Photo: Nataki Hewling
Kwame Alexander is a poet and author of eighteen books, including The Crossover, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Other works include Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band (The 2014 Michigan Reads One Book Selection), and the YA novel He Said, She Said (a Junior Library Guild Selection). He is the founder of Book-in-a-Day, a student-run publishing program that has created more than 3000 student authors; and LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy project that builds libraries, trains teachers, and empowers children through literature. He visits schools and libraries, has owned several publishing companies, written for stage and television, produced jazz and book festivals, and taught in a high school. In 2015, Kwame will serve as Bank Street College of Education’s first writer-in-residence. Visit him at KwameAlexander.com
Whoa. Is this the same Kwame Alexander who was just interviewed on PBS NewsHour last week?
The one and only.
He's here – on Today's Little Ditty – for National Poetry Month???
Pick your jaw up off the floor. Let me tell you...
I first heard the buzz about The Crossover around this time last year. I put the book on my to-read list, but with a basketball player on the front cover, I wasn't in any hurry. Not that I had anything against basketball, mind you. In high school, my mother and I spent many a night on her bed with cans of Diet Coke and a pan of popcorn between us, as we rooted for the N.Y. Knicks on TV. But a basketball novel-in-verse?
Such a shame I didn't see this at the time:
It was October when I finally cracked open The Crossover:
|From The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (click to enlarge)|
Are you kidding me?
I was seduced by the energy and rhythm of the language before I even had a chance to get sucked into the story or invested in the lives of its characters. (That came soon enough.)
I was hooked... as in, hook shot... as in, a powerhouse explosion... nothing but net.
|THE CROSSOVER, by Kwame Alexander|
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Mar 2014
Click HERE to order.
The Crossover is about so much more than basketball. Rich in relationship dynamics, this is a multi-layered story about family, friendship, adolescence... and, true to the game which is its lifeline, it's also poetry in motion. The heart-racing, trash-talking swagger that you read in "Dribbling" is counterbalanced with softer, introspective moments of uncertainty – a boy just trying to make sense of his life. Like his main character, Kwame Alexander puts it ALL out there.
|Kwame Alexander, The Crossover|
It's wonderful to hear about reluctant readers, boys mostly, being engaged and transformed by this book. But honestly, this is a story that all readers will be able to connect with. Case in point: my 11 year old daughter, who has not had the benefit of popcorn-coke-basketball evenings with Mom, nor any interest in team sports whatsoever. She loved it as much as I did.
Within 24 hours of reading The Crossover, I emailed Kwame to see if I could get him on the blog. He responded that he was under deadline for two novels and would April be a possibility? Absolutely! I would LOVE to feature him for National Poetry Month! I knew that I was a bit late to the game since The Crossover would have been out for over a year, but I didn't care. I was driven to share this book.
|Photo: Nataki Hewling|
2015 ALA honorees (from L ro R):
Christopher Myers, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds,
Jacqueline Woodson, and Rita Williams-Garcia
Now comes the embarrassing part.
When I received Kwame's responses to my interview questions last month, he kindly thanked me for the interview opportunity, but pointed out that the title of the book is The Crossover, not The Crossing.
I didn't... O.M.G. Yes, I did.
Those who know me at all, know that I'm rather
Please help me welcome Kwame Alexander to Today's Little Ditty. It's an honor and a delight to be celebrating National Poetry Month together!
This is ALSO to let you, my readers, know that I have proofread this post at least 53 times, so if you find any typos, oversights, or grammatical errors, please keep them to yourselves. Otherwise, I'm afraid I might pass out.
So let's get to the interview, shall we?
Kwame's five favorites:
Childhood memory: Eating my Granny's hot rolls on Sundays after church
Subject in school: Psychology
Food: Lobster Mac-and-Cheese (yummm... recipe HERE)
Music: Bossa Nova
Vacation spot: Tuscany
You didn’t start out as a children’s author. In fact, I read in another interview that, early on, you were pretty keen on becoming a doctor. Fast forward to today and there are seven words that describe you at the top of your website. They are: POET. KIDS AUTHOR. NOVELIST. TEACHER. COOL DUDE. Is that the order in which you now define yourself? You consider yourself a poet first?
