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Best of the National Book Festival: Kwame Alexander, 2015

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Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Each weekday, we will feature a video presentation from among the thousands of authors who have appeared at the National Book Festival and as part of our new year-long series, National Book Festival Presents. Mondays will feature topical nonfiction; Tuesday: poetry or literary fiction; Wednesday: history, biography, memoir; Thursday: popular fiction; and Friday: authors who write for children and teens. Please enjoy, and make sure to explore our full National Book Festival video collection!

The following post was written by Sasha Dowdy and Monica Valentine, program specialists in the Library’s Young Readers Center.

This event from the National Book Festival is especially for children and teens, and this blog post includes prompts for writing and thinking that teens, families and teachers can use to explore the author and the author’s work. Recommended for ages 8+.

Kwame Alexander discusses “The Crossover,” winner of the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, on the Teens stage at the 2015 Library of Congress National Book Festival. An acclaimed poet, novelist and children’s book author, Alexander is the author of over 20 books and the founder of two literacy organizations, Book-in-a-Day and LEAP for Ghana. Sydney Trent, social issues editor at The Washington Post, introduces him.

The presentation starts at 3:00. Timestamps for major topics are below:

  • Kwame Alexander recites the beginning of “The Crossover” (7:59)
  • On getting 18 rejections from publishers (9:39)
  • “I am the kind of person who does not let no’s define my yes.” (10:09)
  • “In this life, we have to be prepared for the no’s… There are so many no’s in the universe, so eventually they will clear themselves away. … All it takes is one yes.” (11:26)
  • Q&A starts (14:11)
  • Kwame Alexander reads a love poem (32:18)

Writing and Thinking Prompts

  • Have you read “The Crossover” or any other works by this author? How has this talk changed the way you think about him?
  • What surprised you about the talk? What do you still wonder?
  • If you had been at the talk, what would you have asked Kwame Alexander?

6:06: Kwame Alexander describes “The Crossover” as a novel told through poetry. How does telling a story through poetry change the story? Pick an episode from a favorite book or movie and write a short poem that retells that episode in your own words. How is your version of the story different from the original?

9:39: Before “The Crossover” was accepted for publication, Kwame Alexander’s book received 18 rejections.

  • When was the last time you were rejected? Did it make you give up, or did you keep going? Now that you have heard about Kwame Alexander’s experiences, what might you do the next time you face rejection?

12:53: Kwame Alexander is an award-winning author, but he says that the real reward is when young people say they liked his book. One boy in Minneapolis told him, “Kwame, yo, I don’t even like books. But I couldn’t put yours down.”

  • What was the first book you couldn’t put down? What was special about it? What made it so captivating? Write a letter to the author, telling that person how you felt about the book—and consider sending it!

19:05: Kwame Alexander was inspired to write “The Crossover” because he wanted to write a book he would have loved to read when he was 12 and a book that was interesting to boys and girls, kids and adults.

  • If you are a kid now, what makes a story one that you want to read? What kinds of characters and settings most interest you? Sketch out your ideas and write the first page of a story you’d like to read. You can be the author of the perfect book!
  • If you are older than 12, remember what you were like at that age. What did you care about, what was interesting, who were you then? Write a story for your 12-year-old self.

Explore More

  • “The Crossover” is written in verse and Kwame Alexander says that “poetry saved my life; poetry gave me life” (3:44).
    • Revisit the 2015 National Book Festival Poetry Slam or check out the most recent one here.
    • Poet and author Langston Hughes is an inspiration for Kwame Alexander. Learn about Hughes’s life and read a draft of one of his poems here.
    • The Library of Congress selects Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry to raise awareness of and appreciation for the reading and writing of poetry. Learn about Joy Harjo, the current Poet Laureate.
  • “Reading allows us to figure out what’s possible … to be able to imagine a new, a better, different a kind of world for ourselves.” Hear Kwame Alexander talk about the power of reading in this short interview at the 2016 National Book Festival.

The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will celebrate its 20th birthday this year. You can get up-to-the-minute news, schedule updates and other important festival information by subscribing to this blog. The festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You too can support the festival by making a gift now.


  1. Good afternoon,

    I am an educator in the DeKalb County School District – in the Atlanta metro area. How can I get more information about upcoming conferences?

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