Interview with Brendan Kiely, author of Tradition

Brendan Kiely is The New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), The Last True Love Story, and The Gospel of Winter. His work has been published in ten languages, received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award, and was selected as one of the American Library Association’s Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives with his wife in Greenwich Village.

Where did you find your inspiration for Tradition?

Tradition really began with a question: “How can men be better feminists?” I was thinking about that a lot because, as a man, I was listening to many women talk about their experiences of harassment and abuse in the workplace, or at school, and I wanted to investigate the kind of culture that encourages and enables that harassment and abuse and why more men don’t stand up to do something about it. By setting the story in a boarding school, I could use the school’s traditions to spotlight the everyday behavior and attitudes that fuel rape culture.

Tradition is a very powerful title. Did you decide on this title initially or did the title emerge once you started writing the book?

Thanks! Titles are so hard and they rarely come to me easily. Tradition emerged long after I’d written many drafts of the book–and my editor and agent helped me think about how to distill the essence of the book into one, striking word.

Your new book addresses the serious issues of rape and bullying. What do you hope your readers will take away after reading the book?

I think it is important to write about experience that many people face every single day, and because I write about situations that mirror the lives of so many people, I feel accountable to them–I want to do my best job capturing that reality with dignity and truth. If I’m able to do that, I hope readers can feel what it is like to suffer from bullying and harassment, and also feel what it means to become aware that you might be one of those bullies or harassers.

What were you like as a teenager?

I always laugh when people ask me this. For most of my teen years I was a terrible student–if you asked many of my teachers, they would never have guessed I would become an author. But as a teenager, I did always care about social justice and my role as a member of my community. I used to help organize protests and social actions. I used to write op-eds about sexuality and racism for my Catholic school newspaper. But I also played basketball and led a very active social life. It wasn’t until my third year of high school that I realized I needed to do my homework, otherwise I was going to seriously limit my options for the future!

Do you feel comfortable to share with us any upcoming literary projects you may be working on?

This is always a tricky question because I’m always afraid to talk about a project until it is finished–just in case it changes! But I will say this. I am very interested in the kinds of problems people in our our cities and towns are experiencing because of wealth inequity. This has a tremendous impact on families, and I want to write about that a lot right now. Thanks so much for asking!


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