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‘Dribble, fake, shoot, miss, dribble, fake, shoot, swish’ — the basketball poetry of Kwame Alexander

 The Newbery Award-winning poet and author is back with a new book, ‘Rebound’

“Dribble, fake, shoot, miss, dribble, fake, shoot, miss, dribble, fake, shoot, miss, dribble, fake, shoot, swish,” said Newbery Medal-winning author, speaker and educator Kwame Alexander. “Eventually, you’re gonna make it. You just gotta keep shooting.”

It’s a metaphor he uses when he speaks to children, encouraging them to overcome their fears. “It’s … that fear of failure,” he said from London, a stop on his world tour. “Whether it be on a quiz, a test, whether it be getting cut from the team, whether it be just something in your life that changed.” Raised in Brooklyn, New York, and Chesapeake, Virginia, Alexander says his goal when writing his books is helping kids embrace the “yes” in life. “Not being afraid of the ‘no’ … letting the challenges come, and building your stamina and your persistence.”

These kinds of sentiments are evident in his 2014 novel The Crossover, which won Alexander the prestigious Newbery — it’s awarded annually by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children — as well as in his new Rebound, the novel being published Monday.

Like The Crossover, the story is written in free verse with a kind of hip-hop rhythm. The main character is Chuck “Da Man” Bell, the father of twin basketball enthusiasts Josh and Jordan Bell. Rebound takes young readers way back in time to a pivotal summer when young Charlie is sent to stay with his grandparents, four to five hours from his home. There, he discovers basketball and learns more about his family’s past. Chuck Bell is center stage, and in beautiful verse it becomes clear how he became the jazz music-worshipping basketball star his sons look up to.

“To watch her leave this earth,” said the author, “while simultaneously writing about the experience of losing someone … that was hella hard.”

“It was the summer of 1988,” Alexander writes of Chuck, “when basketball gave me wings … I had to learn how to rebound on the court. And off.” The Bell family was introduced in The Crossover. That book followed Josh and Jordan and their hoop dreams. The brothers struggle through an assortment of obstacles that include growing apart during their junior high school years.

After receiving requests for a sequel from readers who wanted more of this authentic, if fictional, family, Alexander realized he wasn’t done with the story line. He wanted to get deep into the life of Charles, and share his backstory. “It felt like I’d sort of left Crossover on sort of a cliffhanger,” he said. “[People] wanted to know what happened to the main character. The only way for me to do that was to look at his life as a child.”

It took Alexander nearly two years to complete Rebound. The hardest part of writing the book was reaching the point of completion. “My mom passed away in the middle of writing it,” said Alexander. He was dealing with a kind of grief already, over some of the things that happen to his Chuck Bell character. “To watch her leave this earth,” said the author, “while simultaneously writing about the experience of losing someone … that was hella hard. But it was empowering for me, too, because I got to write about this experience that I was going through.”

“I wanted to write a book that I would’ve wanted to read when I was in middle school. One way to hook me at that age … is through sports.”

Alexander believes that poetry can change the world. He uses it to inspire and empower young people around the world. Sports, for Alexander is one way to gain their attention.

“I remember being 11, 12 years old and not really caring about the books that my teachers and my parents were making me read,” he said. “I wanted to write a book that I would’ve wanted to read when I was in middle school. One way to hook me at that age … is through sports. And sports are a great metaphor for our lives.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.