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December 8, 2017

Teen Board Member Rachel D. Interviews Kwame Alexander at the Miami Book Fair, Part 3


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 three of their powerful interview below! Why young adult literature? I was thinking of THE CROSSOVER, which is more for a middle grade reader, so why YA this time?

KA: As it happens, I wrote a pretty good middle grade book. Don’t ask me how I did it, I still ask myself: how did you do that? My passion in terms of trying to capture those moments from my childhood, my passion is definitely high school. I had such a great time in high school. I discovered so much about myself. I t was a great time period for me, so naturally I want to write about that stuff and that’s YA. I certainly enjoy writing middle grade, obviously I’ve had some success with it. If I’m looking back and thinking, “Wow, that was a really formative time for me!” that would have been high school.

TRC: You can identify with your identity more then?

KA: Well, I just had so much fun! I had a great time in middle school, but I had so much more fun in high school.

TRC: Oh! I watched your TED Talk and you were talking about being a playwright in college. How did playwrighting end up becoming writing books?

KA: I was in plays as a child. I was cast in a play called “The Chosen” which was produced off-Broadway and I had a leading role in it. I was a theater minor in college at first; I really enjoyed theater and at one point fashioned myself an actor like planned on being an actor. The playwrighting came along because plays in Virginia Tech weren’t casting African Americans or me in particular in leading roles. So rather than complain about that, I decided I would write them myself so I could star in them. If someone’s not going to give you an opportunity…

TRC: …might as well make it for yourself! You can’t just wait for people to call you up.

KA: You would be waiting a lot. That’s how I got into playwrighting. You’re really good at this, by the way.

TRC: Really? Thank you!

KA: Yeah, and with robotics too!

TRC: I think we’re running out of time, so we should wrap this up. You said SOLO was in the works for 2 to 10 years, right?

KA: For me it was about two years. For my writing partner, Mary, about ten years. She had the original idea about ten years.

TRC: Oh wow, so this was basically her child.

KA: Yeah, and I adopted it.

TRC: How did that happen?

KA: We’re in a writing group together, and she approached me one day and asked if I wanted to write a novel with her. And I read it, and I love it, so I said yes.

TRC: So this one didn’t get 19 rejections? [in reference to the 19 rejections THE CROSSOVER received from various publishers] After the Newbery Medal, I mean?

KA: No. He’s golden now!

TRC: Winning the Newbery Medal helped you, then? You get more ‘street cred’?

KA: Definitely. A lot more ‘street cred.’

TRC: Alright we’re out of time, but thank you so much for letting me interview you!

KA: Bye!