Child’s Play

A conversation with celebrated children’s author Kwame Alexander.

Chesapeake-raised and Reston-residing children’s author Kwame Alexander, who was awarded the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children for The Crossover, has found his way on the New York Times bestsellers list for the fifth time. His young adult novel Solo, co-written with Mary Rand Hess, has reached its way to the top since being published in August.

“With all the chaos, confusion, and angst of teenage life, I believe teens need a little bit of hope and love. And joy,” Alexander said in a press release. The bestseller tells the story of a teenage musician who sets out on a journey to find his purpose, and identity outside his troubled family.

When he’s not writing, Alexander travels the country to inspire and educate students on the benefits of reading. Currently, he is busy promoting Solo, speaking to students and being Dad. We had the pleasure of speaking to Alexander while he was on his way to drop his daughter off at school, to chat about his muses, passion for education and upcoming appearances.

Why​ ​have​ ​you​ ​chosen​ ​to​ ​write​ ​children’s​ ​literature?

I have two daughters, and I visit a lot of schools—reading to a lot of children and talking about books. Over the years, my sensibilities have changed because I’ve been interacting with more young people.

How​ ​has​ ​your​ ​upbringing​ ​and​ ​life​ ​in​ ​Virginia​ ​influenced​ ​your​ ​works?

The Commonwealth hasn’t come up specifically in my novels, but certainly going to high school and college in Virginia has been influential. I’ve had teachers, like Nikki Giovanni at Virginia Tech, who have been influential in my writing career and certainly have taught me about the craft of writing.Growing up in Chesapeake and being a part of that environment has found its way into the tone of the books I have written. All of my books are set in rural, suburban areas—nothing urban. 

As​ ​an​ ​educator,​ ​you​ ​travel​ ​to​ ​schools​ ​giving​ ​presentations​ ​on​ ​the​ ​importance​ ​of​ ​reading to​ ​students.​ ​Why​ ​do​ ​you​ ​believe​ ​it​ ​is​ ​important​ ​to​ ​encourage​ ​reading​ ​to​ ​young​ ​people?

The most important thing is that if you can read and write, and do it fluently, then you can live a successful life. You can be more worldly and have more access to opportunity because your imagination dictates your reality. In order to live it, you have to believe and think it first. I have found the best way to do that is through reading and understanding what is possible in this world. Books can provide that.

You​ ​are​ scheduled ​to​ ​speak​ ​at​ ​the​ ​Virginia​ ​Association​ ​of​ ​School​ ​Librarians​ ​Conference this​ ​November. What​ ​do​ ​you​ ​plan​ ​to​ ​discuss​ ​and​ ​what​ ​do​ ​you​ ​hope​ ​Virginia​ ​librarians gain​ ​from​ ​your​ ​appearance​ ​there?

I’ll be talking about Solo, reading from some of the chapters, and talking about the power of literature to transform young people’s lives. Overall, a presentation, performance and Q&A about my literature, and how it’s transformed my life. Also, on what librarians and educators can do to make words cool, fun and engaging for young people.

Alexander will be the opening keynote speaker at the The Virginia Association of School Librarians Conference in Chantilly, Virginia on Thursday, November 2. To find out more about Alexander’s books and his upcoming appearances visit

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