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Kwame Alexander interview

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The Door of No Return

Kwame Alexander is an American poet and author of books for children, including the verse novel The Crossover, which was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2015 and is the basis for a new series from Disney Plus (2023). It is also available in a graphic novel adaptation illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile. Kwame’s novels often use sport as a metaphor for the characters’ struggles or the books’ themes. In Booked, the sport is football, And in his most recent book, The Door of No Return, the main character, Koffi, is learning how to swim,

Kwame’s father was an academic and activist in the civil rights movement. And Kwame has written a picture book, Undefeated,  celebrating Black History and the extraordinary strength and bravery of those that transcended their circumstances.

Two new books, The Door of No Return and the picturebook Unspoken (published in the US as An American Story), also assert this strength and the refusal to be defined by one aspect of Black History – slavery.

In this episode, Kwame talks with Nikki Gamble about both books and their origins.

Read our review of The Door of No Return

Listen to another podcast with Kwame Alexander

Interview Transcript

Kwame Alexander (00:23):

Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of In The Reading Corner. I’m Nikki Gamble and it’s a huge pleasure to welcome back Kwame Alexander, poet, novelist educator, and film producer now and general inspirer.

Kwame Alexander (00:38):

We’re going to be talking about two very important books, his new verse novel, The Door of No Return, and a picture book published here in the UK as Unspoken, but in America as An American story. It’s illustrated by Dare Coulter. Both books are published in the UK by Andersen Press. There are lots of points of connection between the novel and the picture book, but I’d like to begin with The Door of No Return. This incredible story triggered every emotion in me. I’d like to say that I read it in one sitting, but in truth, I had to pause partway through to process and gather strength to read the second part.

Kwame Alexander (01:21):

It’s set in Ghana in 1860, and the protagonist is a young boy, Kofi, who’s in that transition phase between childhood and becoming a man. He’s a dreamer and a lover of story, and he’s in love, captivated, smitten. He’s a noticer of his environment too, and he finds meaning and expression through swimming. I wondered if we could start with Kofi. I’ve given him a brief description, but how else should we introduce him to our listeners?

Kwame Alexander (01:55):

He’s a boy who’s got a crush on a girl, and he’s got a cousin who has a crush on the same girl. And his cousin’s a bully, and he’s tired of his cousin picking on him, and he feels like I’ve gotta do something to win my pride back. And he’s got homework and he doesn’t particularly care for his teacher. And he loves a dish called red, red, which is like this bean stew, but his older brother eats all the red, red. So he never gets a second helping.

Kwame Alexander (02:29):

I would describe Kofi as this regular kid who’s growing up trying to figure out how to just enjoy life, go to the river for a swim, hang out with his best friend, Ebo. And I like to say that we often forget that people of African descent are human beings. We tend to define people of African descent by the tragic things that have happened to us. And I posit that that’s not the best way to approach it. So I wrote this book and tried to create this character of Kofi to remind us that we’re just people who are going on about our lives, laughing, loving, hoping, swimming, eating, dancing, thinking, dreaming, living just like everybody else.

Kwame Alexander (03:21):

So there are lots of things that young readers will recognize from his life that make connections with their lives, even though they’re living in the here and now in the 21st century, wherever they may be. Your novel though, is historical and it’s set in Ghana in the 1860s. I think we should pause for a moment to think about both place and time. Let’s start with Ghana. I know that you have been there. I’m interested to know what took you there and what you learned about Ghana from those visits.

Kwame Alexander (03:55):

Well, I went to Ghana for the first time in 2012 with a friend of mine who was to become the queen mother of a village. And the queen mother is someone appointed by the king to handle and manage the social health education, welfare of the women and children in a village. So my friend was to become the queen mother, and she wanted me to come and document the trip.

Kwame Alexander (04:25):

And I remember going for the first time and being just knocked out by the oppressive heat. Oh. And being in this village in the eastern region of Ghana and seeing what I thought through my western eyes was abject poverty. And then meeting these, these children and families whose eyes were filled with so much hope and ambition and love. And I just thought, man, somebody’s gonna write a story about these people one day and talk about how poor they were. But that’s not really the story.

Nikki Gamble (05:05):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> people make huge assumptions about what poverty is.

Kwame Alexander (05:10):

Right? They were rich in heart and soul and spirit and culture and community, all those kind of things that I find that in America we are missing.

