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

Coauthors 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. SLJ presents both speeches, published together for the first time.
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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