A Conversation With Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander with Max
Kwame Alexander with Max

Kwame Alexander with Max in Boston

Kwame Alexander, author of Booked and the 2015 Newbery Medal-winning book, The Crossover, knows how to reach kids with his poetry about such themes as basketball, brotherhood, family, and middle school. Alexander acts as a literacy advocate, empowering kids to read and write. Last weekend, Alexander served as a keynote speaker at the International Literacy Association (ILA) Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. I was lucky to have the chance to interview him. Here are some excerpts from our inspiring talk:

How did it feel to win a Newbery Medal?  

It was awesome. It was like I was on this jet plane for most of my life, and when I won the Newbery, the plane took off, and it soared 30,000 feet. I’ve been in the air ever since.

Why do you think poetry is so powerful?

Poetry is powerful because it takes these heavy, powerful moments in our lives and distills them down to few words that are packed with emotion. It allows us to process the world in a very beautiful and digestible way.

What inspired you to write The Crossover and Booked?

I wanted to write a book that I would have wanted to read when I was your age. I wanted to write that book about family, friendship, and life from a boy’s perspective, using sports.

What is your favorite sport, and who are your sports heroes?

My favorite sport growing up was tennis. I played through middle school, high school, and college. I loved Arthur Ashe and Yannick Noah. Those are my tennis heroes. As for basketball, I love LeBron James.

What were you like as a kid? Did you enjoy reading?

I loved to read until I turned 10 or 11, and then I hated reading and words. I was similar to the main character Nick in Booked. That’s because the books my dad made me read were not interesting. I believe that books are like amusement parks— sometimes you have to let kids choose the rides.

With the recent high-profile police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, can you comment on how you think kids can address racial injustice?

I think that kids should just continue to be kids, to be innocent, to not let adults try to taint you. For the most part, you kids, I think you get it. You see each other as human beings. I think we’ve got to do better as teachers, as parents, as adults in your life to make sure that doesn’t change.

What is your best advice for young poets?  

Read everything you can get your hands on. The way we learn how to write is by reading other people. The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is by one of my poetry icons Nikki Giovanni. She told me to always say “yes.” Always walk through doors. Be open to opportunities, and figure it out once you get there.

What’s next? Are you working on another book?

There is a book of basketball rules from The Crossover coming out next year. Also, The Crossover movie is in the works. And then there’s The Crossover prequel about the Dad when he was 12.


This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.



See clips from Max's conversation with Kwame Alexander.



Photo courtesy of the author