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We Need to Talk: An Interview with Wade Hudson, Cheryl Willis Hudson, and Brendan Kiely By Lisa Krok

“The Talk” seems to have become more needed than ever in the past few years.    Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson are the editors of the anthology The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, and Brendan Kiely is the author of The Other Talk: Reckoning With Our White Privilege. I owned and had read The Talk already when I learned that Kiely had The Other Talk forthcoming this September. I immediately thought it would be incredible to juxtapose these two books and have an important discussion.

Lisa Krok: It is so wonderful to be able to have these very important conversations with you and with each other. Wade and Cheryl, what led you to compile these valuable and necessary stories in your anthology?

Wade Hudson/Cheryl Willis Hudson:

In thinking about “The Talk” as a necessary conversation between most Black parents and their children, we realized that there are many kinds of talks that others had as well. Learning how to navigate the world with confidence and caring is an essential survival skill made more difficult by the challenges marginalized people often face. Who better to share these stories, these lessons than children’s book creators with first-hand knowledge and experience?

How do you talk about things that may be uncomfortable to discuss? How do you stay safe? How can you feel secure within your own body and personal space? How does one avoid racial profiling, police brutality or deal with bullying or sexual harassment? What can young people do when faced with systemic racism, name calling, religious intolerance, and cultural stereotypes? What about confronting the issue of white privilege? And how can these lessons, these necessary “talks,” be shared with children and young people?

That’s what The Talk tries to answer. We believed it was necessary to offer these lessons, these “talks” across social and cultural lines.

LK: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with the necessity of these talks! Brendan, can you share a bit about the Two Americas you saw while touring with Jason Reynolds, and how that influenced your writing of this book.

Brendan Kiely:

First of all, I’m honored and grateful to be here and to be a part of this conversation with you, Wade and Cheryl. I wrote The Other Talk after listening to many, many people of the Global Majority talk about “The Talk”they had in their families growing up—the myriad manifestations of “The Talk” Cheryl and Wade’s anthology highlights so beautifully. As their anthology points out, there are many different kinds of “Talks”, especially as to how racism affects people’s lives, but, as Jason and I have discussed over the years, there isn’t often a talk white families have that speaks clearly and directly about the privileges white families experience because of racism in America. And so I wrote The Other Talk to try to join the conversation Black families, Indigenous families, and so many families of the Global Majority have been having for so long.  

So, Jason and I met while touring our debut novels. We were thrilled and grateful, because our publisher was kindly sending us to conferences and festivals all over the country. We were having a ball—but it was also impossible not to notice that, as a Black man and a white man traveling side-by-side, we were having different experiences too. It was impossible for me not to notice the magnitude of racist undertones—the suspicious glances, the unkind greetings, the extra pat downs in security—all happening to Jason, not me. I talk more in depth about those moments in the book, but just as it was impossible not to notice what was happening to Jason as we traveled the country, it became startlingly impossible for me to not notice what was happening to me too. From a certain point of view, I recognized that conversely to Jason, I was experiencing welcoming smiles and zero suspicions as we walked into bookstores, schools, or through airports or hotel lobbies. People assumed I belonged wherever we were. It was as if we were experiencing (as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. suggested back in 1968) “two Americas”, two different Americas. I’m not saying everything was terrible; like I said, he and I were having a blast—and I think it is really important to stress that, too—but racism undeniably affects life for all of us in America. It affects us in different ways, however, and I began to think about how this pervasive racism affects my life by undergirding my life with social privileges.

And this is why I wanted to write The Other Talk: to help inspire white people like me to engage in conversations about racism in America by listening more, and learning more, and becoming more self-aware about how privilege affects our lives, and to feel more motivated to act and co-construct a more racially just America in solidarity with people of the Global Majority, who have been having these conversations for such a long time.

LK: I am so glad you took this on, Brendan!Wade and Cheryl, how did you go about selecting the contributors to your anthology, and how do the varied forms/styles/illustration mediums add meaning to the individual stories?

WH/CWH:

We asked BIPOC friends in the industry whose work we admired and respected to contribute to The Talk. They had a variety of stories to share from their own personal experiences. Meg Medina for example, wrote about the advantages of being bi-lingual but being discriminated against because of it; Grace Lin wrote a letter to her daughter about recognizing the objectivism of being called a “China doll;” Daniel Nayeri wrote about the weight of silence in communicating across cultures and the value of not talking; Duncan Tonatiuh wrote about a school visit where a student actually asked the question “Why Are There Racist People?” Tracey Baptiste in her essay, “TEN,” gave advice to her preteen on how to respond if being stopped by the police when driving while Black. Whether written as a poem, essay, prose, or letter or created in cartoon/graphic digital format or drawn via a realistic watercolor, the diversity of writers and illustrators expressed thought provoking situations that young people find themselves in. The end result was a powerful and complementary balance of text and images.

