Questions for Kwame
In writing his latest book, The Write Thing: Kwame Alexander Engages Students in Writing Workshop (And You Can Too!), Kwame turned to Facebook to solicit questions about writing from his youngest fans—students! Here are his answers to just a few of the questions that students asked. For the rest, you will have to read his book!
Where do you get inspiration from?
From my daughters, from reading, from artwork, from life. I am a willing participant in life. I walk through life paying attention to everything, eavesdropping on everyone, and I find myself inspired by the littlest things—a smile on a rainy day—and the biggest—Love.
What made you want to write?
I read some good poems, and thought, WOW, I WANNA WRITE LIKE THAT. Also, I had some things to say that I felt mattered, and I wanted to share those things with the world. Also, my parents and teachers MADE me write.
When you’re stuck (writers’ block) how do you know how to turn it around and write?
When I have writer’s block, I stop trying to turn it around. I just put it aside, and work on something else. And read. Or shoot hoops with my kid. Or listen to music. Or work on something else. Or read other people’s poetry (OPP!) for inspiration. And, it works. Eventually, I’ll get unstuck and find my way back to it.
What are some of your techniques for brainstorming?
Oh, this is real simple. I call it BIC. Butt. In. Chair. Also, I like to throw ideas around with my writing friends. I find that when I’m walking or driving long distances, I daydream a lot. I come up with a lot of ideas when I’m asleep also. If only, I could wake up and write them all down. Geesh.
What do you do when you start a poem and it is completely going nowhere?
See above. BIC. The longer you sit, the better chance you have of it going somewhere. And, if it doesn’t, see above: OPP.
How do you develop rhythm within a poem?
I’m a genius. Also, I listen to a lot of music. I love hip hop. And rock. And country. AND JAZZ! Some poems will dictate their own rhythm (a limerick has its own rhythm that you must adhere to, else it’s not a limerick), but others you create the rhythm. That takes time and practice.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Pablo Neruda, Percival Everett, Mo Willems, Jacqueline Woodson, Alice Walker, and my mom
Do you write out all your ideas and then decide on how to place certain letters and words on the page or does the word and letter placement just automatically come into your brain while you’re writing?
I do it both ways actually. It just depends on what I’m writing and where the inspiration comes from.
How long does it take you to write a book? What are the steps?
It took me 5 years to write The Crossover. Two years to write Rebound. One week to write Surf’s Up (And one year to rewrite it). Here are the steps.
- Eat Mac-N-Cheese at Panera
- Get Bored
- Shoot hoops with my daughter
- Wake up
Out of every type of writing, why did you choose poetry?
I didn’t; it chose me. I read so much of it as a kid, that it just seeped into my head and my heart and it consumed me. Also, because I love saying a whole lot in very few words. Also, the white space is pretty spectacular. I love the words that aren’t there that the reader fills in. How cool is that?
What book that you wrote means the most to you?
That’s like asking who’s my favorite jazz pianist. Actually, it’s Oscar Peterson. Or which jazz vocalist is my fave. Okay, that’d be Ella Fitzgerald. Okay, maybe this isn’t a question for me. Maybe, it’s for you?
How do/did you build an extensive vocabulary?
I read the dictionary and encyclopedia as a child. My dad had a bad case of logorrhea. Also, I do word-of-the-day at my house. I love discovering new words.
Have you always wanted to write, or did you find your passion later?
I didn’t find my passion until college when I started writing social protest poetry (poetry to make my fellow students aware of all the social injustices on our campus and in our world) and love poems (poetry to let girls know I thought they were pretty special).
What is your favorite poem?
That’s like asking what is my favorite jazz song…. Here’s an idea. What’s yours?