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Visiting Innovator Kwame Alexander Inspires Students with Literature

Award-winning author Kwame Alexander visited The Steward School as part of its Visiting Innovator program.
On the morning of Wednesday, February 7, The Steward School’s Lora M. Robins Theatre was exploding with music, poetry, and storytelling.

In fact, these are key themes that define the life mission of Kwame Alexander, a Newbery Medal Award winner and New York Times bestselling author. As Steward’s winter Visiting Innovator, Mr. Alexander shared his creativity with the community and encouraged students to pursue their unique passions.

Mr. Alexander’s array of books explore themes of self-discovery for young people, all through the lenses of sports, music, friendship, race, and culture. He is the author of "Solo," "The Crossover," and 22 other books for young readers, many of which are available in our own school libraries. His next work, "Rebound," is set to come out this April.

As he spoke to more than 800 students, parents, faculty, staff, and Richmond community members, Mr. Alexander (with musical accompaniment by guitarist and fellow educator Randy Preston) shared his lifelong love affair with poetry through rap, song, and lively readings from his books. He said his interest in literature began with a humorous Mother’s Day poem he wrote as a child and continued into his college years at Virginia Tech, where he studied under famed poet, writer, and activist Nikki Giovanni.

“It was very exciting and empowering,” Mr. Alexander said. “So after college, I began to think of [writing] as more than just something that I could do to share my thoughts about the world, but I might actually be able to make a living from it.

He also shared his personal struggles and eventual triumphs throughout his career as an author — Mr. Alexander’s acclaimed novel "The Crossover," which tells a story entirely through verse of two brothers with a shared love of basketball, was rejected more than a dozen times before getting published and eventually winning him the 2015 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award Honor.

Director of the Bryan Innovation Lab Cary Jamieson said Mr. Alexander was selected as a Visiting Innovator because he not only encourages young people to love reading, he “empowers young people to share their voices. He talks about how much it takes to be able to accomplish something and to never give up, and [the idea] that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything.”

In regards to his thoughts on how to impact children, Mr. Alexander said: “Last year, I visited 177 schools. From what I can tell, all kids … are curious and smart. They want to want to read. They want us to give them something that’s going to engage them and excite them; intelligent entertainment. The Steward School is an example of [a place where] teachers believe that … we have to give [children] what they need to be able to ‘cross over’ and appreciate reading.”

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