LK: It is truly a glorious amalgamation of varied stories and styles!Brendan, your anecdote with the strawberry Nesquick really stood out to me. Could you share that please?

BK:

The Strawberry Nesquik story is a starker and more devastatingly tragic example of the “two Americas” I mentioned before, in that it juxtaposes Jordan Davis’s life with my own, but what I think is at the heart of the story is a deeper understanding of the “other America,” the “privileged America,” in which I live. I think some people hear the term “white privilege” and they immediately think about all the ways in which they are not “privileged” (not rich, not living in a fancy house, not taking vacations to far flung corners of the world), or they think that applying that word to their life takes away from all their “hard work.” This is why, in the book, I use the example of the benefits my grandfather made use of in the GI Bill when he returned from WWII. He had access to opportunities (higher education; further, specialized degrees; home loans; brokers who would show him real estate in areas where the property value was rapidly increasing). Everything he achieved he did through hard work—no doubt about that—and it is also true that everything he achieved he had access to in a way many, if not most, veterans of the Global Majority in America did not have access to. Did he work hard? Yes. Was he also privileged with more access to opportunity? Also yes. He benefited from the effects of systemic privilege, you might say; and two generations later, I too benefit from his (and my own) systemic privilege. But racism is systemic and also interpersonal—and so too is privilege. So not only have I benefitted from multi-generational systemic privilege, the Nesquik story highlights just how privileged my interactions are with other people I encounter in my life—store clerks, law enforcement, my teachers, etc. Because the word “privilege” leaves such a bad taste in some people’s mouths, the poet and scholar Claudia Rankine replaces the phrase white privilege with white living—it’s just the experience of living as a white person in America. And, in the book, I try to use many, many examples from my own life to spotlight and explain why so many of those everyday experiences of my life living as a white person in America are in fact privileged.

LK: You delineated white privilege perfectly! It is indeed misunderstood by many.Wade and Cheryl, is there a particular story in your anthology that stands out to you personally, and why?

WH/CWH:

All the entries are special to us because they spotlight a particular aspect of each creator’s experience or a particular concern or challenge. This adds to the breadth of the book. Adam Gidwitz’s story “Our Inheritance” is important to us because it is told from the perspective of a white writer. Often, anthologies or books that deal with social justice issues focus on the victims and imply that the victims must find the answers to the challenges presented. We believe that equality, social, economic and political justice, can only be achieved when all of us, together fight to achieve them. Adam’s piece is crucial because it brings everyone to the table for this important discussion, not just those from BIPOC communities.

LK: Absolutely! It is so important for allies also learn and do the work, rather than placing that burden on the victims. Brendan, I was fascinated by your statement that, “race has no basis in biological fact”. Can you elaborate on this, please?

BK:

I always return to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s line “race is the child of racism, not the father.” In other words, “race” is a social construct. I think it is important to reinforce just how strongly biologists want the rest of us to understand this. For example, this is from the American Association of Biological Anthropologist’s Statement on Race & Racism:

Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters. Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination. Because of that, over the last five centuries, race has become a social reality that structures societies and how we experience the world.

I apologize for the long quote, but I thought the whole paragraph was worth highlighting because I elaborate on these ideas, and how they relate to my life specifically, in the book.

The subtitle of my book is “reckoning with our white privilege.” To me, I think being clear and honest about how those “policies of discrimination” throughout history unequivocally impact our lives today is a vital part of the conversation (the “other talk”) white families like my own can engage in more deeply and discuss with young people. As the young, eight-year-old white girl from Traverse City, MI quoted in the Washington Post explained, although learning about racism in second grade made her feel bad, it also made her motivated to want to do something about it. In essence, learning about the truth of racism and privilege made her want to learn more so that she could do more—and I think we owe it to her and all young people out there to try to learn more, listen more, and act alongside them.

Many thanks to Wade, Cheryl, and Brendan for this essential conversation, which is just the beginning! Teen librarians, if you happen to be at the YALSA Symposium in Reno this November, please join us for a more in-depth conversation about these two books. Let’s Talk!

The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth is available now from Crown Books for Young Readers.

The Other Talk: Reckoning With Our White Privilege releases September 21 from

‎ Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books.