Kwame Alexander (05:20):

So what struck me the most was the joy and just the spirit of positivity in the eyes of these kids. And I sort of said to myself, I wanna do something in this village to help these young people not only have hope and dreams, but they can have tools to actualize those dreams. And so one of the things I decided to do was build a library. Because I, I believe in the power of words to transform our lives. I know the role literature and language has played in my life. And so I thought, well, maybe I can offer something to this community in the form of a library, which is sort of a house of dreams, a house of possibility, and maybe I can open up a world of possibility. And so that was sort of the beginning of my journey in Africa in general and in Ghana in particular. And I went back 10 more times after that over the next eight years. And we did get the library built and we built a health clinic as well,

Nikki Gamble (06:23):

Did any of the people that you met on your visits to Ghana influence the characters in your story?

Kwame Alexander (06:30):

Many of the people that I met in Ghana I got to befriend and spend time with. They certainly influenced and ininspired The Door of No Return’s, characters and setting. You know ,I got to walk the land that Kofi walks. I got to eat red, red, which was, which is my favorite dish. I got to do many of those things that found their way in this book. So certainly those 11 visits to Ghana played a huge role directly and indirectly.

Nikki Gamble (07:04):

When you were there, did you get to take part in the Full Circle festival?

Kwame Alexander (07:10):

Oh yeah. I, I participated in so many festivals while I was there. And so that gave me a frame of reference for the festival that I wrote about in the book. I saw wrestling, I saw dancing, I saw parades, I saw feasts, I saw kings being carried around. I saw the beautiful outfits and dresses. And I had no idea at the time that I was doing research for a book. I was just living it, being in it and being present. And so years later, when I would write The Door of No Return, all of those things came back to me and I was able to go back and use my memory to inform the story.

Nikki Gamble (07:52):

It is called The Door of No Return. So on one level, we know where this story is taking us, But of course that title can be used to mean many different things. And in a sense, it’s ironic because there is a return; there’s a sense in which you are returning to Ghana. Maybe there’s a sense in which there is return for the characters in this story too, although I don’t really want to go into that in too much detail.

Nikki Gamble (08:22):

It’s set in the 1860s. And that struck me just how recent this history is. So tell us about the Ghana of the 1860s.

Kwame Alexander (08:34):

Well, the Ghana of the 1860s was this nation that had been ping-ponged between various European powers who were trying to own the culture, the gold, the people. From the, the Portuguese to the Dutch to the British. And so you have this country that is trying to figure out its identity in the midst of having, being brutalized; in the midst of having, millions of its citizens stolen and taken away; in the midst of having families broken apart; in the midst of their whole infrastructure just being crushed. And on the verge of this country becoming an official colony of Great Britain. And so it was certainly a country in the midst of a, a lot of turmoil and a lot of chaos and wars. Wars between tribes – the Ashanti and the Fante. That stuff is pretty well known history.

Kwame Alexander (09:51):

But I thought, well, what about the kids? Like what was happening to the children? What, what were their lives like during this time? And of course, I wasn’t there. I can only imagine. But it did occur to me that in times of great horror and terror, the mothers and the fathers, their goals still remains the same as it relates to their families – to protect their kids, keep their children hopeful, and to not totally destroy whatever ideas their children have of a life. And so I tried to write this book from the vantage point of a child in the midst of the turmoil and the chaos that is happening across this great nation and still having some normalcy.

Kwame Alexander (10:45):

I found out later in life that my father, who was a revolutionary and an activist during the Civil Rights Movement, received death threats. As a child, you don’t really know about that stuff. You’re just going to baseball practice or you’re hanging out with your friends. And so parents have this way of being able to protect their children from the atrocities of life. And I want to write that story in The Door, of No Return. And of course, at a certain point in the story, those atrocities, are gonna be hard to avoid . So that was the Ghana that I wanted to write about.

Kwame Alexander (11:27):

And then the other thing that I wanted to talk about was this idea that slavery had been abolished 30 years prior, but there were still people who were illegally kidnapping They were stealing Africans and attempting to enslave them. I think the last slave ship may have docked in Alabama, I think it’s called the Clotilda. And it was 1861, maybe 1862. So I wanted to play around with that as well.

Nikki Gamble (11:57):

That date felt very significant for that reason. A – because it’s late – but also 1861 to 1865 we know is the American Civil War.

