Poet, bestselling author, and Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander performed at The Hun School on Wednesday, November 5thas part of Raider Reads Day. Mr. Alexander shared reflections and anecdotes from his life and career through interactive performance poetry, before receiving a standing ovation from students, faculty, and guests. He is the author of twenty-five books, including his bestselling young adult verse-novel Crossover.
“I loved his positivity and his confidence,” said Ruth McCoy ’20. “He made it clear that poetry, which people think is old-fashioned, can really apply to us and is still relevant. He was one of the best speakers we’ve had.”
The talk was part of Raider Reads, an annual Hun event in which students read the work of an author and have speakers and sessions exploring the work and related themes, such as “Finding Your Poetic Voice” to “Building Character and Leadership Through Athletics.”
Mr. Alexander led his audience through a presentation in which they finished his lines of poetry and he read from his works accompanied by a jazz guitarist. He told stories about using poetry at crucial moments of his life: asking a girl to the prom, courting his wife, and seeing his daughters grow up. And he told an inspiring story about Crossover, emphasizing resilience and the power of believing in yourself.
After years of writing books for adults, he said, a publisher asked Mr. Alexander if he would take a crack at writing for children. He immediately decided to try, “because I’m a ‘yes’ kind of person.”
“I went to my favorite writing spot, you may have heard of it? It’s called Panera Bread,” he said to laughter. He wrote fifty pages of a book about identical twins Josh and Jordan Bell, middle school students who love basketball and their parents.
Mr. Alexander sent the pages to the publisher, who quickly rejected it, even after he rewrote it several times. Refusing to give up, he sent it to eighteen other publishers, all of whom rejected it, because “girls don’t read books about sports, and boys don’t read poetry.”
Finally, he got a “yes” from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It has since been a New York Timesbestseller, and won Mr. Alexander the Newbery Medal and numerous other awards. He has written two sequels, is the host of a Facebook show calledBookish, and a frequent contributor to NPR.The New York Timescalled the book “a beautifully measured novel of life and lines.”
“You can’t define yourself by the No’s you receive in life,” he said. “After all the No’s have come to your party, eaten up all your food, and ghome, you just need one “yes.”
Hun students gave him high marks, and a $2,600 check for LEAP for Ghana, a non-profit he founded to build libraries in Ghana.
“It was really refreshing to have the speaker engage with the audience,” noted Maddie Mauer ’20. Mr. Alexander finished his talk with an invocation to keep striving, even in the face of failure.
“Dribble, fake, shoot, miss.
Dribble, fake, shoot, miss.
Dribble, fake, shoot, miss.
Dribble, fake, shoot, SWISH!”