My wife has asked me to edit and delete. LOL! Yes, I'm a poet and an educator, I suppose. That's my job, and it probably encompasses everything else. I don't believe writing is just pen to paper. It's living a life worth writing about. As for being cool, that just happened recently (smile).
Thinking about your writing process, how does the writing of poetry differ from the writing of a novel-in-verse?
One is writing poems. The other is writing a novel...that happens to be told through poetry. It's twice as hard. You not only have to think about the craft of writing a novel, creating a narrative with believable and memorable characters and conflicts, but you have to employ the ingredients that go into making a poem behave.
What inspired you to write The Crossover? Did you always intend to write it as a verse novel? What do you think a novel-in-verse can accomplish that a typical prose novel cannot?
I knew The Crossover would be a novel-in-verse from the very beginning. I was inspired to create a book that boys and reluctant readers would pick up and not be able to put down. That's the power of verse: it's accessible, rhythmic, and concise.
Would you share a favorite selection from The Crossover?
Page 159 may be my favorite, because you can read it four different ways, and get a different take on the same theme. Love that poem.
|From The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (click to enlarge)|
|"Da Man" Kwame Alexander|
COURTESY ALEXANDER FAMILY
Da Man! (Sound familiar?)
From Michelle: If this does not sound familiar, you're probably one of the handful of people out there who have not read this book yet. Do yourself a favor and read it!
Can you give us a hint about what’s coming up next for you?
A novel about a boy who loves soccer and hates reading, and a few picture books.
I don’t want to bring this interview to a close without touching on your passion for literacy. Can you tell us what the Book-in-a-Day and LEAP for Ghana literacy programs mean to you?
I believe in the power of words to change the world. That seems possible to me. Both of these literacy programs are just my little way of trying to open a world of possible for children at home and abroad.
Kwame with the recipients of the Nikki Giovanni LEAP for Ghana Scholarship.
If you had all the world’s children in one room, what would you tell them?
We'd chant "YES" over and over.
Pick a celebrity and write a clerihew. These are some of my favorite poems to write. Enjoy!
For those who don't know, a clerihew is a short, often absurd, biographical poem. It was invented in 1890 by a schoolboy named Edmund Clerihew Bentley. Here are the rules of the form:
- Clerihews have four lines, consisting of two rhyming couplets: the first and second lines must rhyme, and the third and fourth lines must rhyme.
- A specific person should be named in the first line.
- Something should be said about that person to make the reader smile or laugh.
- There's no need to count words or syllables, or worry about the poem's rhythm.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
Throughout the month, send your clerihews to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com or use the contact form in the sidebar to the right. For children under 13 who would like to participate, please read my COPPA compliance statement located below the contact form.
BLOGGER FRIENDS: Thank you for publishing your poems on your own blogs– I love that! Please also remember to send me a copy of your poem or a direct link to your post. That way I know I have your permission to post your poem on Today's Little Ditty.
Some poems may be published on the blog as daily ditties, but all of them will appear in a wrap-up celebration on April 24th, 2015.
To sweeten the deal, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has graciously agreed to provide an autographed copy of The Crossover to one lucky participant, selected randomly, at the end of the month.
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Before I announce the winner of the March DMC giveaway, there were a couple of last minute entries you might want to check out. Many thanks for enriching my life with so many beautiful tanka last month and to Margarita Engle, of course, for inspiring us all!
Random.org has determined that the winner of Orangutanka by Margarita Engle, with illustrations by Renée Kurilla is:
CHARLES WATERS – Congratulations, Charles!
The Poem Farm where her arms are open, her heart is singing, and poetry love abounds.
If you're looking for creative ways to celebrate National Poetry Month, Jama Rattigan is your go-to for NPM festivites at Alphabet Soup.