An author and publisher, Wade Hudson is president of Just Us Books, Inc., an independent publisher of books for young people. Among his 30 published books are the middle grade anthologies, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, coedited with his wife, Cheryl; AFRO- Bets Kids: I’m Going to Be; Journey, a poetry collection; and Defiant, Wade’s memoir of growing up in the Jim Crow South at the height of the civil rights movement. Wade has received the New Jersey Stephen Crane Literary Award, the Ida B. Wells Institutional Leader-ship Award, the Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Award, and a CBC Diversity Outstanding Achievement Award.

Cheryl Willis Hudson is an award- winning children’s book author and cofounder with her husband, Wade Hudson, of Just Us Books, Inc., an independent publishing company that focuses on Black-interest books for young people. Her published titles include the classic AFRO- BETS ABC Book; Bright Eyes, Brown Skin; and Brave. Black. First.: 50+ African American Women Who Changed the World. She and Wade co-edited the middle- grade anthologies We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices and The Talk: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth. A member of the PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee, Cheryl has been honored with the Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Award and Children’s Book Council Diversity Outstanding Achievement Award.

Brendan Kiely is The New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), and three other novels, and most recently a nonfiction book, The Other Talk: Reckoning with Our White Privilege. His work has been published in over a dozen languages, and has received the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Meyers Award, and ALA’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults. A former high school teacher, he is now on the faculty of the Solstice MFA Program. But most importantly, he lives for and loves his wife and son.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the Adult and Teen Services Manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians (ABC-CLIO). She reviews YA for School Library Journal, blogs for Teen Librarian Toolbox, and her passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. Lisa has served on both the Best Fiction for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s teams. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach


“All American Boys” Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely Discuss Racism, White Privilege, and Censorship in Today’s Civic Landscape, a guest post by Lisa Krok

In the midst of a week full of national dissent and tension, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely took to the stage to get real with a live audience. The Ensemble Theatre in Cleveland Heights, Ohio was the perfect venue for an intimate discussion on serious subjects. Reynolds and Kiely first became friends a few years back while touring for their debut books, When I Was the Greatest and The Gospel of Winter, respectively. The Trayvon Martin tragedy had occurred already, and after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, the two friends had some candid discussions about racism and police brutality. This prompted them to begin writing All American Boys together. Told in alternating perspectives of Reynold’s black teen, Rashad Butler, and Kiely’s white teen, Quinn Collins, the story opens with Rashad being beaten by a police officer while Quinn witnesses from down the street. As the plot unfolds, family, friends, and the community have different takes as to the officer’s culpability. When protests begin with kids at school, Quinn has mixed feelings about what to do next.

aab1

Aside from the Martin and Brown situations, the authors had their own anecdotes from their teenage years that sparked their interest in collaborating on the book.  Reynolds’ terrifying   run-in with D.C. police at age 16 while in a car with friends couldn’t be more opposite of Kiely’s tale of being pulled over while driving his mom’s minivan in Boston. While Reynolds and his black friends were presumed to be criminals, Kiely and his white friends were let off and told to go home and be safe. Why? Racism and white privilege. Both were polite and respectful to police, but nonetheless, biases prevailed. The biggest difference, according to Kiely, was that he was nervous, but didn’t have anything to fear other than being caught. “I think about the fear I never had to experience, the accountability I never had…it is a tug to remind me what it means to have white privilege in America.”

all american

All of this dovetails into censorship and book banning of both All American Boys and another book depicting police brutality, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Both have been challenged and/or banned in some areas, most recently in Charleston, South Carolina. When the Wando High School summer reading list included the two titles above, Charleston area police protested the books, stating that they promoted negativity and distrust of police. The three authors responded in a joint statement:

“Our books are not anti-police, they are anti-police brutality. We’re proud of the teachers at Wando HS who are using literature that reflects the lives of so many young people across this country. To deny these books from reading lists would deny too many young people the reflections of the reality they know and experience.”

-Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely, and Angie Thomas

Reynolds expounded upon this on stage, revealing he and Kiely have police officers in their families, and they value and respect the job police officers do. He reiterated that they are just anti-police brutality, and would love it if police were anti-police brutality, too. “We just hope that for us as a community, in order for things to shift, we gotta be able to engage and lean into these discussions…this book hopefully will serve as a platform and a framework for us to have these discussions, these uncomfortable discussions, in healthy and safe ways…It’s okay for you to disagree, just not okay for you to disengage.”

