Speakers Series: The Diana Greene History Lecture, with Kwame Alexander

The second Speakers Series event of the year took place in the Mellon Library on Tuesday, 15 November. Interim Head of School Coreen R. Hester was delighted to welcome back to ASL inaugural Innovator-in-Residence (2019-20) Kwame Alexander, who presented the Diana Greene History Lecture on his latest book, The Door of No Return.

Kwame’s new novel in verse tells the story of Kofi, a boy whose life is turned upside down in 19th-century West Africa. It has been described as “a riveting, not-to-be-missed trilogy opener that will leave readers invested in what is to come.”

The evening began with Kwame reading passages from The Door of No Return, a book he felt called to write. It took 10 years to create and was inspired by a trip to Ghana in 2012, where conversations with local people in a village where he was attending an important ceremony moved him to put pen to paper. Since that first visit, Kwame returned 11 times to hone his research and walk in the steps of the characters he was bringing to life. He said it became inevitable that Ghana’s people, food and land found their way into the book.

Questions were invited from the audience, which came in abundance! Students and adults had plenty of wonders for Kwame, who was eager to pass on his knowledge and experience. He shared that he was encouraged to write by his mother, who made the process fun: “Through my mother, writing found me.”

When asked for tips for young writers, Kwame was quick to urge students to write every day—and always to read, read, read.

Kwame is busy writing the second book in the trilogy and let slip that he knows how the final novel will end! The Door of No Return is available in the US and will be published in the UK in April 2023.

Kwame Alexander is the creator and executive producer of the Disney+ series based on his Newbery Medal-winning novel, The Crossover. He is also one of America’s most inventive writers of children’s and young adult fiction and poetry. Kwame is a passionate educator and the New York Times bestselling author of 36 books, including The Undefeated, How to Read a Book, Swing, and Rebound, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Other works include Booked, a National Book Award nominee, The Playbook: 52 Rules to Help You Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game of Life, and the picture books Surf’s Up, and Out of Wonder, which won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Kwame believes passionately in the power of poetry and literature to inspire, engage and empower young people. 

The Diana Greene History Lecture was established in 2004 to honor long-serving trustee Diana (Dinny) Greene, who is passionate about history. Dinny served as vice-chair of the ASL Board of Trustees for seven years, and until recently was a key member of our Foundation Board. As she lives in the US, Dinny was unable to join us at ASL for the presentation. In a recent email, she wrote, “Kwame Alexander is a tremendous talent. I will look forward to reading the The Door of No Return but am very sorry to miss hearing him read it in person.”

Past presenters of the Diana Greene History Lecture include the Honorable Al Gore, recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and former US vice-president, and the novelist Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans