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A Conversation With Kwame Alexander

Gavin with award-winning author and poet Kwame Alexander at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. 

Do books unite us? Award winning-author and poet Kwame Alexander thinks so. Alexander is the author of The Crossover, Rebound, and several other best-selling titles. Millions of young people around the world have read and loved his novels and poems.

On September 3, I spoke with Alexander at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. I asked about his new novel, The Door of No Return, which is due out on September 27 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The novel follows the harrowing journey of 11-year-old Kofi Offin after a tragedy alters life in his West African village.

Here are highlights from my conversation with the author, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.  

The theme of this year’s National Book Festival is “Books Bring Us Together.” Do you think that’s true?

Absolutely, books can bring us together. Books can be mirrors where we see ourselves, and books can be windows to see other people. We become more connected to each other and to ourselves.  

Did any experiences inspire you to write The Door of No Return?

I went to Ghana, in West Africa, 11 times. [The name Kwame comes from Ghana.] Going there so much, tasting the food, meeting the people, and putting my feet in the ocean, I felt some type of kinship. I felt like I was connected to this place. I wanted to write a story that was based there. Those trips inspired me.


Gavin at the National Book Festival, whose theme this year was “Books Bring Us Together.”

What do you think readers will like most about it?

There’s a plot twist that is interesting, and the ending is a mystery. It’s adventurous and exciting.  

In the book, the character of Kofi is faced with an unexpected challenge. How do you think challenges can bring us together?

We can’t figure everything out on our own. Sometimes, we need help from other people. We realize that we have others around us who can support us, give us ideas, and help us.  That makes us a stronger family and community, and stronger, better people.

Characters in your books look and act like kids I know. Why do you think it’s important to make your characters real and relatable?

Kids can tell if a character is fake, or if it’s not real, and they get turned off. They don’t want to read the book. I want kids to not only to enjoy the beginnings of my books and the ends of my books, I want them to enjoy everything in-between. In order to do that, you need to make the characters believable.


Photos courtesy of the author