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Literary Ambassador to America's Children

Literary Ambassador to America's Children, Kwame Alexander Celebrates and Gets Celebrated At BEA

Called 'Literary Son' of Nikki Giovanni

New York, N.Y. - Kwame Alexander, a native New Yorker, is having a coming out party of sorts this week at Book Expo America. He'll be signing galleys of his debut YA novel, He Said/She Said (HarperCollins), attending parties hosted by HarperCollins and People Magazine, and celebrating his literary ascension with a soiree Friday night.

But Alexander's new heights are worth noting not because of what they mean for his career, but what they mean for America's youths. A big part of Alexander's literary journey has been about empowering young people to take control of their lives. Literacy and literature are the vehicles he offers. His experiences as a literary ambassador -- from private schools to detention centers -- bust three common myths about young people and literature.

Nothing can be done to inspire teens around literacy if they haven't mastered the skills by high school.

Boys aren't interested in reading.

Children from low-income backgrounds and low-performing schools don't (or won't) read or write and can't be inspired.

Alexander's literary engagements with young people challenge conventional wisdom and give us hope. Although illiteracy is still a major impediment to academic achievement for many minority students, Alexander is literally re-writing the book on how to break down that barrier. His Book-in-a-Day program has created 3,000 students authors of 55 books. Reluctant readers and writers shed fears and negative attitudes about literacy when Alexander does his thing.

"I have never seen the students relate so well and respond so completely to anyone! You have inspired us," a Virginia librarian wrote after Alexander's visit to her school.  

The 168 students who attended the Connecticut Writers Project-Fairfield in mid-May felt the same. "Judging by the buzz in the room, punctuated by laughter at key points, keynote speaker, author, and poet Kwame Alexander had the middle and high school students completely engaged as he recited snippets from his poems...," the Fairfield University online newspaper recently reported.

Alexander works hard to engage and motivate today's youths, yet he seems to have been born for the task, and all things literary. The son of writer and publisher Dr. E. Curtis Alexander possesses a breath-taking resume: author (of 15 books), poet, publisher, literary editor, playwright, producer, speaker, performer, teacher, writer-in-residence, book festival founder, library builder, literary ambassador to the planet. He's served as a special guest to the Secretariat of Culture in Bahia, Brazil, is the poet-laureate of LitWorld, and has spoken to and taught poetry and publishing to thousands of students.  

Publisher's Weekly, among others, considers Alexander a pivotal figure in contemporary American literature and publishing.

Nikki Giovanni calls him her "literary son," and some of America's best-loved writers, such as Maya Angelou, Walter Dean Myers, and Edwidge Danticat know his name and works. Alexander's on a mission to change the conversation about literacy and change our children's fortunes through literature immersion. He travels coast to coast and across the sea planting and nurturing seeds of literary love (Brazil, Ghana, Italy, France, Turkey, and Canada are recent foreign stops).

And although the papers of this Brooklyn-born, Virginia-residing literary wonder are housed at George Washington University's Gelman Library, Alexander is just getting started.  

America's children can look forward to many more opportunities to benefit, including the chance to be involved in Alexander's national launch of He Said/She Said in November. Children in Ghana, whose schools don't have libraries, will receive hundreds more books and other donations from Alexander, Nikki Giovanni, and a group of writers when he makes his third trip there in late September.  

"I love my job!" says Alexander. "Knowing what I know about the power of words to change lives, and seeing what I've seen from children around the world, I can't imagine doing anything else."


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