Kwame Alexander (12:10):


Nikki Gamble (12:10):

There’s a fantastic character in the book. It’s the grandfather Nana Mossi, the storyteller. And his first story starts, ‘there was even a time, is how my pa’s father Nana Mossi, the village storyteller, begins most of his fireside tales always starting in the middle of a thought. Like we know what even came before. ‘ That’s right at the heart of what this story is that we need to know what happens BEFORE.

Kwame Alexander (12:39):

Yeah. I mean, we have this idea that black history or the history of black people’s starts around slavery. And that we begin to define black people by this very tragic thing that happened to us. And I think that adds to our unimaginative perspectives on blackness, on black people, I posit that slavery was not our beginning. It was a middle. And so let’s go back and look at a beginning. Let’s embrace the full humanity of black peoples. And I think the way that I chose to do that was by looking at a child before all of these things that we have learned about in history books, began to occur. Yeah, those beginnings are really important to me. I wanted to change the narrative a little bit.

Nikki Gamble (13:39):

Nana Mossi has lots of proverbs , and I wondered whether he was partly you – this very wise man,

Kwame Alexander (13:47):

<laugh>. Nah, it was, my grandfather, my father, my grandmother, my uncles. Growing up, I used to hear a lot of different proverbs or sayings from the, the elders in my life: ‘you can’t know what you don’t know’. ‘Dishwater gives back no images.’ Like I would hear so many different things, and I would try to decipher them, like, what does that mean? So that was my nod to that. That goes back ages and ages in terms of how generations pass down wisdom to their children and to their grandchildren. A great deal of that comes through proverbs and poems and axioms and songs.

Nikki Gamble (14:33):

I wonder whether we could talk a little bit about an important recurring motif in the story. The idea of swimming and water At the beginning the story says, ‘our waters can take you to other places, other wonderful worlds’. Water has both positive and negative connotations in the story. But swimming is Kofi’s sport. He learns lots of different ways of swimming, honing his skill and his craft through this novel.

Kwame Alexander (15:11):

The water is a very symbolic thing for peoples of African descent. And I don’t know how it is in Britain, but in America, I would say you ask the average black person if they swim, and many of them would tell you no, and some of them would tell you they’re not going anywhere near the water. There’s this ancestral memory about the water and all of the terrible things that have been associated with it.

Kwame Alexander (15:51):

One of my theories is that when Africans were stolen from their home and they were put on these large wooden ships and they were taken out to sea, at a certain point, they looked back and they could no longer see their homes. And they looked forward and they couldn’t see anything. The only thing they saw was the sky and the sea, both of them being blue. And so when you talk about ‘the blues’ I posit, that it comes out of that feeling of not knowing where you’re headed or what awaits you when you get there.

Kwame Alexander (16:28):

And the only thing you have that’s guiding you is this water, which many people jumped into, into the jaws of sharks because they didn’t want to see what awaited them. They knew what they were dealing with on these ships and what they had dealt with in these slave castles. And so it couldn’t be good. And so they’d rather jump. So I posit that maybe that’s where the blues come from. If you think about it, that’s a lot. That ancestral memory, that stress, that tragedy, that’s a lot to deal with.

Kwame Alexander (17:04):

But in my research, I found that there were quite a few cultures in particular fishing communities where people swam in West Africa. And if you think about it, if you have a traditional fishing community and you’re going out to sea a conventional wisdom says, you’re gonna have to know how to swim at some point in case you fall over and you drown. So I figured out that there was a swimming culture, I’ve written books about basketball, about football, about baseball, and I said, well, this is going to be my swimming book. Swimming is going to be the metaphor in this story, and it’s gonna be the thing that ultimately perhaps saves our main character.

Nikki Gamble (17:54):

Kofi tries lots of different techniques for swimming. At one point it talks about him swimming like a sea snake, moving his legs from side to side, and then he learns to swim,keeping his head under the water. I think it’s Ama who tells him he’ll go faster if he keeps his head down. Did this come out of your research or were you just imagining the different things that he might have tried as a keen swimmer?

