The First Kid in the Grade to Read the Hunger Games: Where Are They Now?
A pioneer, a trailblazer, and most importantly a man like any other. He likes grabbing a cup o’ joe and bringin’ it on down to the watering hole just as much as the next guy. This is Johannesburg Johnson, and this is his story.
Like all legends, Johnson’s begins with an epic, life-course-altering conversation:
“I was at a funeral for some family member when I was 11, and my cousin was reading I asked him ‘hey what’re you reading? I noticed that it has a bird on the cover and I know a lot about birds and their migration patterns.’ And so he said ‘The Hunger Games’ and then I was like ‘what’s it about?’ and so he said ‘kids killing other kids’ and then I cracked a goodie and said ‘haha so it’s about siblings then’ and then we both laughed and laughed and then I started reading the book with him during the funeral until my mom told us to stop and then I showed up at school that Monday and told my friend Jim to check it out and he did and then so did other kids after that.”
After serving his time to humanity as a social and literary groundbreaker, Johnson, a Medill senior, has largely been taking it easy. He has not read much print since Suzanne Collins’ famed trilogy, preferring to, like any other young adult, “grab a cup o’ joe and bring it on down to the watering hole.”
Where this may seem like a plateau, Johnson and I both see it as a victory. This is a young man that society took into its mouth, chewed, and spit out. He provided a gateway for millions of other kids to enjoy Katniss’s leg hair, Finnick’s fish dick, and Prim’s whiny little bitch energy, but the glitz and glamour didn’t last long…
Weeks after Johnson had finished reading Catching Fire, fellow McKinley High alum Tinsey Blackwell began to claim to have actually started the trend. It was slander that cut a deeper wound than even a cup o’ joe at the watering hole could fill.
“I couldn’t leave the house without a reminder. And eventually, when the movies started being made, even my home wasn’t safe. They put up a billboard across the street from me that was perfectly framed by my bedroom window, and my mom kept talking about “how fun that Jennifer Lawrence is.” The watering hole became my safe space during that period, and the cup of joe the warmth of the hearth I knew I could no longer return to.”
I left the interview with a deep understanding of a tortured soul who had given so much to so many, and had had his deserved recognition yanked from under his feet. As I got up from my rock at the watering hole and said goodbye, I gave him the three finger salute and did the whistle. I swear I saw a tear trail down his cheek, but then again, it could have just been a droplet from the watering hole, or a spill of joe. Guess we’ll never know.