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Students inspired by award-winning poet and author

Award-winning and best-selling American poet and author Kwame Alexander gave an electrifying performance to hundreds of students from across the Brooke Weston Trust.

Kwame is a New York Times bestselling author with 33 titles to his name. His work has won both the Newbery Medal in America and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in England this year; both are hugely prestigious prizes in children’s literature.

He, along with his sidekick and friend, Randy Preston, who provided musical accompaniment, kept the audience at Corby Business Academy rapt for an hour-long talk when Kwame outlined his career, love of poetry and did a huge amount of audience participation.

Kwame attended Virginia Tech College, with renowned poet Nikki Giovanni as his professor. “I kept writing and before you knew it I had written 14 books of poetry,” he told students. He was approached to write a fiction book in verse about a boy who played basketball, but it was rejected by many publishing houses: “You can’t let other people’s noes define who you are. You’ve got to say “Yes” to yourself. In that moment I decided to publish it myself and, a week later, I got an email from a publisher who said they would be honoured to publish the book.”

After touring the world doing book readings he heard that his novel, The Crossover, had won the Newbery Medal which is awarded to the author of ‘the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.’

Kwame said: “I thought - would I be getting this call from the Newbery Committee if I had actually given up after the first time, or the fourth, the 11th or the 18th? We are all going to be told “no” in our lives. The cool thing about no is that once all the noes come into your life, and they are gone what is left? Yes. You just need one yes, but you have got to remember to believe in yourself and never let other people’s noes define who you are.”

He read extracts from his work, Surf’s Up, did a rap with Jodie Kidner, the librarian from Corby Technical School and held a poetry competition  with four students.

Kwame also took part in a question and answer session where he was asked about inspiration for stories: “I’ll give you three places you can find ideas: Read. You can find ideas in other books. The second place to find ideas? Read. The way you can become a better writer is by reading other people and … the third place you can find ideas? … You have probably never heard of this: Read!

“I had so many stories in my head and I wanted to get them out on paper because I felt like I had something to say. I try to surround myself with people who are “say yes” people. I want to have people who believe in the power of “yes” around me. I always want to inspire others. We have to lift each other up and make the world more beautiful. Young people like you are the ones who are going to do it. Where you are going to learn to imagine it better is in the pages of a book.”

He ended the session by getting the audience to sing his poem and mantra for life: ‘Be A Star/In Your Mind/Day and Night/ Let It Shine.’

Afterwards, TCA’s Librarian Miss Robinson said: “Kwame truly captivated every single member of the audience as he rapped his way through his presentation, accompanied on guitar and vocals by Randy Preston. Kwame was fascinating to listen to - he spoke with such energy and passion in a way that really connected with everybody in the room. It was amazing to see the students join in with the rapping and singing, whilst listening to and absorbing everything he said. It was clear to see how he was getting the message across about how important reading is for everything in life, that poetry is fun, that you can rap your way through it. I loved hearing his positive messages about never giving up and saying ‘yes’.

“Kwame answered questions from students and gave out lots of hints and tips, and everyone was excited to meet him afterwards to get their books signed. Students are excitedly planning which of Kwame’s books are at the top of their list to read next!”

Our students were similarly impressed, with Cameron Lovitt in Year 7 saying: “It was the best thing I have ever been to - I have never done anything like that before.  I liked Kwame because he is inspirational.”

Fellow Year 7 student Oskaras Melinis said: “I liked the book because I love the poems that Kwame wrote. He said reading is a good way to get more knowledge and helps you with your own stories if you are stuck for ideas.” 

Charis Warren added: “I enjoyed going to see Kwame Alexander because he was so funny and he was really entertaining. He is also a very good writer. He has written lots of interesting, awesome books.”

For more information, visit https://kwamealexander.com/.