A Conversation with Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander is a poet, children’s book author, playwright, producer, public speaker, performer, and winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal for his novel-in-verse, The Crossover. Here, Kwame tells us about his newest book,Booked, which goes on sale April 5! You can read an excerpt here.



You’ve written about basketball, now soccer. Do you play sports yourself? 

I used to play a lot of basketball. I was average. Tennis was my sport. I was one of the top players in the state of Virginia when I was in high school. Now, I just do Zumba, which I know you’re probably thinking, ‘that’s not a sport,’ which is exactly what I thought until I took my wife’s Thursday night Zumba class and I felt like I’d run ten miles and did 100 squats. But, it was fun too. Also, I play a mean game of ping pong.

How did things change for you after you won the Newbery Medal for The Crossover

In the words of that great poet, Jay-Z,

“I went from lukewarm to hot
Sleeping on futons and cots…”

or better yet, as Eydie Gorme sang,

“What a day this has been!
What a rare mood I’m in!
Why, it’s almost like being in love…”


Seriously, the biggest change in my life is I get to travel to a lot more schools and libraries and conferences to share my love of poetry and reading with young people and teachers and librarians. That’s a pretty awesome responsibility and a lot of fun (and frequent flyer miles).

What is the most rewarding thing about being a poet? 

Being able to make someone feel. Something. Anything. That is powerfully rewarding.

Nick’s mother has a somewhat unusual job – are you a fan of horse racing?

I’ve ridden a horse exactly once. And, that was a pony. When I was ten. I know they say you’re supposed to write what you know, but I agree with Toni Morrison, who says sometimes you got to write what you don’t know. That’s kind of exciting and revealing and fresh to me. But, I’m a fan now. I may get a horse.

How do you feel about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement happening in children’s publishing?

It’s a big part of the civil rights movement of our day. How do we create equity and equality in the images and ideas that enable ALL OF OUR CHILDREN to imagine a world of possible, that empower ALL OF OUR CHILDREN to dream a better world, is the most important question we can ask ourselves as parents, teachers, and librarians.

The Mac, and his t-shirts, are great! Is he based on a real person? 

I love The Mac. And, his sneaks and shirts are so friggin’ cool. He is based on a whole lot of real librarians and awesome teachers that I know. I shall post all of their pictures on twitter and Instagram on April 5, 2016, the day Boooked is launched. Please follow me @KwameAlexander and #GetBooked.

You spend a lot of time in schools. What do you hope the students take away from your visit?

That poetry is cool.

That books are cool.

That I am cool.

That they want to read my books.

That they want to read. Anything.

Many of your books involve first love. Any advice to budding Casanovas?

Write poetry.

Did you have a favorite book when you were in elementary or middle school? 

Any book about Muhammad Ali was my fave in middle school. I was a huge boxing fan, but also Ali was the coolest. He made words dance when he spoke. I wanted to do that. And, I did. On the tennis court. In my red high top Chuck Taylors and brown corduroy shorts I talked trash on the court. My opponents were beat before the first volley.

Who is your favorite poet?

My favorite poet is NikkiGiovanniPabloNerudaLangstonHughesNaomiShihabNyeMaryOlivereecummingsHakiMadhubuti

What are you working on now? 

I am writing a few new picture books, a YA novel about my senior year in high school which was outta control, and a prequel to The Crossover, called Rebound, which is about Chuck “DA Man” Bell when he was twelve years old. It’s a pretty busy year.