Digitally connect with literary award-winning and best-selling author, poet, and longtime Library admirer Kwame Alexander and the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey (SCLSNJ) on May 19 from 1-1:45 p.m.
During the virtual program, students in grades 4-12 will have the opportunity to discover Alexander’s life experiences and works, as he shares stories and poetry, and hosts a Q&A.
As the son of an English teacher and a publisher, Alexander states that writing and poetry came naturally to him.
“I didn’t find writing or find poetry, they found me,” Alexander said. “Growing up with two writers and avid readers is like being immersed in books every day of your life. You know that you’re either going to grow up to loathe books, or have a deep love affair with them.”
Since the time Alexander was 3-years-old, he recalls spending countless hours at various libraries in the country. He credits the public library as where he wrote part of his award-winning novel “The Crossover” and even the place where he “fell in love” with his “first major crush.”
“Libraries are love, and they have been a place where I’ve been able to write and discover what’s possible in the world,” he said. “They provide books for young people and have this idea that there is a book for every kid, while ensuring that everyone has access to a book. There’s not a roadblock for a kid who can’t afford a book and that’s highly important.”
Between 2018 and 2019, Alexander estimates that he has visited about 2,000 schools and libraries around the world.
“I love school visits and library presentations as much as I love writing,” he said. “My hope is to inspire in the way that words have entertained and inspired me over the years so that by the time attendees leave my presentation they’re not just going to want to go read one of my books, they’re going to want to go read.”
Connecting with tweens and teens comes easily for the writer who still doesn’t feel like an adult himself.
“I guess I feel like I’m still a kid,” said Alexander. “I don’t feel like I’m grown and grown-up – I feel like I’m an imposter – an imposter in a grown-up body. I loved my middle school and high school years; I had so much fun.”
He continued, “I learned so much about myself and about the world. I just try to have communication [with teens and tweens] that I think is meaningful and significant. I try to write books about young people, but I write the books for all of us to read. So, I think I’m just telling stories that kids are able to see themselves or see each other in.”
In 2015, Alexander won the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award Honor for his young adult novel “The Crossover.” The novel, written entirely in verse, tells the story of teenage twin brothers and basketball stars that wrestle with events happening in their lives.
When the writer discovered that he won the Newbery Medal, it came as a complete surprise, as there is no nomination for the award.
“It’s the best kind of surprise in the world,” Alexander said. “Just still thinking about it now I get goosebumps. It changed my life. It’s like getting the Grammy or the Oscar, but you have no idea.”
He continued, “And, it’s the most beautiful experience that a writer for kids could ever experience. Because it says that the work that you’ve done, is recognized and acknowledged, and that more kids are going to have the opportunity to read your book.”
Most recently, Alexander joined forces with best-selling author James Patterson and penned, “Becoming Muhammad Ali.” The book chronicles the life and struggles of Cassius Clay and his transformation to the iconic boxer Muhammad Ali.
“James Patterson called me out of the blue,” said Alexander about the experience. “He wanted to do this book with me because he knew how important Ali’s legacy was to me.”
Alexander explained that he had “sort of fell out of love with reading” because his father had him read things like the dictionary and the encyclopedia, however when he read Ali’s autobiography, it reignited his passion for reading.
“But then [in middle school], I discovered Muhammad Ali’s autobiography, ‘The Greatest: My Own Story’ and I couldn’t put it down. It was a reminder that books are cool, books can be fun. And so, Ali has always had a place in my writing legacy because of that experience.”
He continued, “Just to be able to uncover and discover so much about his childhood that many people don’t know. And to be able to write about that in a novel, was an incredible experience.”
“I am so excited that we are hosting an author visit from one of my very favorite authors, Kwame Alexander,” said Patti Farmer, youth services librarian. “It is wonderful that our customers will have the opportunity to hear from such a prolific and expansive writer. ‘Becoming Muhammad Ali’ is a compelling and engaging book and I’m sure that hearing about Alexander’s writing process will get kids excited to read and inspired to write their own stories.”
Discover prose and inspiration with Alexander and your Library: sclsnj.libnet.info/event/4718788.