See Jason Reynolds’ impassioned remarks here:

Kiely emphasized that censorship especially impacts marginalized people. “When you are censoring over and over and over again stories that feature characters who live marginalized experiences, you are censoring the people whose lives their stories reflect. You’re censoring their life existence in your community. That to me is part of the injustice. That’s part of the real cruelty to people who live in our own communities.”  When thinking about a whole variety of marginalized experiences, it worries him when people use things like language as an excuse to censor, or use things like “well but there are choices characters make in this book,” or “we can’t have people knowing that they can make this choice and still survive.” “Censorship, in my opinion, is one of the most unethical things we can do when it comes to literature,” Kiely continues. “I think about the places where our book has been banned and think about how so many students in those communities who have experiences like Rashad and his family and his church community and the whole book and all the white kids who then don’t get an opportunity to reflect in ways that they haven’t been asked to reflect on before. That censorship is robbing them of part of their own humanity as well.”

Reynolds brought up a strong point about how people don’t get worked up about censoring video games that simulate war. “Why books?” he pondered. “Nothing else gets this kind of flak. Most cartoons are worse than the books we write, and nobody seems to care.  Ask your kids what the words in their favorite rap song are.  Ask them to rap it out for you. Nobody seems to mind as long as they’re doing the dance”.  He expressed concerns about kids who can’t afford to buy a book, and the book is taken out of their schools. Reynolds credits fellow author Laurie Halse Anderson as noting “It is the insecurity of adults that gets in the way of children.” He continues, “Everybody in this room has to make a decision to be more loyal to their futures than to their fears.”

Kiely says people don’t want to process the racism. “People use a number of excuses to talk about why the book shouldn’t come into communities. They would say well it might incite a riot.’”  It is hard for Kiely understand how this is possible. Those who have read the book know that “the book is anti-violence and it exposes the harm violence really causes families, communities. I struggle with those excuses, but I think they are all codes for ‘we don’t talk about the stuff that would make us have to shift the power dynamics that currently exist in our community.’”

Many thanks to Heights Libraries for sponsoring this event!

Books related to the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically regarding police brutality:

tyler johnsonTyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

alfonso

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

dear martinDear Martin by Nic Stone

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

For more information, see the following resources:

https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-area-police-protest-the-hate-u-give-school-assignment/article_facc8330-7df9-11e8-8a0a-8331f0a41cbe.html

https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=15093

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=sc-police-union-challenges-summer-reading-list-hate-u-give-american-boys

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=brendan-kielys-and-jason-reynoldss-csk-author-honor-speeches-for-all-american-boys

https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=making-the-personal-political-angie-thomas-on-the-hate-u-give

http://oaklandlibrary.org/blogs/childrens-services/talking-kids-about-race-and-racism

http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter

https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/what-do-if-youre-stopped-police-immigration-agents-or-fbi

lisakrok

-Lisa Krok is branch manager of Cleveland Public Library’s Harvard-Lee branch, a member of the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers team, and a Ravenclaw. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Book Review: Examining Toxic Masculinity in TRADITION by Brendan Kiely

Earlier this year, both TLTer Amanda MacGregor and myself wrote posts about toxic masculinity.When we look at large mass shootings, one of the common denominators that keep occurring is that of domestic violence, which is tied in to toxic masculinity. At the most basic, toxic masculinity is defined as:

adherence to traditional male gender roles that restrict the kinds of emotions allowable for boys and men to express, including social expectations that men seek to be dominant (the “alpha male”) and limit their emotional range primarily to expressions of anger. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_masculinity

How Boys Suffer: The Boy Code and Toxic Masculinity 

Toxic masculinity is a topic that YA author Brendan Kiely takes head on in his upcoming release, TRADITION.

tradition

Publisher’s Book Description:

From New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Brendan Kiely, a stunning new novel that explores the insidious nature of tradition at a prestigious boarding school.

Prestigious. Powerful. Privileged. This is Fullbrook Academy, an elite prep school where history looms in the leafy branches over its brick walkways. But some traditions upheld in its hallowed halls are profoundly dangerous.

Jules Devereux just wants to keep her head down, avoid distractions, and get into the right college, so she can leave Fullbrook and its old-boy social codes behind. She wants freedom, but ex-boyfriends and ex-best friends are determined to keep her in place.

Jamie Baxter feels like an imposter at Fullbrook, but the hockey scholarship that got him in has given him a chance to escape his past and fulfill the dreams of his parents and coaches, whose mantra rings in his ears: Don’t disappoint us.

