Visiting schools is one of my favorite parts of being an author. I love being able to share my passion for words with students as well as seeing their sparks of curiosity and imagination catch fire.
Last week at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention I had the privilege to meet and listen to Newbery Award winning Kwame Alexander talk about his experience with author visits, of which he’s done more than TWO THOUSAND. He even managed to squeak one in on his way to the convention.
A friend asked, “would you just ‘stop by’ on your way to the convention?” He landed in Milwaukee at 11:30 in the morning and was scheduled to present at the Wisconsin Center at 3:00 pm. He said he doesn’t do anything for free anymore but couldn’t resist. So, he did “just stop by” and in the process inspired 800 kids.
At the end of the presentation a student asked him, “How do you do it?”
“Do what?” Kwame asked.
“Act like you belong here. How do you do it?”
And he said, “Words have always allowed me to feel like I belong… in any place, in any space.”
It is that message, along with a few others that he tries to impart to students all around the country, all around the world even. As I sat and listened to Kwame speak, I wrote. His words begged to be captured and kept and visited again. It was easy to see how he could mesmerize and inspire a crowd. Here are a few of my favorite Kwame quotable phrases from the day.
I also learned a lot as a writer.
He shared that he was recently reading through is rejection letters for The Crossover. It was oddly satisfying to know that even NEWBERY AWARD WINNING books face adversity. Or maybe it should have make me feel like the hill to climb, just got a little higher? Nah. I chose the first mindset. “People didn’t think it would work. Boys don’t read poetry they’d say. Girls don’t read books about basketball. But do you know what I say? I say we all love poetry. We’ve just forgotten. As kids we read Dr. Suess and then… nothing, no poetry until high school. Shel Silverstein to Shakespeare, that’s a huge bridge to ask humans to crossover. I believed deep down that this book would work, and so I kept going.”
Kwame also wrote a book called, The Write Thing, in which he “teaches you how to move students step-by-step from ideas, to drafts, to finished works. Not only will you successfully motivate your students to write, you'll take that motivation one step further by providing guidance on how to create student-driven publications of their work.” There are also accompanying videos that show examples of his tips and suggestions in action. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on this book and get it into my classroom.
Near the end of his presentation Kwame talked about his imprint Versify, where they’re “looking for books that edify, electrify, and exemplify the wonders and woes of childhood.” As he talked about the upcoming titles like Undefeated and The Last Last Day of Summer, I decided right then and there in the audience that one day I would submit my novel in verse* about a gymnast in foster care. (*I say novel in verse… because that is what it WILL be. Right now it’s just a lot of jumbled ideas and a few poems.)
When I told Kwame my plans as he autographed my copy of The Crossover, he said, “Ouuuh. A book about gymnastics? There aren’t many of those.” And I took it as a good sign. I walked away feeling like the luckiest author/teacher/fan/human in the world. So, I learned something else last week. Author visits are great and inspiring and transformative for adults as well.
P.S. If you’d like to hire me for an author visit to your school, book club, girl scout meeting, writing camp/workshop or other literary event, PLEASE DO! You can learn more and contact me HERE.
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