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November 24, 2017

Teen Board Member Rachel D. Interviews Kwame Alexander at the Miami Book Fair, Part 1


While mingling with your favorite authors and seeing all the latest books is awesome enough, imagine doing all of that and more in sunny MiamI! This year, Teen Board Member Rachel D. was on location in balmy Florida for the Miami Book Fair and she was kind enough to report back for us. The highlight of her experience was getting to interview New York Times-bestselling author Kwame Alexander; Rachel also reviewed his most recent book, SOLO, for us when it released. Read part one of their powerful interview below! Hey, I’m Rachel, a Teen Reporter for Teenreads. I wanted to ask you some questions about SOLO but also about you, your writing process and what you do for fun. When you’re not writing, what do you for fun?

Kwame Alexander: Well last night I was rehearsing Aladdin Jr. with my 9-year-old. I played Aladdin and so we sang every song in the musical about 10 times and then I helped her with my homework and then we played pool. Usually I hang out with my family these days, that’s like the fun stuff: to be at home and hanging out with the family, watching “Queen Sugar” with my wife or Netflix and, of course, reading.

TRC: Yeah, family is important. Obviously in the book it’s a central topic. No spoilers!

KA: So what do you do for fun?

TRC: Me? I just came back from robotics practice.

KA: Robotics practice? What exactly does that entail?

TRC: Well I’m in charge of the electrical and programming for our team. We just came back from competition last weekend, and we honestly did horrible. The brain of our robot died so none of our motors were spinning and everyone thought it was a programming mistake, but I know how to program, and I wouldn’t make a mistake that basic. So, I was testing all the motors today so that I can pinpoint what exactly I did wrong.

KA: Wow. I’m sorry about that.

TRC: Yeah, life is life. Other than that, I do NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if you’re familiar?

KA: I am!

TRC: You are? Are you doing it this year?

KA: I know the guy who founded it. He’s been trying to get me to do it forever.

TRC: You should do it!

KA: I never have time! I don’t have time to write a novel in a month, because it takes me years to write, you know?

TRC: Whoa, it does?

KA: Yeah, well SOLO took somewhere between 2 and 10 years.

TRC: That’s what I was wondering actually, because I was doing some research on you, and in the book they talk about making schools in Ghana and I noticed that you were doing a project where you were making schools in Ghana. Is that where you got the inspiration from?

KA: I steal from my life, Rachel.

TRC: You do? Do you just borrow parts of your life?

KA: And yours. What does T.S. Eliot say: “Immature writers imitate mature writers still.” So yeah that’s where the idea came from; I incorporated Ghana into SOLO from my visits in the past years.

TRC: Are you still very involved with that?

KA: Well we’re very close to unveiling the library so hopefully by next summer it will be done, and I’ve been going once a year sometimes twice a year. I love that place.

TRC: Do you think identify with Blade a little bit that you find a piece of yourself when you go there?

KA: Well I identify with Blade in that regard only and nothing else.

TRC: Yeah [laughs] hopefully not! I mean he does find love in the end.

KA: Yeah, I guess he does! He finds out a lot about himself and what matters, and really all the stuff he knew in the beginning but got lost in all the chaos of his life.

TRC: Do you think it’s a moral truth, or something a lot of teenagers go through? I mean, I identified with Blade and I don’t have any of his problems, my life at home is fine, I don’t have crazy parents or anything, but I think it’s great that teens can relate to this novel and go soul searching themselves. Maybe I don’t need to travel to Ghana, but I can still feel like I went on that journey with him.

KA: Right, maybe Ghana can be in your backyard. What do you have to do to figure out: who am I, where am I headed, how am I going to get there, who loves me, who do I love and how do I maintain some sanity and happiness in life? We all deal with that stuff. I think he’s trying to figure that out. He’s trying to figure it out amid some champagne problems, but ultimately, we’re all thinking about how to answer those questions.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 of Rachel's interview with Kwame Alexander soon!