Kwame Alexander Creates Change With 'The Crossover'

The poet, producer, and father of two talks about fighting anti-Blackness, sharing stories with his daughters, and adapting his bestseller for Disney+.


In The Crossover, his Newbery Medal-winning novel-in-verse, Kwame Alexander introduces readers to twin brothers and basketball phenomena JD and Jordan Bell. They are sons of a former pro basketball player navigating their coming-of-age both on and off the court. This April, the Disney Channel, and Disney+ premiered a multi-episode, multi-season adaptation of the book—with Alexander serving as both writer and executive producer.

"I got all the feels and all the feelings," Alexander tells Parents. "I created these characters and this story 15 years ago. It feels like when you have a kid. You raise your kid, you nurture it, and you give it everything it needs. Then the kid goes off to college and there's a transition period where you're like, 'Oh my gosh, my kid's gone. How am I going to handle this now?' And at the same time, you've prepared them to go out into the world and make a difference and live their life and have an impact on the world. I hope that's what happens with this show—that it goes out into the world and does everything I prepared it to do."

Kwame Alexander | Disney+

Alexander had never written a script prior to this, and his initial inclination was to make the dialogue poetic. "But you can't have characters speaking in rhythm and rhyme, saying, 'Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.' That's corny," he says. "How do you invoke and implement poetry in a way that's authentic and natural and organic—and still fun and cool?"

The screen adaptation differs from the book just a bit. The teen brothers are now named Josh and JB Bell, played by Jalyn Hall and Amir O'Neil respectively, and their story is narrated by an adult version of Josh (aka Filthy McNasty), voiced by Daveed Diggs.

Once Alexander realized his poetic stylings were an asset to the script format—"the book doesn't incorporate a lot of prose, and it uses dialogue very sparingly," he explains—he found his way in. "I incorporated the metaphor and the simile and the figurative language; they became devices by which we told the story," he says.

Alexander has described himself as a poet—he is the author of 37 books, many of them in verse—for much of his career, and believes that poetry can be transformative. "When you find your voice, you begin to better understand who you are and your place in the world," he says. "My job is to make the world a better place as a writer. You want people to change the way they act, you got to change the way they think. You want to change the way they think, you got to change the way they feel. What better way to get people to change the way they feel than through a poem?"

Alexander’s first adult book, Why Fathers Cry at Night, releases on May 23. It is a mixed-genre memoir in love poems, prose, letters, and recipes. “It's about everything I've learned about love, and I'm trying to share that with my two daughters,” he says. “I’m excited to talk about love and loss and hope and family.

The memoir reflects his parents’ relationship—rarely affectionate; explores the painful dissolution of his own marriages; deals with the grief of his mother's passing; and attempts to understand his incredible love for his daughters. “Part of moving yourself forward in a life-giving way,” he writes to one of his children, “is to take the things from the past that have helped shape and mold you and use them as anchors to the future.” Alexander hopes that the parents of his young fans read it. “It’s absolutely not for young readers,” he laughs.

"Black people laugh, love, hope, dream, sing, cry, dance, live, and die, just like everybody else. The stories I tell are about reminding me and reminding you of our humanity."

Above all, he hopes Black kids—and parents—can find themselves in his pages. Alexander has often spoken about the "matter-of-fact Blackness" of his work. "Most of the world often thinks of Black people as 'other' or 'marginalized' and I've never bought into that," he said. "When I'm writing, I'm not thinking, 'Why is this family Black and what does that mean in terms of the storytelling?' I'm thinking about it in terms of me, my experiences, the things I know, and how I grew up. Black people laugh, love, hope, dream, sing, cry, dance, live, and die, just like everybody else. The stories I tell are about reminding me and reminding you of our humanity."

He stresses the importance of seeing this "matter-of-fact Blackness" on screen. "When you see yourself, you realize that you matter," he says. "That you are of such significance that someone took the time to present some facet of your life and who you are in some form of media. When you see yourself, you begin to understand what's possible for yourself."

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