This year’s Lacey Loves to Read celebration has included community open mic events and poetry slams.
After all, what better way to celebrate the work of award-winning author, poet and educator Kwame Alexander?
In its 13th year, the month-long literacy effort encourages people of all ages to read books by the same author during the month of February. It’s a partnership between North Thurston Public Schools, Friends of the Lacey Timberland Regional Library, Lacey South Sound Chamber, the city of Lacey and numerous businesses and local groups.
Alexander has written more than 20 books, including “The Crossover,” which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. He is founder of Book-In-A-Day, a student-run publishing program that has created more than 3,000 student authors. He’s also co-founder of LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy program.
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Alexander, 46, of Virginia, will speak at several North Thurston school assemblies next week, and participate in a free community reception on Thursday evening at the Lacey Community Center. The Olympian caught up with him over the phone while he was on the road visiting schools in Dallas, Texas. Here are excerpts of the conversation.
Q: What do you plan to talk about when you visit schools in Lacey?
A: The most important thing that I like to convey to students and to teachers and parents is the joy that I have found between the pages of books. ...
I like to get kids excited about reading and writing and show them how cool that books can be, and I know that first hand because books have been so cool for me, and they’ve really transformed my life.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to Virginia Tech, and while I was there, I studied with a pretty amazing poet by the name of Nikki Giovanni.
And that was where I first decided I wanted to be a poet: that I wanted to dedicate my life to try and change the world — to make it better through words.
Q: What did you originally go to study? Was it poetry? Or did you enter Virginia Tech to study something else?
A: Yeah, I entered it to become a doctor. And when I encountered the organic chemistry course, I said, “Maybe this isn’t for me.” (Laughs.)
Q: So how did you get into writing and poetry?
My parents are writers, so I have been immersed in literature (since) a very early age. ...
I think I just sort of fell out of love with literature when I was in middle school because I was being forced to read books that I wasn’t interested in.
But I found my way back to writing and literature in college when I took the courses with Nikki Giovanni. … It was this wonderful reunion that I had with the words on the page. ...
I guess I found my way back to what I was destined to be doing.
Q: What do your parents write?
A: My mother writes children’s literature and my father wrote educational and historical books.
Q: I have to say, my kids were big fans of (TLC’s kids’ TV show) “Hip Hop Harry.”
A: Yep. Yep. I’ve written a lot of different things, from plays to movies, to TV shows to poetry and novels.
I love writing whatever I can and that opportunity came to me. (“Hip Hop Harry”) was my first time writing for television, and so it was kind of exciting. ...
I still love watching that episode. It’s no longer on television, but I do have that DVD.
Q: Who are your favorite poets or authors, and what have you been reading lately?
A: Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Pablo Neruda.
I have a 7-year-old daughter and we do a lot of reading together. So lately we’ve been reading “Harry Potter” together, and when we want a good laugh, we dive into any of Mo Willems’ books.
Q: Have you been a featured author in other community reading efforts, such as Lacey Loves to Read? If so, where?
A: Wow, a ton of places: Toledo, Ohio; Panama City, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina. Just a lot of places.
Q: What’s your advice for people who want to write as a profession, or write their own book?
A: I think it’s important to read a lot of books.
The way we learn how to write is by reading other people, so you have to immerse in books to understand how things work on the page, and what things don’t work on the page. The best way to do that is by reading and exposing yourself to so much that’s out there.
I think the other way is to travel. Of course you want to be a part of life — you want to enjoy life, you want to participate in life.
I think the best way to write an authentic book is to live an authentic life, and I try to do that and I highly recommend that to those who want to live this writerly life.
Q: What do you like most about being a writer?
A: I was telling my wife this earlier, I think I love writing, but I think I love speaking as much as I love writing. I love talking about the books; l love sharing the books with young people in schools around the country.
I love when I’m able to interact with young people and see the light go off, where they realize that words and books can be cool.
Those are my two favorite things about this career: the writing and the presenting to young people.
Q: So, there’s still a little bit of teacher in you?
A: Definitely. Definitely.
Q: What makes writing difficult for you?
A: The actual sitting down and having to write. That’s what makes it difficult. ...
The rest of it is easy.
Q: Some writers, like myself, procrastinate a little bit as part of the writing process. Do you have anything you do to get through that process?
A. I just let it come. I try not to force it. I try not to get too stressed about it because I know I eventually will get my butt in the chair.
I don’t think there’s any trick. Eventually I just sit down and go for it.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I’m excited about coming to Lacey, and meeting the young people and being able to share my vision for how this world can be a better and a brighter place through literature that engages us and empowers all of us.
And I’m excited to be bringing my new book called “Surf’s Up.” ... It’s a new picture book and it’s about the joy of reading.
If you go
Meet Lacey Loves to Read featured author Kwame Alexander during a free community reception at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. SE, Lacey.