Some years ago I was lucky to make the acquaintance of Luke Reynolds, a talented writer, dedicated teacher, great family man and all around mensch. Among his other writing, Luke has created anthologies to benefit various groups, the proceeds from BREAK THESE RULES going to the Children’s Defense Fund (where I volunteered, briefly, as a law student, so has particular interest to me).
I love this little bio which says so much about him so I’m just going to quote it here, but I do have to add that he has also recently written an inspiring book for writers, Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope. If you’re a writer, this book will definitely speak to you:
Luke Reynolds is the author of A Call to Creativity (Teachers College Press, 2012) and is co-editor of both Burned In (Teacher College Press, 2011, with Audrey Friedman) and Dedicated to the People of Darfur (Rutgers University Press, 2009, with his wife Jennnifer Reynolds). His book A New Man (Stonegarden, 2007) explores the need for a more authentic, vulnerable masculinity. His writing has also appeared in The Believer, The Writer, The Sonora Review, The Hartford Courant, Arizona Daily Sun, Mutuality, Hunger Mountain, and Tucson Weekly. He has taught English in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and has also taught Composition at Northern Arizona University. He and his wife, Jennifer, have one son, Tyler. They love family dancing to the oldies.
I asked Luke to answer some questions so we can learn a little more about him.
Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
So many people have provided inspiration, help, guidance, and encouragement–but one stand out most: my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Robert Looney. He walked into class with wild hair, wild eyes, and infectious joy. He created a writing program called FLAIR, and the name captures exactly what his teaching philosophy was all about. He encouraged his students to be wildly creative, and to be invested in our stories and in our ideas. I owe a debt to Mr. Looney that is larger than one could ever hope to repay.
[I remember reading about Mr. Looney, Luke, and I hope others will have that opportunity, too!]
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to teen readers. What is that?
Tough question–but the biggest piece of advice I would give is probably this: YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER. IT’S OKAY TO LEARN, GROW, CHANGE YOUR MIND, RETHINK, AND REALLY LIVE.
Why do you write? / Why do you write for young people?
I write because when I don’t my chest feels like I am holding my breath and if I keep not writing then I keep holding my breath and sooner or later there is going to be some kind of massive explosion because there are words and ideas and people and stories that just have to come out (even if some or many or most of them never make it into print). I write first because it’s a part of what my soul keeps saying I have to do–and I write for young people because I love, love, love them and I appreciate the fact that they are going through hard transitions, when they’re hearing so much advice, receiving so many cultural norms, and have so many expectations put on them that sometimes they just need to know that they are not alone. (And that it’s going to be okay, somehow.)
[See why I said "mensch?"]
When do you write?
I usually do my best work in the early mornings, before everyone wakes up. There’s a certain energy that the earth has in the early morning, and I love waking up and getting the chance to be a part of that!
What are you working on now?
Now, I am working on a couple different novels, two anthologies, and a few picture book revisions. But everything is about revision! Constant, unending revision. I sometimes feel as though nothing is ever really “finished” and maybe that’s true of all life: we’re never really “finished” with ourselves or with our own journeys and stories, and a certain acceptance of that fact helps me enjoy both my writing and my own life more.
Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?
Because kids books tell it like it is: there is so much depth, pain, beauty, tragedy, triumph, and transcendence in kids books–and they are fresh and real and original and vibrant. I think of books like GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES by Mike Jung and EIGHTH-GRADE SUPERZERO by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine and I sit back and close my eyes and say, thank you, thank you, thank you.
Tea or coffee? Flavor? Milk or sugar?
Coffee! With way too much cream!
Fall: everything is leaving, but not yet, but almost, but it’s still here, and we savor it, but we’re reminded that change is necessary, a aprt of life, and that when one thing ends, another begins.
Can you deal better with wind or rain?
I absolutely love wind. It feel somehow fresh–and makes me feel as though something new is beginning. Rain–if its warm I like to play basketball in it. If it’s cold…..no!!
What’s always in your fridge?
Cream! (Or whole milk if cream manages to somehow escape from the fridge and collectively gather with other Cream escapees.)
Favorite comfort food?
BREAD. I absolutely love bread–especially the squishy, thick brown kind on which gobs of butter can be smothered.
Chocolate or some lesser nectar of the gods?
I’ve got to go with BREAD again for this one. It feels like dessert!
Going for a bike ride or a hike on a path near water, then getting back just as the sun dips below the horizon, then sitting and having a deep, long, zig-zagging talk about life, psychology, social change, justice, and love. And then a dance with my wife to remind us that with all the joys or injustices in our world, it’s still worth dancing.
[Aww, that is truly beautiful.]
Skill you’d most like to acquire.
When I had my first teaching job out of college, I stopped by a local mechanic and asked him if I could be a sort of apprentice and work for free. He checked with some people and told me that because of liability and insurance, he couldn’t do it. But ever since then I’ve had a strong desire to learn how to fix anything that could go wrong with a car.
Topic you’d most like to write about.
Systematized gender and race inequality in America, and how that translates to real, lived experiences of children in our public school system.
[Ohhh, I want to read that when you're done, Luke!]
Author you’d like to meet.
I would love, love, love, LOVE to meet Harper Lee, my favorite author of all-time.
Question you’d ask that author.
“Ms. Lee, what have been your greatest joys and darkest moments?” Of course, she may very reply: “None of your business, young man!”
What / who gives you spiritual guidance and inspiration?
I love reading Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and bell hooks.
What most surprises you about our current culture?
That there’s so much violence in mainstream media, and a culture of violence and male = tough, and yet we wonder why there is so much crime; it sometimes feels as though we live in a culture where violence and toughness are celebrated on the one hand, and yet there’s incarceration and punishment on the other. I think we need to work to change our culture so that peace, courage, and bravery are celebrated in other ways than through violence.
Some favorite books?
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, OKAY FOR NOW, THE PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, MIDDLEMARCH, SKY COLOR, TEACHING TO TRANSGRESS
Some favorite movies?
A BETTER LIFE, A FEW GOOD MEN, Anything with Denzel Washington, RUDY, MORNING GLORY, I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT, GLORY, CASABLANCA
Thanks, Luke, for sharing your time and heart with us. For more of Luke’s inspiration, see his Intersections blog. You can also learn more about him at his website, http://www.lukewreynolds.com. And if you know a teen, consider giving them their very own copy of BREAK THESE RULES. (See, I just broke a grammar rule in that last sentence — “a teen” followed by “them,” and I SURVIVED.)