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Kwame Alexander at the Library: Poetry, Basketball, and Earl Grey Tea

Kwame Alexander and Celeste in conversation at the American Library in Paris

By Claire Hargreaves

Kwame Alexander, New York Times-bestselling author, poet, publisher, and previous American Library speaker in 2018, returned to the Library on Thursday 17 March 2022, to the delight of his fans in Paris. 

Kwame Alexander writes novels for middle grade readers and teens, as well as picture books for younger readers, although all of his books can be (and are!) enjoyed by a wide audience. His novel-in-verse, The Crossover, won the Newbery Medal, and other works of his have been shortlisted for prestigious prizes such as the UK Carnegie Medal and the Caldecott Medal.

He’s currently writing and executive producing the adaptation of his book, The Crossover, for Disney Plus, which began filming in February 2022 and will soon hit the small screen. 

He sat down with the Library’s Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager, Celeste Rhoads, to talk about all things poetry, basketball, and the exciting streaming television adaptation of his Newbery Medal-winning novel in verse, The Crossover

Mr. Alexander and Celeste enjoyed an engaging conversation in the Florence Gould Reading Room, as he regaled attendees with tales about his inspirations for writing The Crossover, how the novel is currently being adapted as a Disney Plus series, as well as the future project of the first book in a new trilogy, The Door of No Return, set for release in September 2022!

The Library’s Florence Gould Reading Room ready for Mr. Alexander!

Children’s and Teens’ Services Intern, Pallas-Amenah Morgan, moderated questions from the audience after the interview. Attendees were left moved by a young audience member who described how inspired she felt by the talk, and how she intended to continue to explore Mr. Alexander’s work, having been invited along that evening by a friend. 

Mr. Alexander also gave a mesmerizing reading of his award-winning picture book, The Undefeated, which was illustrated by another former Library speaker, Kadir Nelson, and shared some fascinating anecdotes about how the book was put together. For example, Mr. Alexander described the decision to omit illustrations altogether on a page paying tribute to those who have not survived the atrocities of history. 

Mr. Alexander holding a copy of his upcoming book The Door of No Return

When asked to describe his creative process, Mr. Alexander made us all jealous of his glamorous writing routine in his penthouse flat in London, complete with early morning jazz music and Earl Grey tea!

Kanaka, a Teen Writing Group member and event volunteer for that evening, said: “Mr. Alexander is an incredible author and being able to step away from my duties and listen to the conversation was really insightful and inspiring! So thanks to the Library for this opportunity, to Celeste for sending out an email for volunteering and to my fellow volunteers for making this so enjoyable!”

To round out the evening, Mr. Alexander signed books for a long line of eager fans of all ages. Thank you to the Abbey Bookshop for coming along to sell some of Mr. Alexander’s books that night—many attendees purchased books to be signed by the acclaimed author! 

A selection of Mr. Alexander’s books for sale from the Abbey Bookshop

And, of course, thank you to Kwame Alexander for taking the time to visit the Library, and to all those who attended and made the evening feel so special. We look forward to welcoming Mr. Alexander back to the Library when he next comes to Paris!

We have a large collection of Kwame Alexander’s books in the Library, so stop by the Children’s and Teens’ Services Department to browse and check some out. Our children’s and teens’ services team are on hand to help you decide which one to read first!