November 17, 2017

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Brendan Kiely’s and Jason Reynolds’s CSK Author Honor Speeches for “All American Boys”

000 All American BoysCoauthors Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds each delivered remarks about their Coretta Scott King (CSK) Author Honor win for All American Boys on June 26 during the CSK Award’s Breakfast at the American Library Association’s Annual Meeting in Orlando. Reynolds also received a 2016 Honor for his The Boy in a Black Suit. His acceptance speech helped launch the CSK committee’s blog and was originally published there. Kiely’s address is published on SLJ.com for the first time.

Calling In by Brendan Kiely

To be included here because of a book that I cowrote with Jason, someone I love as dearly and closely as family, for an award with a legacy and meaning that is the very best of American history, and to be among Coretta Scott King Author Honorees of the past and today—writers I admire and who are the very best of American letters—this is an honor of a lifetime, and this white boy stands before you trembling with humility and gratitude.

Firstly, I want to thank all the librarians and educators who support All American Boys and who have championed it and opened conversations about police brutality, race, racism, systemic racism, whiteness, and white privilege in your communities. You all do the tough, frontlines work of engaging young people and nurturing young minds and bodies. Minds matter. Bodies matter. Because there are too many minds and bodies missing. Tamir Rice, Treyvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray. Some names are familiar, but many are not, because there are many, many, too many, missing today, and they shouldn’t be.

This is why I say Black Lives Matter, every time I get behind a microphone. Because young minds and bodies are missing. I cannot bring them back, so the question is what do I do going forward? This is a time for action. Art is action. Love is action. Education is action.

As a white, heterosexual, cis-gender, able-bodied man, when I think about the Peace, Brotherhood, and Non-Violent Social Change this award stands for, I try to think about how and when the pieces of my identity stand in the way of those goals.

In All American Boys, as in all my work, I especially want to reckon with whiteness, because, as a white person, I can’t talk about racism, or the process or desire to dismantle the system that supports it, or eradicate racism itself, without first grappling with whiteness. It is whiteness itself that perpetuates that racism. As Quinn learns in All American Boys, you cannot have an institution that systematically disenfranchises people without also empowering others to systematically benefit from that injustice.

Brendan Kiely. Photo by Gary Joseph Cohen

Brendan Kiely. Photo by Gary Joseph Cohen

To speak truth to power, in other words, I have to first speak truth to myself. I live in the comfort of the privileged positions of my identity and I want to call people who also live with any of those elements of identity into the space of discomfort, so that together, we might do less harm as white people, as cis-gender heterosexuals, and as able-bodied people. This is my educational mission. This is my artistic, literary mission. To join the revolution against complacency, bigotry, exclusion, and hate, the revolution against injustice.

A line of graffiti I saw on a nearly 2,000-year-old wall in Rome encapsulates it for me: the role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible.

Revolution. Action. It does not begin in the street—although it needs to get there. It does not begin in Congress—although it needs to get there. Revolution begins in the heart. And I believe that it is in that beautifully intimate space between a reader and a book, where the spark ignites, the fuse lights, and the flame rises in the heart, where revolution feels irresistible.

This was a revolution started by others, and I am honored to stand here today in the presence of these heroes, and the long list of giants who are the literary tradition of this award and ceremony. But this is also a revolution propelled by so many others today.

Jason-Reynolds-headshot600px

Jason Reynolds. Photo by Kia Dyson

And so to the organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement that still continues: I am with you in revolution. To the organizers fighting for the dignity of all people in bathrooms across America: I am with you in revolution. To the people outside, right now, and to all the people from Stonewall to The Castro who are mourning for Orlando: I am with you in revolution. I cannot be a leader, but I will write and write and write until I am dead in the ground to remind you that I love you. You are giants I strive to walk with when I write.

I’m so proud to have my name on a book with Jason Reynolds—thank you for trusting me as we embarked on this together. Thank you Jackie Woodson, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Matt de la Peña for your early and galvanizing support. I am honored to have published the book with Justin Chanda and Caitlyn Dlouhy, and the whole S. & S. team who worked double time to make the book a reality—thank you, all of you. To the Coretta Scott King committee members, who have given this book an honor I will forever be grateful and humble to be a part of, thank you so much!

And a huge thank you to all the librarians and educators who said YES to this book, and who said yes to getting it in the hands of young people—young people who want to talk, who are ready to talk, who want to dig in, because they have less of a stake in the world that is, and rather, a much greater stake in the world that could be. Thank you everyone who said YES to this love. Because love is. Love is art. Love is education. Love is accountability. You’ve heard it before, but it always bears repeating: Love is love is love is love is love.

MACHETES by Jason Reynolds

if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the air
in half
connecting for half a second with something
breathing and growing
breathing and growing
before being chopped
down like sugar cane in a Louisiana field
yes there are machetes everywhere
the sound of them cutting the air

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

we try not
to bend in the wind
try not to bow or bow
try to wrap fingers around our own
saccharine souls
and brace ourselves
for the

chop CHOP
chop CHOP
the machetes
cutting the air in half
coming for us

seems like folks like us be best
when we broken open
when we melted down
when we easier to digest

if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the ears off
us

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

cold steel against our cheeks
be black sheep siblings
be black boy pillows
be

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

ears lopped off
leaving our drums in the dirt
like we ever needed ears
to hear God
like we ever needed ears to hear
the machetes
cutting the air
in half
the machetes
cutting the eyes out
us
retinas ripped
light left as a stain on the angry end of a blade
life in black and white blur
like we ever needed eyes to see red
to see gold
to see sunshine laughing yellow
|to see those machetes
cutting the air
in half

chop CHOP
chop CHOP

those machetes
cutting us
in half

chop CHOP

dropping us down
to a manageable size
like gigantism be the only reason we giants
what you gon do with this ten foot fire in my belly?
what you gon do with tidal wave under my tongue?
aint nobody ever told you we always find our legs?

if you listen closely
you can hear the machetes
cutting the air
in half

chop CHOP

and if you listen even closer
you can hear
in the sliver of silence
between those chops
the clapping

clap CLAP
clap CLAP

the clapping of yester-generation’s
freedom songs
protest warriors
unpopular opinions
uncomfortable confrontation
unhinging truth

clap CLAP

and this generation’s
freedom songs
protest warriors
unpopular opinions
uncomfortable confrontation
unhinging truth
hashtag

clap CLAP
clap CLAP

the clapping of kids in the street
and grandmas at church
the clapping of aunties watching
their nieces lead the march now
the clapping of new connections
new routes
new alleyways
new allies
new chances
new dances
at house parties
because we’ve never needed
eyes ears or legs
to boogie because boogie
be our heartbeat
and if you listen closely
you can hear our heartbeat
in syncopation with that

clap CLAP
clap CLAP

our laughter
clap CLAP

our singing
clap CLAP

our dancing
clap CLAP

our fighting
clap CLAP

our praying
clap CLAP

our crying
clap CLAP

or trying to breathe and grow
in the midst of all this

chopping

yes there are machetes everywhere
and if you look closely
really closely
closer than closely
you can see the machine
turning its wheels
churning out those machetes

this machine
distant yet all around
like sky
faceless
and cold
and perfect for sharpening steel
because it has no finger to prick
it has never felt the sting of skin rolling back
because it doesn’t have skin
and the excuses of history keep its conveyor belt
rolling
rolling out
machete after machete after machete
to cut the air
of so many of us
in half

no this machine
it does not feel
but it does speak

it says
get to work

chop chop

MACHETES © copyright 2016 Jason Reynolds, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.

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