By Damion Smalls
Kwame Alexander stopped by the Lowcountry Wednesday, April 18 as he made several appearances throughout the day to promote his latest book, Rebound, which was released earlier this month.
Alexander, who headlined Black Ink: A Charleston African American Book Festival in 2017, is a Newberry Medal winner, New York Times bestseller and the recipient of the inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award. He has written over twenty books, specializing in children’s literature in various forms such as poetry, picture books and novels.
Alexander thrives with the freedom that his free verse style has lent to his career. “It’s how I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I love to play with words. I love to use a lot of rhythm. I think poetry’s a great way to connect with kids,” he said.
April 18, the students at Camp Road Middle and Baptist Hill Middle high schools were treated to discussions and opportunities to interact with the author. Later that day, he read passages from Rebound at the Charleston County Public Library Main Branch and took part in an exclusive book signing. Alexander also engaged in a fill-in-the-blank rhyming lesson with the audience at the library, playfully demonstrating his linguistic prowess and literary process.
Rebound is the prequel to Alexander’s transcendent 2014 book The Crossover. Written in free verse form, both titles bring basketball, poetry and high school drama together for emotional tales of adolescent discovery. Alexander admitted that it took him two years to complete Rebound and that it was his hardest book to write. Relating to those that are newcomers to his previous works, the author clarified that Rebound “is a standalone book, but I think the read would be a lot more interesting if you read The Crossover first.”
The center of the story this time around is Charlie Bell, the father of the protagonists of The Crossover, twin brothers Jordan and Josh Bell. Set in 1988, Charlie stumbles into a summer that he would never forget after an eventual school year was marked by life changes and loss.
Sharing his vision with the audience at the library, Alexander advocated the importance of reading. “If you can read a book and get through it, and now you’re like “I want to read another one”, that’s the first step to empowerment,” he expressed. “So I hope I wrote book that kids and adults are going to want to read and when they finish reading, they’re going to say “oh wow, I want to read something else. I want to read more about this family.” That’s the goal.”
Charlie is buoyed by his homeboy Skinny and and homegirl CJ. He has a loving, yet newly contentious relationship with his mother, whom is attempting to adjust to raising her only child as a single parent after a sudden tragedy strikes the family. Charlie has dreams of basketball stardom that he feels would solve his problems, but lacks the skills to fulfill his desires.
Once the school year ends, Charlie is transplanted by his mother from his home in New York to Washington, DC to spend some time in the summer with his grandparents. His time there becomes a pivotal moment in his life where readers become witnesses to Chuck “Da Man” Bell’s origin story.
On comparing The Crossover to his new novel, Alexander exclaimed how much he enjoyed creating the story because he was allowed to explore the 1980s, a special time period for him personally .“I felt like this book was more cohesive. I felt like it was more emotional. It was more internal than external.”
Rebound incorporates a comic book style at times, an extension of Charlie’s fascination with superheroes such as the Fantastic Four, Thor, Superman and the exciting revelation of the Black Panther from this father’s collection. Fandom of Michael Jackson, roller skating rinks and Pac-Man at the arcades exemplified the 1980s culture celebrated in Rebound.
Teenage angst permeates the plot of Rebound as Charlie struggles to communicate with his mother and close friends. Crestfallen and confused after recently losing a loved one, he finds himself in dangerous situations due to peer pressure, at odds with his overworked and underpaid mother and longing for material objects that seem to mean the world to his juvenile mind. Unflinching support from the scholarly and cutely affectionate CJ, sagacious guidance from his grandparents and unconditional love from his mother aid him on his journey from “Charlie” to “Chuck” as he faces a summer in DC that is met with additional challenges.
Visit www.kwamealexander.com to purchase Rebound and to view information on Alexander’s ongoing bus tour around the country. His next book, Swing, will be a free verse title about “baseball, jazz music and social justice.”