When Jamie and Jules meet, they recognize in each other a similar instinct for survival, but at a school where girls in the student handbook are rated by their looks, athletes stack hockey pucks in dorm room windows like notches on a bedpost, and school-sponsored dances push first year girls out into the night with senior boys, the stakes for safe sex, real love, and true friendship couldn’t be higher.

As Jules and Jamie’s lives intertwine, and the pressures to play by the rules and remain silent about the school’s secrets intensify, they see Fullbrook for what it really is. That tradition, a word Fullbrook hides behind, can be ugly, even violent. Ultimately, Jules and Jamie are faced with the difficult question: can they stand together against classmates—and an institution—who believe they can do no wrong?

Karen’s Thoughts:

I picked up Tradition solely because it was written by an author I respect. Brendan Kiely worked with us here at TLT earlier for the Sexual Violence in YA Literature project with his book The Gospel of Winter. He also co-authored All American Boy with Jason Reynolds. These are both phenomenal works of literature and I was very much looking forward to Tradition. The timing of this book is, in my opinion, perfect for our culture which is sincerely trying to discuss the issue of toxic masculinity, sexual harassment and violence, and the #metoo movement. I was in no way disappointed by this book. I knew that it would talk about sexual violence, but I was quite surprised by how straight forward it is in tackling the topic of toxic masculinity.

Jamie Baxter is a male athlete who comes from a world that embraces toxic masculinity and is thrown into a new world where it thrives. In his previous school, his views were challenged some by his girlfriend, who made him think about issues such as race and misogyny. But a very violent act makes puts his future in jeopardy and fills him with both self loathing and self doubt. As often happens, everyone in Baxter’s life goes out of his way to give him a second chance. And there is something to be said here about how many chances we give to white men who commit horrific acts as compared to how we respond when marginalized groups, such as people of color or women, commit acts that are deemed socially unacceptable. Now Baxter is thrust into this new world where he must wrestle with who he is and what he has done, but everyone wants to reward him for the very behaviors that have grievously injured another. It is anger most of all that Baxter fights against; this anger inside himself that being on the field seems to heighten. This is a culture that tells boys to “man up” or to “grow a pair.”

Baxter is given a scholarship – class issues and privilege are touched upon in this title as well – to an elite private school, but it means that he has to engage once again in a sport which encourages him to be aggressive in ways he seems to have trouble controlling when immersed in this culture. And to make matters worse, his peers are very privileged young men who wholly embrace toxic masculinity and the many myths that prop it up, including that of the sexual prowess and dominance of men. The female students at this school are seen very much as objects by his teammates and many of the school traditions encourage this treatment of the female population.

When Baxter arrives, he meets Jules. Jules is a feminist out of water in this school – and my hero! She stands in the courtyard handing out flyers for the clinic. She sets a tampon on her desk because she refused to be ashamed of the fact that she menstruates. She challenges the status quo and enlists several friends in her fight against it. These friends include a gay best friend and another outsider who is carrying some very real trauma with her.

The tensions build and the things that you are pretty sure are going to happen do in fact happen. I’m not going to lie, some of these scenes were really hard to read. But then the four friends put together a plan to raise awareness because the system, as it often does, fails them. There are a lot of powerful scenes, discussions and issues packed into this book.

Some of the things that I think that Kiely does especially well are:

He provides a really powerful contrasting sexual scene where consent is very well illustrated to balance scenes where consent is not given. This scene is so powerful and necessary and delicately handles the discussion of consent.

There is a lot of discussion here and some good examples of what it means to be an ally. Baxter takes a lot of risks in both small and big ways to stand up for what he believes his right. And there is a realistic cost to him for doing so.

Although many characters within the book question what happened to them, which is a normal response to sexual violence, at no time does the reader, which I really think is important.

There is a lot that happens around the word NO in this book and I just found it uplifting to read. Not why it happens, of course, but the ways in which the victims choose to become survivors and to be bold in stating the truth about what happened to them.

sexandviolence

This is a strong addition to all collections and in the discussion of both toxic masculinity and sexual violence. It is powerful, challenging, moving, heartbreaking and inspiring. The horror of what happens is boldly proclaimed the true horror that it is. Adults are portrayed in more than one way. The realities of the issues are laid out in no uncertain terms. I highly recommend this as a companion novel to Sex & Violence by Carries Mesrobian for a complex look at toxic masculinity.

ihavetherightto

I also highly recommend the recent work of Chessy Prout, #IHaveTheRightTo, which is her very real experience of sexual assault at an elite boarding school told in her own words. I think it is very important that we take this fictional narrative written by a male and put it with this real life experience told from a female survivor.