Last week, the American Library Association gave out its awards for children’s and young adult literature. Among the winners was Kwame Alexander, whose book The Crossover tells the story of two basketball-playing brothers in verse. It won the Newbery Award.
I haven’t read it yet, but I was intrigued to find out more about him because of the buzz surrounding him as a “diverse” choice. Kwame is black, and this past year has seen much talk about the lack of diversity in books for kids. His win meant something special, so I wanted to investigate.
Here’s what I found out: Kwame is the author of 18 books. Not only that, but The Crossover was rejected 29 times over five years before selling. And there it stands now, the recipient of one of the biggest awards in kids’ literature.
I love this story.
It is ironic that the very people sufficiently sensitive and raw to observe life enough to write stories about it are the least equipped to deal with the chafing roughness of the industry that brings books to readers. Publishing is bruising. It offers up way more rejection than almost any nine-to-five. That’s why we writers collect stories like Kwame’s much in the way one might collect precious coins: they are beautiful, but most importantly, they are valuable. We take them out of a drawer and polish them when the world looks dim.
We don’t need to reach his level of success to be bouyed by the story of his talent finally being recognized. It’s enough to know that stories like his exist and that 5 or 10 or 20 rejections mean nothing in the face of one yes. And that every time we see a different path being cut through the underbrush we learn that whether we follow that path or cut our own, the paths are as infinite as the destinations. They often appear where we didn’t even realize it was possible to make one.
Keep writing. Or dreaming. Or whatever your path is. There is a way.