Monday, May 27, 2019

An Evening with Kwame Alexander

"If you don't stand for something,
you'll fall for everything."

                                            --from "swing," by Kwame Alexander
                                             with Mary Rand Hess
Anyone who has had the good fortune to see poet, educator, and New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two books Kwame Alexander in person, will come away changed. On a rare rainy night at the University of New Mexico, Kwame and guitarist Randy Preston, the terrific musician who accompanies him for many presentations, made a stop in Albuquerque on their 16-city tour. It is obvious in his books and in person that his poems come from his heart; in person memorized and recited with vigor and finesse; and punctuated by soft background guitar music, poignant popular songs chosen to go with the poems, and original songs.

Words have Power. Words can Transform our Life.
Daycare at three years old.  Living on the Upper Westside of New York City, a kid knocked over Kwame’s blocks. The only weapon Kwame could conjure up were his words. He used a few choice ones and made the kid cry. That’s when Kwame learned the power of words. From then on words transformed his life. Who else at that age would immerse himself in the Dr. Seuss book, Fox in Sox, and know it backwards and forwards? That marked the beginning of Kwame’s love of words.

Speak Out. Your Voice Matters.
A man in the audience pointed out that he could hear empowerment in Kwame’s books, and asked how Kwame’s empowerment came about. Kwame’s dad, headmaster of his school in Brooklyn, dragged him to a march—a protest against police brutality after the killing of a black man. He didn’t want to go. He was scared. Then teachers and kids started singing. He sang too, and the tears dried up. That’s when Kwame realized he has a voice. And his voice matters. He says, “You have to speak out to make wrong things right.”

The Road from Twenty-two Rejections to the Newbery Medal
The Crossover. The best book Kwame felt he has written. The book he wrote from his heart, written at Panera Bread, winner of the Newbery award, garnered twenty-two rejections before it found a home. Upon publication, no one wanted to read it. A book about basketball? Girls don’t read books about basketball. Boys don’t read poetry books. Then boys tried it. Then girls. Then they asked for more. The rest is, as they say, history.

How did Kwame begin his journey?  At a booth in Reston, Virginia. Kwame set up a card table, wore a T-shirt with Miles Davis on it—he listens to jazz while he’s writing—laid out 100 books, and sold them all in about an hour.

The evening ended with Kwame’s reading of his new book, Undefeated, while displayed on a large screen. The reading cut me to the core. I came away in awe of how Kwame’s words dig deep into the soul. Bring out feelings about how we as inhabitants of this Earth interact with each other. And how beautiful it is when we celebrate each other. Read Undefeated for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. There is so much to learn about Kwame Alexander. Please visit his website: https://kwamealexander.com/. Like me, you will never be the same.
Clipart courtesy of: www.freepngclipart.com.


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. She has recently become editor of the New Mexico SCBWI chapter newsletter and is working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.

4 comments:

  1. Linda,

    What a great experience of seeing Kwame Alexander in person. Thank you for capturing these insights for those of us who could not be at this event. Your article was loaded with insights and appreciated.

    Terry
    Straight Talk From the Editor

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for writing, Terry. He truly is a life-transforming person. So much of his poetry is memorized. There were lots of children in the audience and he asked for their opinions and listened carefully. It is a night to remember.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Linda, what an amazing experience. From your article, it's easy to see that you were very impressed with Kwame Alexander. I love that his choice of weapons at three was his words! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Thank you, Karen. I will never forget our night with him and love his books.

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