Author, Kwame Alexander
He Said, She Said
by Rachel Pyfrom
Author Speaks with Kwame Alexander, a social activist and poet, who recently published his first novel, He Said, She Said. It was a bit out of his comfort zone, as he is an experienced poet. I was able to read the book prior to our interview and throughly enjoyed it. Mr. Alexander has been traveling up the East Coast with He Said, She Said and took some time out on a train ride back from South Carolina to share his journey with Booked For Review.
B4R: When did writing seriously begin for you, as a potential pursuit for a career?
Kwame Alexander: It was definitely my junior year of college, in an advanced poetry class I took, I began to want to be a writer. I wrote poems in high school, junior high, and middle school but they weren’t very good. Actually, in high school, I wrote this 30 page research paper, on Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I spent a lot of the year working on it and when my teacher graded it, she gave me an F. She felt like there was no way I could’ve written it because it was college level material. My parents had to come to the school, and I ended up getting an A on it.
B4R: Wow, that is quite a story. So, as a kid, what did you want to be?
KA: A doctor, most definitely a doctor.
B4R: Who saw the gift of writing in you first?
KA: It probably was my parents, they always knew I had a gift for writing. I also had this professor who was instrumental in my writing career.
B4R: What did you anticipate on this writing journey? What did you learn that you may not have been expecting?
KA: When you’re writing poetry, You don’t want to use a whole lot of words, you want to be as concise as possible. So, one of the things I found challenging in writing a novel is that you really have to try to use a lot of verbs, you’re telling a story so you want to be as descriptive as possible in order to paint a picture for the reader to be there with you. You have to write more, you have to tell the story in every aspect and every perspective
B4R: This isn’t your first published work. So can you tell us, how do you think this work (He Said, She Said) compares to the other works you have published?
KA: Well, this is my first time writing a novel. Most of the books I’ve written before were poetry or children’s picture books so it was challenging to create a story with a beginning, middle and end and write in an extended plot.
B4R: Talking about creating a story and considering every perspective, one of the things that really drew me in as a reader was the two perspectives of Omar and Claudia. It gave the story depth and made it more dynamic because we were hearing from two different voices. What led you to that decision?
KA: Again, writing poetry, you tend to write in a lot of diverse voices. I think when I first began to write the book, I got a little bored with just Omar. So I began to think, well what would Claudia do in this situation, how would she respond? I felt like I could figure out her perspective and make it authentic to the readers and when I did that, it became more exciting and fun for me to write the novel. So I figured, hopefully, it would be more fun for the reader to read it.
B4R: The language was also a very fun part of the book, especially for me because I am used to hearing those terms and dialect. I was able to have fun with the story and laugh along with the characters when they cracked jokes. It was also interesting how you distinguished each character by the terms they used or their sayings, so could you elaborate on that?
KA: Yep, that was my intent. Well the other characters definitely reflect people I’ve met in my life, especially young people. I wanted to create fun, whimsical characters that would give the story humor, so it would be interesting to read.
B4R: If one of your readers asked you what did you want us to infer about Claudia and Omar’s relationship: overtime, would they be able to mend things and come back together, what would you tell them?
KA: When I first wrote the story, I had them all in love, everything is cool but then I thought, why not leave it a bit open. In fact, I wanted my readers to be able to decide for themselves where they thought the relationship would go, and it would tell them more about themselves.
B4R: Do you plan on a sequel?
KA: I have not thought about that yet. I don’t know if I would put them in college or where they would be but I’m open to it.
B4R: What is your favorite book?
KA: Probably The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker. Another great novel is I am not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett, it’s hilarious.
B4R: I have to read that one! I love Sidney Poitier.
That about wraps up my one-on-one with Mr. Alexander. It was both engaging and insightful especially because of his social openness. Remember to pick up He Said She Said, it’s a fun, leisurely young adult book. I am placing a Rachel’s “Must Read” stamp on it! I look forward to seeing more books from Mr. Alexander. Until next time!