Kwame Alexander is author of the YA novel “The Crossover.” | Courtesy of Kwame Alexander

Kwame Alexander is a celebrated poet, educator, speaker and author of 24 YA books, and through all his accomplishments, he has one single goal: to empower young people. He’s bringing his highly entertaining and inspiring message to Spalding University‘s Festival of Contemporary Writing, which runs May 27-June 2.

Alexander is best known for his novel “The Crossover,” which is a coming-of-age tale that incorporates hip-hop poetry and basketball into a story about two brothers who battle temptation. It has received a slew of awards since being released in 2015, including the Coretta Scott King Author Award, the John Newbery Medal for Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children, and many more.

Katy Yocom

Katy Yocom, the associate administrative director of Spalding’s master’s in writing program, says she’s most looking forward to Alexander’s visit.

“He’s known as a really engaging speaker, as well as for his near-miraculous ability to get school-aged boys excited about reading,” she tells Insider. “What makes it even more exciting is that his musical partner, Randy Preston, will be appearing with him and playing guitar, so it’ll be part reading, part musical performance. It’s going to be a really cool event.”

Yocom says Spalding brings in big-name speakers twice a year, and for the upcoming Fest of Contemporary Writing, they decided to focus on children’s and YA authors. Alexander was at the top of the organizers’ lists, mainly because his work is known for both its subject matter — issues of family, love and loyalty — and its style, or the way the author tells a story through verse.

“Some of it’s in the form of hip-hop, some of it is free verse, and it’s all really fresh and original,” says Yocom. “He manages to tell a big story in relatively few words, which is a real feat. Every word has to carry so much weight. And the spaces between the poems — what’s left out, what’s left to the reader to fill in — become really important to the story as well.”

Kwame Alexander | Courtesy of Kwame Alexander

Alexander will give a free presentation, Q&A and book signing on Sunday, May 28, at 5:30 p.m. at the Brown Hotel.

Other highlights of the fest — which features free workshops and lectures by dozens of authors — include Spalding faculty member Crystal Wilkinson, whose novel “The Birds of Opulence” has received numerous awards, poet Kathleen Driskell, fiction writer Sena Jeter Naslund, and even a session celebrating recently published books by Spalding alumni.

The full schedule is below, and be sure to check the program’s Facebook page for any changes.

Saturday, May 27 — 5:15-6:15 p.m. — Egan Leadership Center (901 S. Fourth St.)

  • Elaine Orr (creative nonfiction, fiction), “​Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life​, A Different Sun”
  • Neela Vaswani (fiction, creative nonfiction), “Where the Long Grass Bends,” “You Have Given Me a Country”
  • Greg Pape (poetry), “Four Swans: Poems”
  • Jody Lisberger (fiction), “Remember Love”
  • Eleanor Morse (fiction), “White Dog Fell from the Sky”

Sunday, May 28 — 5:30-6:45 p.m. — Brown Hotel

  • Kwame Alexander (YA fiction), “The Crossover”

Monday, May 29 — 5:30-6:30 p.m. — Egan Leadership Center

  • Crystal Wilkinson (fiction), “The Birds of Opulence”
  • Lesléa Newman (writing for children & young adults), “Sparkle Boy”
  • Leslie Daniels (fiction), “Cleaning Nabokov’s House”
  • Charlie Schulman (playwriting, screenwriting), “Natural History X”
  • Silas House (fiction), “Eli the Good”
Sena Jeter Naslund is the director of Spalding’s MFA Program. | Courtesy of Spalding

Tuesday, May 30 — 5:30-6:30 p.m. — Egan Leadership Center

  • Beth Bauman (writing for children & young adults), “Jersey Angel”
  • Kiki Petrosino (poetry), “Witch Wife”
  • Eric Schmiedl (playwriting), “The Kardiac Kid”
  • Kathleen Driskell (poetry), “Blue Etiquette”
  • Sena Jeter Naslund (fiction), “The Fountain of St. James Court,” “Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman”

Thursday, June 1 — 5:30-6:45 p.m. — Brown Hotel

Celebration of recently published books

  • Gayle Hanratty, MFA alum (fiction), “Gray Hampton: A Suite of Stories”
  • Lamar Giles (writing for children & young adults), “Overturned”
  • Nancy McCabe (fiction), “Following Disasters”
  • Gabriel Dean (playwriting), “Qualities of Starlight”

Friday, June 2

10:15 a.m.-11:15 a.m. — Brown Hotel

MFA alumni read from their work

  • April Asbury (’11)
  • Kellie Carle (’16)
  • Shad Farrell (’13)
  • Emily Vander Ark (’16)
  • Kelly Morris (’13)

4:15-5:30 p.m. — Brown Hotel

Celebration of recently published books by alumni

  • Linda Parker (’03, fiction), “Oliver’s Song”
  • Al DeGenova (’05, poetry), “Black Pearl”
  • Mary Popham (’03, fiction), “Love is a Fireplace”
  • Kathleen Thompson (’03, poetry), “Time & Distance”
  • David Dominé (’13, fiction), “Voodoo Days at La Casa Fabulosa”
  • Nancy Chen Long (’13, poetry), “Light into Bodies”

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville. She's known around town as the Bar Belle and updates her blog ( daily. She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."


Facebook Comment
Post a comment on Facebook.