By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Author and Hampton Roads native Kwame Alexander has achieved something few writers can include on their resumes.
His poetry/prose book The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) has been on the New York Times Children’s bestseller list. Alexander, who hails from Chesapeake, has received some of the most noted awards for The Crossover which first hit the shelves in the spring of 2014.
Just recently he was out West receiving the 2015 John Newbery Award for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children and the 2015 Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor.
Other awards he has received this year because of the work are the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Charlotte Huck Honor Award.
He has also been the featured speaker or noted panelist at a long list of literary forums and festivals where he has talked about his career and the virtues of writing and sharing his generation’s view of the world.
Crossover is written for 9 to 12-year-olds and the critics have managed to mine the book for the charming way that it reveals the life, brotherly love, tensions and growth of two young Black males – Josh and JB, the products of a two-parented, stable and Black middle class family.
Alexander manages to intermix poetry and prose to detail how their lives are intertwined with the “rules of” the basketball court. He skillfully maneuvers the racial tensions and mores of today’s era of hip hop culture they must encounter.
In May of 2014, Cornelius Eady, the Miller chair in poetry at the University of Missouri, Columbia, summed up what Alexander achieved in the book when he said the “biggest surprise of The Crossover is that, for all the bells and whistles of a young man’s game, it is most boldly and certainly a book about tenderness.
It’s the trigger that causes a rift between the brothers, and what will ultimately heal them.”
“I wanted to write a good book that a 12-year-old would pick up,” said Alexander, who now lives with his family in Northern Virginia. “I want to challenge that notion that African-American boys are not readers and would not get excited about reading.”
Literary expression is part of his pedigree. His author/educator father, Dr. E. Curtis Alexander, has written a number of books on Black History and is the Curator off the Bells Mills Historical Society in Chesapeake.
His mother, Barbara, is a Literacy Trainer and Education Professor.
Alexander has penned at least 18 other titles dating back to Just Us: Poems & Counterpoems, 1986-1995 (1995) and The Flow: New Black Poets in Motion, ed. (1994).
Some other books are The Book Party (2016); He Said, She Said: A Novel (2013); Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band (2011); Indigo Blume and the Garden City (2010); And Then You Know: New and Selected Poems (2008); and An American Poem (2008).
Alexander said that youngsters must be encouraged to read, regardless of their locale or class. He said availability is not a factor with libraries still functioning as repository of literature.
“We must make reading as cool as playing basketball,” said Alexander. “They must become as excited about books as they are about iPads where e-books can be accessed.”
There have educational advocates and writers who have been clamoring for an increase in the number of books which cater to, and project the images and culture of Black and Hispanic children.
But Alexander has a very practical take on this complaint. Three of authors of children’s books he holds in high regard are Jacqueline Woodson Christopher, Myers and Jason Reynolds.
“I don’t think we have to recruit more writers of color,” he said. “We must support those who are already out there writing and being published There are many good exiting writers out there who are doing quality work.”