Nationally renowned author Kwame Alexander spoke at the Elliott University Center Auditorium on Monday, Sept. 12.
Alexander, who has been writing for over twenty years, managed to construct an extremely impressive body of work. As a New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including two novels, and the receiver of the 2015 Newbery Medal for his 2014 hit, “The Crossover,” Alexander has laid the foundation for a powerful legacy. Some other awards that he received for “The Crossover” include the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Passaic Poetry Prize. But before any writer reaches this level of success, they must first find the inspiration to spark their story.
“Both of my parents were writers,” Alexander explained. “And they always encouraged my brother, sisters and I to read and write on a regular basis, especially in high school. So my siblings and I grew up in a household where we were constantly exposed to literature. Eventually we all became artists. I became an author and a poet. My brother works in music and entertainment. One of my sisters is a photographer. And my other sister works as both a writer and a model.”
Although Alexander was raised by writers, and a good amount of his childhood and teen years were spent writing, it wasn’t until college that he decided he wanted to make a career out of it.
“There were a few different things in college that led me onto the path of becoming an author,” Alexander explained, “One of them was my class with Professor Nikki Giovanni at Virginia Tech. Her class really sparked my interest in writing as a profession, and she eventually became a trusted mentor of mine.”
For those who may not be familiar with her work, Nikki Giovanni is an award-winning, world-renowned poet and educator. Some of her works include “Love Poems,” (1997); “Blues: For All the Changes,” (1999); and “Black Feeling, Black Talk” (1968). Some of Giovanni’s awards include seven NAACP Image Awards, Ebony Magazine’s Woman of the Year (1970) and she was even named one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 Living Legends.
“The other aspect of college life that led me on to the path of becoming a writer was my desire to be cool,” Alexander continued. “I wanted to find something that was going to help me stand out, be cool and get girls. So I started writing a lot of poetry. I was writing love poems for the girls, and eventually I realized that I really enjoyed writing! I thought to myself, ‘I’m really starting to love writing. I could make a career out of this.’ And I knew I wanted to write books.”
When Alexander began the process of writing and publishing his first book, a collection of love poems romantically titled, “Just Us,” he set out with one primary goal in mind. “When I first started publishing my work. My primary goal was to simply sell books. I had bills to pay. So if writing was going to be my only source of income I had to be able to sell books. My goal was to have a product that people would want to buy. I wanted to share my ideas with the world. So while I was still in the process of publishing, ‘Just Us,’ I was doing a lot of traveling. I went to different places around the country and different speaking events to promote my work. And eventually things worked out, and I published my first book, ‘Just Us,’ in 1995.”
Kwame Alexander has now reached a point in his career where he might be a hero and inspiration to younger readers and writers. But just like anybody else, he too has favorite writers that he sees as sources of inspiration. “Some writers that inspire me include Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda and of course my mentor Nikki Giovanni,” he explained.
As time has gone by, Kwame Alexander’s style has grown and developed into something truly unique. This style is ever present in his aforementioned award-winning book, “The Crossover.” “The Crossover” is a novel indeed. But unlike most other novels, it is written in poem form. “The Crossover” follows the story of basketball playing twin brothers, Josh and JB, and their family. Josh and JB are almost 13 years old, so the novel covers the different things they experience as young black males in their formative years. As they and their family encounter different challenges, relationships are tested, characters grow and tribulations are faced. As they face these challenges, Josh begins to learn and understand different life lessons through the game of basketball, one of which reads, “True champions/ learn/ to dance/ through the storm.” A couple of other passage that showcase Alexanders’ unique and intricate writing style read, “… A bolt of lightning on my kicks… The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” and, “My twin brother is a baller. The only thing he loves more than basketball is betting. If it’s ninety degrees outside and the sky is cloudless, he will bet you that it’s going to rain.”
Passages like these showcase Alexander’s ability to incorporate elements of hip-hop and poetry into his novels. “The Crossover” is a great story about family, poetry, basketball and brotherhood. It follows a black family through their trials and tribulations, using things like sports and literature as conduits to teach life lessons. And in the end the story aims to prove that the bonds of love and family are all too powerful for any situation to break.
Kwame Alexander has made a name for himself as an author and as a poet. Over the years his style has grown and developed into something that is accessible, relatable and retainable to younger readers. He explained that the reasoning behind writing “The Crossover” in verse form was to make it more accessible to young readers. He writes with the distinct conviction and purpose to exercise the minds of the youth. And for that alone, he is worthy of recognition.