Jason Reynolds and his BFF Jason Griffin answer our burning pop culture questions
Author Jason Reynolds and artist Jason Griffin's work together dates all the way back to college, when the two became best friends. They collaborated on Reynolds' first book, My Name Is Jason. Mine Too., and now they've teamed up again to release Ain't Burned All the Bright, an art-piece-meets-kids'-book (aimed specifically at teens) that captures what it's like to be Black in America. As the book hits shelves today, the two Jasons put their heads together to share their most memorable pop culture milestones.
My favorite book as a child
JASON REYNOLDS: This is always a tricky one for me because as most people know by now, I wasn't a big reader as a kid, and though I'm sure there were books read to me (because there had to be), I don't really have much recollection of it. But there is one that sticks for a very particular reason: Where the Wild Things Are. The reason I remember this book is because it was the first time I'd ever seen and heard the word "mischief." Not sure why that stuck, but… it's telling.
JASON GRIFFIN: I loved reading about fun facts. For me, The Guinness Book of World Records was a favorite growing up — who was the tallest person ever, or who was the fastest person of all time. I could open the book to a random page and learn something quick. To this day I prefer nonfiction. I tend to struggle with reading fiction, not because I don't like stories, but because my imagination starts running and distracts me from the story.
The TV show or movie that made me cry
REYNOLDS: It doesn't take much to make me cry if I'm experiencing something visual. Books rarely do it, but television or movies or even some commercials break me down. I literally had to stop watching This Is Us because it just started to feel like self-flagellation. Also, anything that has children in it… I'm done. Or undone.
GRIFFIN: Reynolds, your honesty is inspiring. I wish that I would allow myself to cry more, and I'm working on letting go of the whole "men aren't supposed to cry" thing… because it's wack. And because holding in feelings, pushing them down, isn't healthy. I literally feel my throat closing up as a defense mechanism to restrain crying. So it's been a while since I've allowed myself to cry over a TV show, book, or movie. But if I can be honest, I get choked up all the time, like Reynolds. It could be a commercial, a TV show, a movie, and I'm on the couch holding on for dear life. "Don't cry. Don't cry. It's just a TV show. It's just a movie." The last movie that got me choked up was 8-Bit Christmas — I was watching it with my wife and kids and damn near lost it. Maybe I should have.
The first album I bought with my own money
REYNOLDS: Queen Latifah's Black Reign. I was 10 years old, and it changed my life forever because I studied the liner notes, read the lyrics over and over again, and was introduced to poetry.
GRIFFIN: Vanilla Ice, To the Extreme. Hahahaha. I saw this white guy on TV that could dance — I think it was on Showtime at the Apollo? My now brother and I used to watch it as kids and try to copy the dance moves. I figured maybe if I could get my hands on the album and listen to "Ice Ice Baby" over and over it would help with my dance skills.
The last concert I attended
REYNOLDS: Sheesh. It's been a while. I think it was Yasiin Bey's last show in America (at least that's what he said at the time) at the Kennedy Center a few years ago. The energy was amazing, a mix of gratitude and mourning that maybe we'd never have this opportunity again.
GRIFFIN: Concert? Man, after these last couple years in COVID, I feel like it's even hard to remember what a concert is. I've watched concerts online and am really into the series that Swizz Beatz and Timbaland put on called Verzuz — I loved the one with Beenie Man and Bounty Killer.
The movie I watch over and over
REYNOLDS: Do the Right Thing, because I think it's perfect. And over the last few years I've been obsessed with this movie Wendy, directed by Benh Zeitlin, which is a reimagining of Peter Pan. The most inspiring film, as far as piquing my creativity as a storyteller, I've seen in a long time.
GRIFFIN: I love this question. Whenever someone asks me what is my favorite movie, or what are my top five movies, I always answer with a question: Do you mean most watchable? Or best movie? Because to me those things are very different. Watchability for me normally contains an element of comedy, and it changes over the years. One that stands the test of time for me is The Big Lebowski, by the Coen Brothers.
The last thing that made me laugh out loud
REYNOLDS: Probably the show South Side. Honestly, I just love seeing Black people on TV being silly… for Black people. That's how South Side feels to me. And that doesn't mean that all Black folks will find it funny (because that's not a thing), or that folks outside of the Black community won't get the jokes, but this show and its brand of humor seems unconcerned with anything outside of its specific cultural context. And I like that. Oh, also, I love Michael Che's work.
GRIFFIN: Reservation Dogs, a TV series about four Native American teens growing up on a reservation in Oklahoma, is amazing and hilarious. Thanks, wifey, for putting me onto it!
The books I read that helped inform my own writing
REYNOLDS: There are some books that I've pretty much studied for all the things. Books that, to me, have it all in one stop. Here are a few: Sula, by Toni Morrison; Long Division, by Kiese Laymon; Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward; Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann; We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo; Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson; The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, and anything written by Walter Dean Myers. There are MANY more, but this is a start. We didn't even get into all the reference books and dictionaries!
GRIFFIN: As an artist, maybe I can say books that have helped inform my creative practice. And I would definitely say, without hesitation, that James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time has helped me to understand my own truth more than any other book — therefore helping my creative process.
The last TV show I binged
REYNOLDS: I think it was School of Chocolate on Netflix. I love these kinds of shows, where people do incredible things with materials I'd never imagined one could do such things with. Chocolate. Or glass. Or stone. Or steel. Or flowers. It's all mind-blowing to me. I think it's because I'm obsessed with process.
GRIFFIN: The Great. Incredible period piece that is able to still feel modern in many ways. The writing, the acting, the nuggets of wisdom, all superbly executed and worth watching.
The fictional world I'd most like to live in
REYNOLDS: The '70s, which feels fictional to me now.
GRIFFIN: The Matrix — it would be so much easier to just mentally download information, or years of martial arts training, or history books.
The writer I wish more people knew about
REYNOLDS: Oooooh. So many. John A. Williams. John Oliver Killens. NoViolet Bulawayo. Mahogany L. Browne. Zora Neale Hurston (I know we all know her but her SHORT STORIES!) and, in America, Ali Smith. I think she's just an incredible risk-taker. And I love some of the wonky things she does with language.
GRIFFIN: James Baldwin.
The TV show or movie I think everyone should watch
REYNOLDS: Right now… even though it's been around since 1992, I think it's important at this moment, I think we should all watch Baraka. It's a beautiful and much-needed reminder of this precious, precious planet.
GRIFFIN: I think everyone should try to watch shows/movies that expand their understanding of the world around them. Sex Education is a show that most could benefit from watching. It explores sex and sexuality through individuality, openly and honestly, the things that we're all thinking but are too afraid or too shy to talk about, given their taboo nature.