Kwame Alexander (18:21):

Yeah, definitely a little bit of both. Just using my imagination, which was certainly spawned by a lot of the research that I did on swimming,

Kwame Alexander (18:30):

(reads from the book) The Big Rock. There is a big place far out away from people watching where the water is crystal clear, it’s streams smooth and steady. This is where I go to swim and think. I leap into the river from a tree head following feet, bouncing, barely breaking the surface, arms flapping with the flow, the whole of me gliding toward the middle of the river. When I get to the big rock, I flip around and swim back on my third trek, I float in the current stare at the copper sky. Think about Ama’s scent and her smile then float away, letting the current carry me, letting the warmth of the fading sun bathe me as I watch it completely disappear like a dream. (ends reading)

Kwame Alexander (19:18):

I just tried to really imagine myself in the waters swimming. I even went to the beach a couple times and just sort of document it in my mind. What am I doing? What is each step that I’m taking? How can I translate that onto the page and still get that image without it being didactic?

Nikki Gamble (19:37):

There’s another verse about swimming entitled Flow, which I absolutely loved. We use the expression ‘finding your stroke’ and that’s exactly what Kofi is doing here. Finding his stroke (quotes from the book) ‘like a black eagle, tightly gripping the current with each stroke of my arms, kicking my legs in sync and thinking about nothing but the flow.’ (ends quote) Is writing like that?

Kwame Alexander (20:04):

It’s just like that. When I’m writing those swimming scenes, I’m writing in the moment and trying to make sure this particular poem speaks to that moment. But I’m also writing in a crescendo, so I’m writing to get to a point. And when the writing gets really good, when you really find your stroke, you know that when you get to that final lap, it’s all going to come together And all the little seeds you’ve planted along the way.( I’m mixing up all kinds of metaphors now, <laugh>,) but all these seeds you’ve planted along the way are all gonna blossom. And I feel like when I got to the end of the book, all of these things that I had been setting up through these different swimming, motifs and metaphors and, and scenes, they all, they all came together really nicely.

Nikki Gamble (20:57):

At one point in the story, Kofi’s given a mahogany body board. I wondered if there’s evidence that those sorts of things existed as well.

Kwame Alexander (21:08):

They did <laugh>. I mean, , there was surfing back then. That’s the thing. We don’t know about it. And so I found that out. I discovered that that WAS a thing back in West Africa. And again, conventional wisdom said, if you’re in the water and you’re fishing and you’re swimming, you’re going to have a curious mind – the innovation that human beings have. You’re gonna figure out different things to do so that you aren’t bored. So the idea of using some sort of material, some sort of wooden something or other to float on, to swim on, to use as a way of moving through the water that’s body surfing. And so these are actual things that happened that I tried to recreate.

Nikki Gamble (21:51):

I wanted to talk a little bit about writing in verse. When I read something like this novel, it feels condensed like a delicious jus in culinary terms.

Kwame Alexander (22:03):

It’s the right words in the right order. I’m not telling you everything. I’m telling you very little. I’m showing you a lot in very few words. There’s a lot of white space. There’s some work that you’ll need to do as the reader to fill in those blank spaces. I find that that is exhilarating for a reader to go on that spiritual journey and find those answers and fill them in.

Kwame Alexander (22:29):

You can write about really tough, challenging themes and topics with a poem and it still be palatable. I think it’s still something you can handle. It’s like a cool drink of water in the spring. It’s heart love. It’s coming from the heart. And each word has been carefully chosen to make sure that A, you get the message and B, you’re not completely overwhelmed with it. And C, you do feel something from it though. Feeling is the thing we’re going after as poets. So we don’t need to have every word, we just need to have the right words in that right order. I love it. I’ve, I’ve been doing it all of my life. And so poetry is that tool for me.

Nikki Gamble (23:15):

I’m fascinated by the way the form plays with time. For me, it does two things. It speeds up time so you move quickly through the story. But paradoxically, it does what poetry does so well and allows you to linger longer in the moment. I wondered if you would read the verse Hidden for us? – This is where Kofi is in a tree. He’s hidden and he’s watching his sweetheart.

Kwame Alexander (23:44):

(reads from the book) The tree we climb stands in perfect view of the stream where the girls dip their feet and play before filling their pots with water and carrying them atop their heads, each with one hand tightly holding it in place. Ama removes her hand from the rim to scratch her arm or slap a mosquito or something, does not put it back, and still moves across the ground like a dancer, never spilling even a drop her head still as the water it holds when they get beneath our tree, she stops. And the other girls do too. You can come down now, she says, placing her pot on the ground and looking up straight at me. (ends reading)

Kwame Alexander (24:28):

And there we have it. One short moment that extends across two pages. Each line conjures its own vivid image, like a sequence of photographs. That those images can be planted in my brain with a few well chosen words – it’s magic.

