Questions & Answers with Kwame Alexander
DO YOU READ YOUR EMAILS AND LETTERS?
Absolutely! I love receiving letters and notes (and school sweatshirts...) from students. I read them on planes, on trains, even in the rain (when I leave my umbrella at home). And I get hundreds a week, which is really really cool, and I read some of them to my daughter and my wife and they LOVE them as much as I do. Thing is, because of all the books I gotta write and the schools I gotta visit (and the games I play with my daughter), I sadly never get a chance to respond and thank y'all for your time. But, yeah I read EVERYTHING. Thank you for taking the time to reach out. I really appreciate it.
WHERE CAN I WRITE YOU?
Send your letter to my publisher. Feel free to include tickets to HAMILTON in your envelope.
That's up to you. I have five of them (I know that's a lot, but they're all great). The addresses are usually on the copyright page. They know where I live.
WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
August 21st in Manhattan, NY
UH, SO HOW OLD ARE YOU?
I hope you’re good at math. I am the square root of 64 multiplied by four minus five plus the number of NBA championship rings Phil Jackson has plus the age of my six-year-old minus one. Whew!
OKAY FINE, LET'S TRY AN EASY QUESTION: WHAT SCHOOL DID YOU GO TO?
I went to like thirteen schools. Paterson Day Care, Uhuru Sasa Shule, Walker Elementary, Georgetown Elementary, Crestwood Elementary, Crestwood Junior High School, and on and on...
GEESH, HOW ABOUT WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE COLOR?
Used to be olive drab, now it’s blueberry, ‘cause it rhymes with NEWBERY. Get it?
ARE YOUR PARENTS WRITERS?
Yes. Everyone in my family is an artist. I have a sister who is a model and a writer. Another sister who is a photographer. And a brother who is in music and entertainment.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN?
My oldest daughter works in criminal justice (I let her watch too many episodes of Law & Order, I think). My youngest daughter is listening to Hamilton; she also likes to paint and play basketball and ice skate and practice gymnastics.
DO YOU WRITE BLURBS FOR OTHER WRITER'S BOOKS?
The short answer is, uh, very rarely. The long answer is, uh, see answer to question number one above. Oh my!
WHEN DID YOU BEGIN WRITING? AND WHY?
I wrote my first poem when I was 12. It was a mother’s day poem for my, uh, mother, and it was horrible, but she liked it a lot. I decided I wanted to be a poet when I wrote a poem for a girl I liked in college. Later, she married me. Yay for poetry!
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN?
Well, I’ve had 24 books published. But, I’ve written a plethora (Look it up!) of books, too many to count.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE OTHER BOOKS YOU’VE WRITTEN?
Well, my newest books are: THE PLAYBOOK, which is a collection of basketball rules for life, like "If you miss enough of life's free throws, you will pay in the end," and ANIMAL ARK, which is a book of photos and poems about how we need to save the animals that are endangered. There's also a novel is called “Booked,” and it’s about a boy who LOVES soccer and LOATHES reading. Also, there’s a picture book called “Surf’s Up,” about two frogs named Bro and Dude, and there’s a collection of love poems for parents and teachers called “And Then You Know;” and there’s a, wait a minute, I’m not doing all the work for you. Google it. Indiebound it. Amazon it. Library it. Geesh!
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO START AND FINISH A BOOK?
That depends on what good TV shows are on. Also, it depends on the kind of book I am writing. I once wrote a children’s picture book called Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band in two weeks. The Crossover took me five years. Booked took 9 months and another year to rewrite it. Oh my!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THE CROSSOVER?
I simply wanted to write a good story about sports, family, friendship, and that first crush, all things that were important to me when I was 12.
WHY DID YOU WRITE IT IN POEMS?
I felt that poetry would mirror the energy, the movement, the pulse of a basketball game the best. I’ve always thought that if you want to get reluctant readers engaged with literature, start with poetry. Read them Nikki Giovanni, teach them haiku, plan an open mic, let them be firsthand witnesses to the power of accessible, relatable poetry. Recently, a kid I met at a book event told me, “I opened up The Crossover, and was like, ughh, these are poems. But then, I started reading them, and I couldn’t put it down. It was like good poetry, and it told a story. The best thing ever.” YEAH!
WHAT GAVE YOU THE IDEA TO WRITE THE BASKETBALL RULES AND THE DEFINITION POEMS THROUGHOUT THE BOOK?
