Biography of Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander is an American poet, novelist, and educator perhaps best known for his Newbury-Medal-winning novel for young people, The Crossover.

Alexander was born in Brooklyn in 1968 to a very artistically inclined family. His mother was a folklorist and English teacher who loved to tell Alexander and his siblings stories, and his father was an academic who pushed dissertations and heavy philosophical tomes on his son. Books were everywhere in his house, but Alexander was more interested in basketball—until, one night, he discovered Muhammad Ali’s autobiography The Greatest and devoured it in one night. This spurred on his love of reading, especially of sports-related texts.

He wrote his first poem when he was twelve, explaining on his website that “It was a mother’s day poem for my, uh, mother, and it was horrible, but she liked it a lot. I decided I wanted to be a poet when I wrote a poem for a girl I liked in college. Later, she married me. Yay for poetry!”

When it came to college, Alexander thought about being a pediatrician and took a major in biochemistry and pre-med. He also wondered if he might have a career as a professional tennis player. This all changed when he began taking classes with poet Nikki Giovanni, and he switched his major to English.

Alexander writes for children of all ages. His picture books include Undefeated, Animal Ark, Surf’s Up, and Out of Wonder. His novels for older readers include The Crossover, The Rebound (a prequel to the previous title), Solo, and Swing. He has said that his favorite thing about being a writer is “coming up with the ideas. I spend months, even years, having conversations with myself, playing out scenarios in my head, getting to know the characters before I write one thing down. I really enjoy that process. I also REALLY LOVE doing readings and poetry performances.” His literary inspirations include Giovanni, Jacqueline Woodson, Alice Walker, Mo Willems, E. E. Cummings, and Pablo Neruda.

Alexander is incredibly active within the literary world. He founded an imprint entitled VERSIFY out of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers; he has traveled to Brazil, Italy, Singapore, and Ghana to spearhead cultural exchange delegations; in Ghana, he helped to build the Barbara E. Alexander Memorial Library and Health Clinic through LEAP for Ghana; he hosts and produces the literary talk show Bookish; he often holds a writing workshop, The Write Thing; he served on the advisory board for Giovanni’s project of the 100 Best African American Poems; he was the poet laureate of LitWorld, an organization committed to developing literacy in vulnerable communities across the world; and he has been a poet-in-residence at several institutions.

Alexander has spoken volubly about diversity in literature for young people, writing in The New York Times in 2016, “To construct a truly American imagination, children’s book creators must accept the responsibility of planting seeds of diversity and equity. Of empathy and unity. Book publishers must provide the vast fields of hope for us to do our work. And librarians and teachers must continue to water them, nurture them, grow them.”

Alexander’s awards include the Coretta Scott King Author Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Prize, the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Award, the 2018 NEA Read Across America Ambassador.


Study Guides on Works by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover is a novel in verse about brotherhood and basketball. Its author, Kwame Alexander, aims to reach a wide variety of readers, including reluctant ones, through sports stories that are really about family, love, and friendship.

The...