Q&A with Kwame Alexander

Published on: 25 August 2019 Author: Bookbuzz

Bookbuzz talks to Kwame Alexander, author of The Crossover, about writing verse novels.

Why do you write verse novels? What do you think is the power of poetry?

In my father's garage I started finding books on poetry which were awesome because they were short. They had complete stories in five lines. I found I could get into poetry. Many of the books I read as a teenager were love poems. So I started thinking reading can be fun and cool, maybe I'll read more poetry and that's how I found my way back to loving reading. And I think that's why I write novels in verse now, because I love all the white space. I love the rhythm, the rhyme and figurative language and I like how you can say so much in so few words. I like to tell a stories that are powerful and emotional in a few lines.

What message do you have for children and teens who think they don't like reading?

If you don't like reading, I get it. I think you've got to read poetry. Pick out one poem. Poetry rocks ya'll.

Do you write your books especially to reach all kinds of readers and all kinds of kids or is that just what happens naturally?

I write books because I want to help young people imagine a better world. Do I write books for children? No, I write books that hopefully children are going to love and their parents are going to love. Ultimately I write books that I would have wanted to read at their age and I want to read now. Because if I don't like my book the chances of you liking it are probably zero. I'm writing for me to feel inspired and empowered and hopefully you're going to feel the same.

Can you tell us a bit about how you write and how your books go so fast?

That's the way I know how to write. That's what I like. I like rhythm and I like rhyme. I have a new book Rebound and it's the prequel to my book The Crossover, and I tried to use some rhythm and rhyme in that. It's about the father in The Crossover when he's 12 years old. His name is Chuck Bell and he does not know how to play basketball. If you read The Crossover you know he's a famous basketball player, so how does he get there? What kid isn't going to want to get into that. I think sports can be a great hook to get kids involved in reading.

Do you think it's important for kids to 'see themselves' in a book?

Yes. Of course. Equally important is for students NOT to see themselves in books and to see you in a book. Like books are mirrors. You've got to be able to see what's possible, I can overcome that challenge, I can get over grief or I can fall in love, I can do what's impossible because I read it in a book. But this kid over here is just like me, he may not look like me, sound like me, live near me, he may live on the other side of the world, but I can become a little bit more connected to people who don't look, think or act like me. But here's the thing books are also like windows. I've got to see outside myself so I can become more empathetic to the world. Books are about me understanding me. Books are also about me understanding you.

Why do you include recommendations for other great books in your books?

Books are like amusement parks and sometimes children get to pick the rides. It's the only thing that matters. I write books that are maybe like a rollercoaster, but there are books that are like candy floss, books like the spider, like the water park. There are so many rides and I can only be part of one. I think it's so important to be able to share other rides with young people and give them choice. Choice is so important in developing a lifelong love of literature! So why not Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust? Why not Moonrise by Sarah Crossan? Why not Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, why not Love that Dog by Sharon Creech. There are so many rides at the park.

Watch the full interview with Kwame

Listen to Kwame read an extract from another of his books, Booked