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The Reading Culture

Cool To Be You: Kwame Alexander On Authenticity

The Reading Culture
The Reading Culture

On Today's Show

  • "I'm just being real. I'm telling my story. I think Nikki Giovanni calls it dancing naked on the floor. I am unafraid and I'm doing my dance… I don't feel like I can go wrong if I'm just being me.” - Kwame Alexander

Exciting reluctant middle school kids about reading (or really, anything) can be a battle. Getting them to think reading is cool is another. Kwame Alexander excels at both. His ability to authentically relate to his readers is a skill around which he has built his career.

Kwame is beloved by parents, educators, and students, for his ability to ignite a love of reading (especially middle school boys) through poetry and characters who reflect their real experiences. But his impact extends beyond just an introduction to books, he also opens the door for readers to explore their own emotional depths. As he tells us, “I think part of my job is just to show a different side of masculinity.”

Kwame is best known "The Crossover," "The Undefeated," "The Door of No Return," and numerous other novels and poetry collections. He also recently authored his memoir "Why Fathers Cry at Night." He won the Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Book Award among many other awards, and this year "The Crossover" was adapted into a Disney Plus original TV series.

In this episode, he tells us about his own upbringing surrounded by Black storytelling and literature, reveals his secret to making middle-schoolers think he’s “cool”, and shares about a letter he received (which was “not fan mail”) that inspired a surprise visit to an unsuspecting kid.


Connect with Jordan and The Reading Culture @thereadingculturepod and subscribe to our newsletter at thereadingculturepod.com/newsletter.


In his reading challenge, "Blackout," Kwame wants listeners to utilize their favourite books to look inward and make some art of their own.

You can find his list and all past reading challenges at thereadingculturepod.com.

This episode’s Beanstack Featured Librarian is Kirsten, the programming specialist for the Indianapolis Public Library. She shares some moving stories about a book club she runs for teens at a residential treatment facility.



Chapter 1 - Glasses first (2:10)

Chapter 2 - Mom’s stories, dad’s garage (3:53)

Chapter 3 - Love After Love (9:11)

Chapter 4 - The “Reluctant” Readers (14:01)

Chapter 5 - Kwame Shows Up (17:50)

Chapter 6 - America’s Next Great Authors (24:18)

Chapter 7 - Blackout (27:34)

Chapter 8 - Beanstack Featured Librarian (28:09)


Host: Jordan Lloyd Bookey

Jackie Lamport and Lower Street Media

Script Editors: Josia Lamberto-Egan, Jackie Lamport, Jordan Lloyd Bookey

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