Innovation in Education: The Pulaski Academy Podcast
December 13, 2021
Innovation in Education Guest: Ayana Gray, New York Times Best Selling author and PA Graduate.
Welcome to Innovation and Education. My name is Matt and I'm very thrilled about my guest today. My guest is Ayana Gray. She is a 2011 PA graduate and a New York Times Bestselling Author. Originally from Atlanta, she now lives in Little Rock where she reads, avidly follows Formula One Racing and worries over the varying moods of her adopted baby black rhino Apollo, which I'm interested to ask her more about. Her debut novel is “Beasts of Prey” and is currently being adapted for a film by Netflix.
Ayana, Welcome. We are so excited to have you with us!
AYANA: Thank you. It's nice to be back on campus!
MATT: The campus looks a little bit different from when you were back here in 2011.
AYANA: It looks very different!
MATT: The book is “Beasts of Prey” and I'm very excited to chat with you about it. Congratulations, first of all on being a New York Times Bestseller! We’re very proud of you. I know it's probably been somewhat of a whirlwind tour for you. What has life been like over the last couple of months as you've been out promoting the book?
AYANA: Yes, “whirlwind” is a good word to use. It's really been a joy. You know, I started writing “Beasts of Prey” after I graduated from college at the University of Arkansas six years ago. So, for a long time it was this kind of quiet project that people didn't know about that I worked on in my spare time while I was working and traveling. For it to go from this simple document on Google Docs (on my laptop) to suddenly a book that people can hold and that I see it at airports, is unreal.
"We knew that Pulaski Academy was leaps and bounds ahead of any other public or private school Little Rock. So it was pretty easy for us to decide PA was home for us."
I've gotten to travel to different cities and meet a lot of readers. All of a sudden, it went really fast - from 0 to 100. It's been really cool. But I’m home now, which is very nice!
MATT: I want to talk about the book and more about the story, but I want to back up a little bit and talk about your early years. How old were you when you started school at Pulaski Academy.
AYANA: I was 13 and started PA in seventh grade. I grew up in Atlanta and then one of my parents got a job offer in Little Rock. My family is originally from New York, but moved to Atlanta to go to college. We were raised in Atlanta and on the East Coast. We didn't know much about Arkansas.
I was hesitant to move to Arkansas because all my friends were in Atlanta, but it was one of the best things to happen to me. I found some of my lifelong friends here. Thirteen's a weird age to move. It's a tough year - lots of changes going on.
MATT: Did you look at other schools when you moved here or was PA where you knew you wanted to attend.
AYANA: We lived in Pleasant Valley, right across the street form PA, so it made sense to go to school there. I've gone to private schools my entire life. My parents really believed in a strong education and finding the best school wherever we lived. We knew that Pulaski Academy was leaps and bounds ahead of any other public or private school Little Rock. So it was pretty easy for us to decide PA was home for us.
"Those faculty (at PA) were really ruthless with us - I say that with love. They were ruthless with us, making sure what we turned in was right. It had our names on it and needed to be excellent! Not just good. Not just great. But excellent!"
MATT: What do you remember most about your middle and high school time at PA?
AYANA: My class (2011) was very small, which has pros and cons - mostly pros. One of the benefits was that everybody was kind and it wasn't terribly cliquish. There were still groups of friends who hung out on their own. But, I had been at schools in Atlanta where celebrities’ kids went and it was very cliquish. It was just kind of sink or swim at those schools, but I felt like students at PA were a lot nicer and more inclusive. I felt like I found a true friend group with friends who liked the things I liked.
I was an avid reader and I found my friends through a mutual love of Harry Potter and the
Twilight series. We passed around the same books and teachers really supported and encouraged that. I remember reading a lot of books in my early years of PA.
MATT: Were you more of a Math and Science or Language Arts/Social Sciences student?
AYANA: Oh, absolutely not a Math and Science student (laughs). I had wonderful teachers, which some of them are still at PA. But, I loved English and I loved the Social Sciences. Obviously English and Literature, which are inherently stories, but there are stories in history, as well. When I was in high school, I felt like I really found my niche in Literature and found the classes that I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed Art, the creative arts and all creative activity.
MATT: Was there a class, a teacher, or an opportunity that you look back on that really was profound or that changed you while at PA?
"My freshman year at the University of Arkansas was actually easier than my senior year at PA."
AYANA: High School in general at PA, very much prepared me for life and especially for college. The Social Science Department at PA is a powerhouse! Faculty like Mr. Chad Cummings, Jody Musgrove, Mike Thomas, and Bill Topich had a profound effect on my life. I
still meet up with Mr. Topich at Guillermo’s Coffee where he used meet students for writing and study sessions. Those faculty were really ruthless with us - I say that with love. They were ruthless with us, making sure what we turned in was right. It had our names on it and needed to be excellent! Not just good. Not just great. But excellent!
My freshman year at the University of Arkansas was actually easier than my senior year at PA. I met students (at the U of A) who had never written more than a five page research paper. I was writing five page papers as a freshman at PA and taking honors courses. Faculty were diligent in teaching us to be meticulous with our work, to make sure we had gone over everything with a “fine-tooth comb”. We learned a lot about the value of peer editing, critique and accepting that critique – that was fundamental to my academic work in college, but also as an author.
If you would like to hear Ayana's interview in its entirety, you can access it on the PA Podcast, Innovation In Education at papodcast.net.
You can read more about Ayana and purchase her book at www.ayanagray.com
If you would like to learn more about Pulaski Academy's Innovative College Preparatory Curriculum and Program, we invite you to visit our Virtual Admissions Center. There, you will find many ways to connect with our campus and community.