Getting Started: Children's Book Author Kwame Alexander on Sourcing Inspiration

Author Kwame Alexander - peoplewhowrite

Poet and children’s book author Kwame Alexander has written 14 books

Kwame Alexander is an NAACP Image Award-nominated  author, poet, and public speaker committed to fostering the love of reading and writing among children and adults. In 2006, he founded the Book-in-a-Day writing and publishing program which has created over 1000 student authors in more than 30 schools across the country, and in Canada; and in the summer of 2010, Alexander created the Book-in-a-Day International Fellowship, taking eight writer/educators on a creative journey to Tuscany. In 2012, the Fellowship took eleven writer/educators (including me!) to Salvador da Bahia.

The author of 14 books including Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band and Indigo Blume and the Garden City, Alexander shares his process for finding inspiration — and keeping it.

What are you currently working on ?
Aside from playing in doll houses, kicking soccer balls, and staging a marching band around the house with my four year old, I am stealing time to work on the following: I have a hilarious picture book called Kerplunk: A Tale of Two Frogs coming out this May. I am finishing up the final rewrites on a middle reader novel-in-verse that was due two days ago.

Also, I’m outlining the next YA and middle reader novels. I’m really excited about these because I’m trying some drastically new things for the first time in my literary career. It’s akin to dancing naked on the floor, and either it’s gonna come off like the new thing, or I’ll look ridiculous. Oh well.

Acoustic Rooster by Kwame Alexander

Acoustic Rooster‘s musical cast of characters includes “Thelonius Monkey”, “Mules Davis”, and “Ella Finchgerald”

How has the process of getting started on these projects differed from your previous projects (if at all)?
Well, let’s take the middle reader novel. This novel differed in that I really had to immerse myself in some serious research to really pull this off effectively. It’s a trilogy that begins in Ghana, a few years before the end of the slave trade. It was one thing to write about slavery from an American, Western perspective, but telling the horrific story of that experience through the eyes of an African boy, required me to be amongst the people, the culture, the land, to really feel it. I remember one day in Ghana, sitting under a tree for three hours batting away mosquitos and talking with some teachers about slavery and discovering how different our views were. Everything else I’ve written is pretty much based on, if only loosely, my personal dramas and challenges. This book required me to really fuse fact with imagination. Mind you, I ain’t written one line, but I know the story. LOL!

Kwame Alexander's book of love poems Crush

Kwame Alexander’s book of love poems, Crush

What is your process for starting a new project?
My process is I plan an elaborate, overseas trip, under the guise of a fellowship or residency, and then i take like six or seven of my writer friends and colleagues with me, and we rent a villa or get a hotel, and we hang out for like two weeks, and basically i sit back and watch, and listen, and instigate, and I get inspired by the goings-ons, and I steal ideas and whatnot, and then when I get back to the States I write a book or two about them jokers and they are none the wiser. LOL!

Okay, I’m joking (a little). I get ideas in my sleep, or while driving, or after meeting someone, and then I think about it/them for like days and weeks and months, and then at some point it hits me: a book about a rooster that plays jazz music. And once I have that, I just write it. So, the idea part can take hours or months, but once I have it, it’s one. Then I outline, draft, read out loud, share, rewrite, and move on to the next project.

In Kwame Alexander's children's book, nine year old Indigo Blume spearheads a clean-up campaign in her neighborhood.

Nine-year-old Indigo Blume spearheads a clean-up campaign in her neighborhood

Does the blank page/screen titillate or terrify you?
Titilate? I don’t know if I would describe it in those terms. Methinks you been watching too much HBO. I do not think of the blank page as a woman. I do see the possibility of a masterpiece in it though. That is not to say that a woman is not a masterpiece…Oh never mind. I like blank pages.

When you are getting started, are you already clear about who your reader will be?
Heck yeah. I’ve got this wild notion that I can appeal to everyone, everywhere, all the time. With the picture books, I try to make sure that parents and kids will enjoy it. With the novels, they are geared towards certain audiences, but I write so that everyone can pull something from it, can appreciate it. I thrive on moving in and out of vastly different circles and connecting, in my writing and my life.

How do you stay motivated past the euphoria of getting those first words on the page/screen?
I think it was Rumi who said “Travel brings power and love back into your life.” Well, I am motivated by love. And, I travel a lot. And I am full of ideas from these journeys. And I am in love with love. And that is some pretty powerful stuff… Onwards!