New York Times bestselling author Kwame Alexander, winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal, will headline this year’s Fall Fest at Central Library, a free event happening Nov. 12.
Alexander is a poet and educator who has published 21 books for children, including The Crossover, which won the Newbery Medal.
Alexander has also received the Coretta Scott King Author Award, the NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize.
Each year, the author leads a delegation of writers, educators and activists to Ghana as part of LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy program he co-founded that builds libraries and provides literacy professional development for teachers.
The Indianapolis Recorder recently spoke with Alexander about what drives his work.
Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper: You have quite a list of accomplishments throughout your career. What has been the most meaningful part of your journey as a writer?
Kwame Alexander: It’s hard to choose, but it’s probably just trying to get students excited about books and engaged with literature, through writing my books, visiting schools and traveling to Ghana to build a library. I really believe that words can empower young people and give them a voice and show them how to raise that voice and stake their place in this world. I know that, because that’s what’s happened to me. I try to share that mission with as many young people as possible. That’s what inspires me and keeps me waking up every day ready to put in the work.
Was your plan always to be a writer, or was there something else you considered?
Ever since college, this was always the plan. I started writing love poems for girls in college and ended up taking a poetry class with Nikki Giovanni. Since then, writing has been a passion and my career. But prior to college, as a school-age kid, there were a number of things I toyed with considering as a career, from playing tennis to being a doctor.
What do you think is the role of your work, and literature in general, in the Black community?
I think it’s to give our young people an opportunity to see themselves, to see what’s possible in the world, to see what’s possible in their lives. Literature is a way to help our young people find their voice as they move through this world, which can be cruel and harsh sometimes. When I was younger, my parents immersed me in language and literature. They read me poetry, we read books every night. I began to see the world beyond my bedroom, in my house, in my neighborhood, and see that there’s a whole world of possibility and I’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities and make the best of my world and my community. That’s what words do. From a very young age, we’ve got to make sure our children have access to books that reflect their world, reflect their lives … also books that show them the world that is outside of themselves. Books can become mirrors and windows for young people and really help them see what’s possible.
What books were those mirrors and windows for you?
Dr. Seuss. Nikki Giovanni’s Spin a Soft Black Song. Lucille Clifton’s Everett Anderson series. Poetry by Langston Hughes. Biographies of Muhammad Ali. All these books gave me a sense that I matter, that I’m worthy, that my voice is important. Because there are people out here who look like you who are saying those things; it’s not abnormal or odd that you can too.
The literary world seems to be moving toward becoming more diverse. Are you pleased with the movement and the pace?
Who’s ever pleased with the pace? Certainly there are changes being made. I try to focus my time and energy not on what should be happening and how fast it should be happening. I try to maintain my focus on what I’m doing. I’m trying to make a change, and that’s all I can really do.
What projects are you working on?
I’m writing a prequel to The Crossover and a young adult novel. I’ve got quite a few books I’m writing, television, movies and some other stuff.
Fall Fest 2016
Families and individuals of all ages are invited for an afternoon of inspiration and cultural entertainment. With this year’s theme “Dare to Dream,” Fall Fest 2016 is intended to encourage a positive atmosphere to promote confidence, character and a good self-image.
Fall Fest will be held in the Clowes Auditorium of the Central Library on Nov. 12 from noon–4 p.m. Below is a full schedule of performances.
12:10 p.m.: Diamond Divas Dance and Majorette of Indianapolis competition dance group
12:35 p.m.: Mentoring magician Magic Mike Ray
1 p.m.: Sims Boxing Gym, featuring professional boxer Anthony Sims and his team
1:25 p.m.: Inspirational poetry and dance group Turning Point Family Worship Center Youth
1:45 p.m.: Salsa/Cha-Cha dance teachers from Fix Dance Studio
2:10 p.m.: Author Kwame Alexander
3 p.m.: Slammin’ Rhymes Poetry Challenge
3:30 p.m.: Alexander book signing
Call (317) 275-4099 for more information about this free library program.