There's a moment in Kwame Alexander's middle grade novel, The Crossover, when protagonist Josh Bell's father is telling him all about jazz musician Horace Silver: “Josh, this cat is the real deal. / Listen to that piano, fast and free, / Just like you and JB on the court.” Alexander's poetry is the real deal, and its action, energy and heart earned it the 2015 Newbery Medal as well as a Coretta Scott King Author Honor.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out you had won the Newbery?
Am I delirious? Dreaming? Did he just really say ‘Medal'? And then, like the clouds shifting to reveal the golden sun, my life changed, a new normal ablaze.
Who was the one person you couldn't wait to tell about the award?
My father, the man who forced me to read books. The man who always told me to “Look it up” when I asked him what a word meant. And, when he picked up and I told him, you could hear it in his voice: This was his award as much as it was mine.
“I’ve seen reluctant readers pick up the book and not put it back down until the end. That’s fulfilling.”
Do you have a favorite past Newbery winner?
One of the books he forced me to read was Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, which won a Newbery, so I guess it’s kinda cool that I’ve now won. It’s coming full circle. So, maybe Mildred Taylor. Or maybe it’s Lois Lowry. Or maybe it’ll be Katherine Patterson, whose Bridge to Terabithia I’m reading for the first time.
What’s the best part of writing books for a younger audience?
Figuring out new and creative ways to empower young people through storytelling.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers about this book?
The reaction has been fairly emotional. Readers from different backgrounds, ages and regions of our country have found some relatability in the characters and really empathize with their woes and wonders. I’ve seen reluctant readers pick up the book and not put it back down until the end. That’s fulfilling.
Have you read or listened to past Newbery acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I have not listened, nor am I sure I want to. I’ve written the speech in my head, where it sounds pretty amazing. Should be interesting to see if translates on the stage.
What’s next for you?
Sleep. I haven’t really slept since The Call. Also, there is a new middle grade that I am writing, and it’s called Booked, so I need to do some fine-tuning, then it’s off to more school visits, which I love as much as the writing.