ key points during the evening was about the importance of words and narrative. “If you’ve got language, you’ve got power. If you’ve got imagination, you’ve got power,” Reynolds said. “And if you’ve got imagination and language, your power has potential.

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