The Reading Culture Welcomes Kwame Alexander

author and poet kwame alexander
Masthead Waves


I remember when our son Cassius first picked up “The Crossover,” by Kwame Alexander. Drawn in by the cover, a silhouetted black boy with a basketball, he immediately started reading it in the store. That continued throughout the day, and by the end of the night, he had finished it. For him, and for so many middle schoolers, Kwame is a celebrity. In fact, when we recently ran into Kwame at a local restaurant, it was Cassius who immediately knew who it was. He shouted with excitement, “Hey, that’s Kwame Alexander!” It was the same reaction he would have had for a major sports figure. 


Exciting reluctant middle school kids about reading (or really, anything) can be a battle. Getting them to think reading is cool is another. Kwame Alexander excels at both. His ability to authentically relate to his readers is a skill around which he has built his career.


Kwame is beloved by parents, educators, and students, for his ability to ignite a love of reading (especially middle school boys) through poetry and characters who reflect their real experiences. But his impact extends beyond just an introduction to books, he also opens the door for readers to explore their own emotional depths. As he tells us, “I think part of my job is just to show a different side of masculinity.”


Kwame is widely recognized for his captivating works such as "The Crossover," "The Undefeated," and "The Door of No Return," among numerous novels and collections of poetry. Recently, he has also written a non-traditional (or "new-fashioned") memoir, "Why Fathers Cry at Night," that features poetry, letters, recipes, and other personal artifacts. His work has been honored with prestigious awards such as the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Book Award; his Newbery banquet speech is one of my favorites!


In this episode, Kwame tells us about his own upbringing surrounded by Black storytelling and literature, reveals his secret to making middle-schoolers think he’s “cool”, and tells us about some of his own big dreams. Also, listen a little longer for our (not-so-G-rated) hidden track! 


For his reading (and writing) challenge, Blackout, Kwame wants listeners to utilize their favorite books to look inward and make some art of their own. For Beanstack clients, use the challenge on your site!  


This episode’s Beanstack Featured Librarian is Kirsten Weaver, the programming specialist for the Indianapolis Public Library. She shares moving and inspiring stories about a book club she runs for teens at a residential treatment facility.


Listen to the full episode, “Cool to Be You: Kwame Alexander on Authenticity,” on Apple, Google, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Like what you hear? Please leave a 5-star review, subscribe, and share with someone who will enjoy it!


Follow the podcast on Instagram @thereadingculturepod to see reels of our guests and subscribe to our newsletter at to learn about our exciting upcoming giveaways! #readingculturefam (for life!)

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