WAIT, ONE MINUTE! I can’t tell you all of my secrets. I will tell you this, when I am in my writing zone, after hours, or sometimes days of writing, sometimes my muse will give me a brilliant idea. For instance, when I was writing The Crossover, I was sitting in Panera Bread and listening to jazz music on Pandora, and this song came on and I really liked it and I looked at the name of it, and it was called “Filthy McNasty” and I thought THIS WOULD BE A GRAND NICKNAME FOR ONE OF MY CHARACTERS…
HOW DID IT FEEL TO WIN THE 2015 JOHN NEWBERY MEDAL FOR THE MOST DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN?
Oh my! I’ll be right back, I have to get some Kleenex…
ARE YOU WRITING A SEQUEL TO THE CROSSOVER? PLEASE TELL ME YOU’RE WRITING A SEQUEL.
This is the question I get asked the most. It really is flattering for a reader to ask this question. It means that the book was meaningful and perhaps it impacted readers enough that they want to know more. So here’s the deal, at this point I am not writing a sequel, but it’s possible that there may be a, oh never mind, you’ll have to wait and see, but trust me, it’s gonna be good…
ARE YOU WRITING A PREQUEL TO THE CROSSOVER?
Yes. It's called REBOUND.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE BOOKED?
Some students at Washington Episcopal School said I should write a book about soccer and then they invited me to their Futsal tournament and I went and I was hooked, and so I decided to write BOOKED! Also, I hated reading when I was ten, so I wanted to write about that (BUT, THIS IS NOT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY). Also, I wanted to write about very cool words.
ARE YOU WRITING A SEQUEL TO THE BOOKED?
It's a good idea, if I had an idea what it would be about.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVE SPORT?
Tennis and Basketball.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED AS A WRITER OR A HUMAN?
Well, as it happens, I am a writer AND a human. Best advice came from my college professor, Nikki Giovanni, who told me to always SAY YES!
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STUDENT WRITERS?
TS Eliot said, “Immature writers imitate. Mature writers steal.” The way we become good writers is by reading. My advice to young writers is to read. Learn what other writers have done right and wrong. This will help you find your own voice. Also, SAY YES!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
My favorite thing is coming up with the ideas. I spend months, even years, having conversations with myself, playing out scenarios in my head, getting to know the characters before I write one thing down. I really enjoy that process. I also REALLY LOVE doing readings and poetry performances.
WHAT’S THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
DO YOU EVER GET WRITER’S BLOCK?
Nope. When I get tired of working on one book, I just start working on a different book. Same thing with mussels. I ate mussels almost every day for a whole summer, and I got sick of ‘em, so I stopped eating them, and started eating oysters. Now, I’m sick of Oysters. Gonna try squid next.
DO YOU VISIT SCHOOLS?
YES! I walk my seven-year-old to school most days, and I also come to elementary, middle, and high schools and read poems and tell stories and sign books (and eat pizza and cupcakes).
WILL YOU COME TO MY SCHOOL?
Absolutely. Would be cool if you read one of my books too.
HOW MUCH DO YOU CHARGE?
I hope you’re good at math. Compute the circumference of a basketball, multiplied by one plus one hundred, minus fifteen divided by two plus the number that is in my head right now…Or you can just contact Carmen and ask her...
DO YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL?
Love to travel. I’ve been very lucky to visit schools, speak at conferences, and read poetry on five different continents: Africa, Europe, South America, and Asia.
YOU SAID FIVE, BUT THAT WAS ONLY FOUR.
North America, duh!
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE WRITERS?
Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda, Nikki Giovanni, Percival Everett, Jacqueline Woodson, Mo Willems, ee cummings, Gordan Korman, Kate DiCamillo, Nikki Grimes, and my parents, to name a few...
DO YOU KNOW ANY OF THEM?
Yes, I do. I’ve actually had dinner with several of them.
I HAVE TO WRITE A BOOK REPORT, CAN I INTERVIEW YOU?
What do you think we’ve been doing for the past twenty minutes? Geesh!
OKAY, WELL CAN YOU AT LEAST TELL ME WHAT YOUR BOOK IS ABOUT?
Sure, but first send me the book report.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NEXT?
A Young Adult Novel called SOLO, which I wrote with my friend, Mary, and which is about Rock & Roll Music. WOOHOO! Also, The Playbook and Animal Ark (both of which will be released on Valentines Day, 2017); Out of Wonder (March 14, 2017), and THE PREQUEL to THE CROSSOVER, remember.
SO, ARE YOU 37?
I am. Not.
Thanks for this interview. I enjoyed talking to myself.