Kwame Alexander (24:46):

Yeah. That, that’s the power, my friend of ee Cummings, Emily Dickinson, TS Elliot, Langston Hughes, that’s what we do. We love it.

Kwame Alexander (24:55):

<laugh> The Door of No Return deals with huge emotions. Shakespeare’s referenced quite a lot. And it is Shakespearean in its scale – guilt, revenge. The moments of revenge are heart stopping. Tell us a little bit about that.

Kwame Alexander (25:14):

I read a lot of Shakespeare in seventh, eighth and ninth grade, and I always used to wonder, well, why am I reading this? Well, how is this gonna impact my life? <laugh>. My daughter often asks me, why am I taking geometry? What does that have to do with my life? And so I made a conscious decision. I’m going to use everything I learned in, in my readings of Shakespeare as a kid, in this book. I’m gonna make it worthwhile. How can I borrow from some of the themes of guilt and revenge and love? How can I take this idea of tragedy and let it take you a place where you weren’t expecting it was gonna take you?

Kwame Alexander (26:02):

And then there’s this idea that Shakespeare represents the utmost in the English language. He represents the, the cream of the crop, Shakespearean dialogue and dialect in language and literature – when you talk about the English language, that is the thing. And so if you have this country that is on the verge of being colonized by England. And one of the ways that you colonize a people or you take a people’s culture away from them is you take away their language. You take away the thing that allows ‘them to define who they are, – to say who they are. You take away their language. That is the first major step in taking away a people’s ability to think, act, say or be themselves. And so if we’re going to replace YOUR language with OUR language, then Shakespeare becomes the, the metaphor for doing that. And so that became the identifier for this taking away one language and replacing it with another. So I was doing a whole lot of different things by choosing Shakespeare that I thought may work on different layers.

Nikki Gamble (27:22):

Most definitely. And ironically too, because Mr. Good Luck, Philip, the English teacher – when he speaks, the poetry disappears,

Kwame Alexander (27:35):

<laugh> disappears, doesn’t it?

Nikki Gamble (27:38):

Can we talk a little bit about Unspoken, which is, a picture book that came out, called An American Story in the States, but covering similar territory. Absolutely stunning imagery from Dare Coulter as well. Was it a project you conceived together? The synergy is amazing.

Kwame Alexander (27:59):

No, it wasn’t. I wrote this quite a while ago for my daughter’s class because there was an instant of racism that took place in her class where a white student asked two black students to be her slaves. And the teacher didn’t know how to respond to it. And so she just avoided it. At first, I was a bit upset with the teacher for that. And then I realized she avoided it, ignored it because she didn’t know how to teach it. And I realized that quite a few teachers, educators, librarians, parents were afraid to teach slavery or we don’t know how to teach it. We’re uninformed. And so that’s where the impetus came from to write this book that could serve as a introduction and entry point for those of us who are uninformed or afraid when it comes to the topic of slavery.

Kwame Alexander (28:48):

And once I wrote it, my editor, Margaret Raymo, found an illustrator, a young woman in North Carolina who she felt could do this book. And I had had in mind somebody more accomplished, for instance, Kadir Nelson, who had illustrated The Undefeated. But I saw her work, I saw her sculptures and I thought, well, she might be able to do it. And whenever I look at the book, I just say to myself, my words are really good, but her illustrations are a kind of brilliance that I don’t don’t think we’ve ever seen before in a children’s book.

Nikki Gamble (29:32):

Every image in this book is visually arresting. But I was particularly struck by the image of the shackled wrists. And it really struck me looking at that, that when you turn the page the other way up, what you end up with is a black power salute. I think it’s amazing.

Kwame Alexander (29:54):

Right, right.

Kwame Alexander (29:55):

I don’t whether that’s conscious or not, but it’s amazing.

Kwame Alexander (29:58):

Yeah, we talked about that on our book tour. She gave a lot of thought about each illustration and I try to write in layers and have meanings in the white space. She tried to do something similar with her art. And so I find that really kind of exciting that like you said, you can turn it upside and It’s a different kind of image. And even if you turn to the next page, you notice that , there are children’s hands being held up, like they wanna say something. And instead of the fist being clenched, the hands are open, the juxtaposition of fist fingers clenched together and chained together. And on the next page, hands open, unchained and fingers, unclenched. So, so many different things she went into. And I think that’s what makes a, a really dynamic illustrator iwhen you can take the words and you create a whole other narrative with the artwork.

