Jason Reynolds

For Every One

“This letter is for us all, to remind us that we are many. That we are right for trying. That purpose is real. That making it is possible.”

Jason Reynolds’ (born December 6, 1983) For Every One is for every tender heart, for every wellspring of inspiration run dry, for every deep ravine of despair carved by rivers of failure sprung from our indominable human need to create something from nothing.

This letter is for us all,
to remind us that we are many.
That we are right for trying.
That purpose is real.
That making it is possible

This book, a departure from Reynolds’ award-winning fiction for young adults, took ages, years in fact to complete. It began as a means to keep himself going but slowly, through the act of making, it grew from a poem thing to a great, great poem thing. Like Anna Deavere Smith’s epistles for “those who long to wake up” and dance choreographer Twyla Tharp who embraced all of mankind in her lessons of learned, practiced creativity.

For Every One is like fire from the gods during a dark, cold time.

I know people who
have burned.
A burn so violent
it can’t be categorized
by any numbered degree.

I know people who
have burned
from foot
to torso

Legs of passion
turned to soot.

I read certain books aloud. Not to the space around me, but to people I’ve collected here in The Examined Life Library. You, dear reader, and the other authors. So many creatives like John Keats and Arthur Rimbaud and David Wojnarowicz who lived and created while engulfed in woe.

Self-Portrait of David Wojnarowicz
Self-Portrait of David Wojnarowicz, 1983-1984. Acrylic and collaged paper on gelatin silver print. Learn more. Courtesy of Whitney Gallery of Art.

Most of all, I want to read Reynolds’ poetic wisdom aloud to Vincent van Gogh whose tender, meek lines in a letter to his brother “There may be a great fire in your soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself by it, all that passers-by can see is a little smoke coming out of the chimney as they walk on” break against my heart with each read.

Vincent Van Gogh - The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
“Farm Near Auvers” by Vincent van Gogh. One of the two canvasses he left unfinished when he died in 1890 from a self-inflicted gunshot. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Reynolds sees fire, runs towards it and emboldens it with kerosene so it will never again be ignored nor doubted.

Yet no matter how
hard I’ve tried
to escape it,
to kill the
deceptive heat
dancing like a
devil’s tongue,
to douse it with all
the will and faith
I can muster,
I know
a tiny ember
always glows
beneath the brush.

Do you ever find that there is great connectedness in pain, in loneliness and longing? Perhaps a far greater connection than those we rely on in our day to day lives. When someone writes your thoughts (this is why I love literature) it is more meaningful than years of friendship centered on small talk.

“If you are anything like me” Reynolds speaks to our unspoken self, “You hope it never stops. You hope the bubbling never dies down and the yearning to break out and break through never simmers.”

Julie Campbell embroidery.
“My heart is fragile, it feels too much, it aches, it cries, it has felt the icy claws of fear and yet I would prefer to feel all of this than have a cold heart lacking all empathy.” Embroidery by Julie Campbell.

There is great connection in dreams. “Not only creatives dream,” Reynold’s soothes, “This letter is for the courageous.” Anyone courageous and in any manner.

Dreams aren’t reserved for the creatives…
Maybe your dream is to have a family,
to wear corny T-shirts
and hold up signs
and be the cameraman
at little one’s games.

To kiss your child
on head and heart,
selflessly fertilizing
his or her passion.
Stay awake with them
when the dream
is crying
like a colicky infant;
help them feed it
and before sleep
do your best to
that tiny ember
of doubt and fear
that glows
beneath the brush.

US-American author Jason Reynolds posing at the Lit.Cologne literature festival in Cologne, Germany, 16 march 2016. According to the organisers, Lit.Cologne is the biggest literature festival in Europe, ending on 19 March 2016. Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa
Jason Reynolds in 2016. Photograph by Rolf Vennenbernd.

For all the spark and ember that Reynolds – as a Prometheus – brings us, he has also created a poem of philosophical premise by addressing What is the feeling of having a dream?

When it comes to
my dream,
the way I like to describe it
is that
its a rabid beast
that found me when I
was young.

It bit me
and infected me,
but before
I could catch it,
it shot off into
the darkness.
Now I spend my life
searching for it,
hunting it down.

I’d like to close on some words from Maya Angelou. I like to think these are words Reynolds has read and underlined at some point. Perhaps they are words that inspired his lines “Yet no matter how hard I’ve tried to escape it…”

The Lesson

I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
Memory of old tombs,
Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live.

From Maya Angelou’s “The Lesson”

Gather more kindling for your fragile fires with John Steinbeck on anchoring and overcoming our crippling doubts; collage artist Mark Hearld on the joy of creating, Annie Dillard’s essay on nothingness and creating the space to create; and Rollo May’s seminal work on emotions and vulnerability and isolation in the creative process.