Nikki Gamble (30:58):

And of course the other thing that both of you are doing in that book, is you intersperse the history with a, a contemporary teacher doing exactly what you might hope your daughter’s teacher would do. Try to find a way to deal with this. There are different schools of thought as to whether the topic of slavery is an appropriate subject for primary schools. Both sides have convincing arguments that put the interests of children at the centre. Those that argue for teaching about slavery would say that we can’t bring children up in ignorance. And those that argue against are concerned about fueling a negative self-image before children are able to process this difficult subject. And I have to say that I’ve witnessed well-meaning lessons that have done exactly that. So I’m really interested to have your viewpoint.

Kwame Alexander (31:53):

I think kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for it. And I think that if kids know that they aren’t enslaved,. Kids know that they aren’t slaves. Like on a real basic level, kids understand right and wrong. And so what is the problem with sharing with our children our history things that have happened so that they can empathize, so that they can understand, so that they can acknowledge all the things that as adults we’re free to do? Let’s create a world where our children are exposed to truth. No matter how, how hard it is. Because ultimately if we want our children to be better than we were, than we are, then they’ve got to understand some of the things that have happened in our world so that they don’t repeat those same things.

Nikki Gamble (32:47):

And it has to be said that the picture book Unspoken is a story of tremendous dignity. The image of the girl on the front cover, having her chin tilted so her head is lifted high reminded me of a statement made by one of the politicians at the Full Circle Festival in Ghana in the year of return. (,the significance of that word does not escape me). He said, we are not descendants of slaves. We are descendants of survivors.

Kwame Alexander (33:20):

Wow. It can’t be better said than that. The descendants of survivors of slavery. Oh, that’s, wow. That’s powerful. It’s so true. Mm-hmm.

Kwame Alexander (33:31):

Reminds me of a Langston Hughes poem. (quotes) I’ve been scared and battered My hopes the wind done scattered. Snow has friz me, Sun has baked me, Looks like between ’em they done Tried to make me Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’– But I don’t care! I’m still here!” (ends quote)

Nikki Gamble (33:51):

Hmm. No denying it. Poetry does it best. Well, I wish we had longer, but our time is coming to an end. So, , my last question is about the fact that I know this is going to be a trilogy. So for books two and three, are we staying in the same time with the same and,in the same place? What’s going to happen? What can you tell me?

Kwame Alexander (34:18):

You know, just the question to ask. Don’t you,?

Kwame Alexander (34:21):

So I will tell you this, some of the questions that I left unanswered will be answered.

Nikki Gamble (34:31):

I can live with that because I know I’ve got another book to look forward to and that’s all I need to know.

Kwame Alexander (34:38):

<laugh>. Right, right.

Kwame Alexander (34:38):

It’s going to be very different though. Um, one of the things that I found extremely challenging about writing both of these books was the amount of sadness that I had while I was writing it. And it was hard, you know, I would have to stop working on The Door of No Return and go for a walk in Regents Park. I just couldn’t do it. It was too much. And so I know I don’t want to go back down that path again. This was the darkest book I’ve ever written. The next book is going to be a little bit less painful, just because it’s hard to stay in that space.

Nikki Gamble (35:16):

But we have to go down there in order to come up.

Kwame Alexander (35:20):

It’s true.

Nikki Gamble (35:21):

Kwame, it’s been a privilege talking to you.

Kwame Alexander (35:25):

Thank you for having me.

Publisher’s Blurb
Eleven-year-old Kofi Offin dreams of water, its urgent whisper that beckons with promises and secrets. He has heard the call on the banks of Upper Kwanta, where he lives.

He loves these things above all else: his family, the fireside tales of his father’s father, a girl named Ama, and swimming. But when the unthinkable – a sudden death – occurs during a festival between rival villages, Kofi ends up in a fight for his life. What happens next will send him on a harrowing journey across land and sea, and away from everything he loves.

Yet Kofi’s dreams may be the key to his freedom…

About Unspoken
How do you tell a story that starts in Africa and ends in horror? About strength and pride and refusing to be broken? One that still hurts and still loves?A powerfully moving, poetic exploration of the story of slavery: from Africa to the tall ships, from back-breaking work in a strange land to resilience and eventual emancipation, Kwame Alexander tells the story that’s hard to hear. Told through the lens of a teacher speaking to their young pupils, and in multiple art styles from award-winning artist and sculptor Dare Coulter,