Blade, a teenage musician in search of a purpose and the meaning of home, is at the center of Solo, a new YA novel written in verse by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. Things are not easy for Blade: his mother died 10 years earlier, and his father is a drug-addicted, has-been rock star. He has lost the girlfriend he loved, and his sister discloses a long-suppressed family secret that compels him to leave his Los Angeles home for Ghana, where he hopes to find answers. We asked Alexander about his roots as a writer and his inspiration for Solo.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I had loving, literary parents who totally immersed me in language and literature—it was my job, my reward, and my punishment. Even though I read reluctantly as a child, as it turned out, my parents really had figured out how to raise a writer. I went to college to study biochemistry, since I wasn’t really interested in literature and reading. Then two things happened: I took a course in organic chemistry, and I took an advanced poetry class taught by Nikki Giovanni. And that class changed my life’s direction.
In ‘Solo’, music is an important part of Blade’s life—was it also a compelling factor in your life as a teenager?
Absolutely. In fact, Solo is a tribute to the music that defined me when I was in high school. It was the music of Prince, the Police, and other rock and roll musicians that helped me find a path to understanding myself. Music is still very important to me. I listen to instrumental jazz music while I’m writing, hip-hop while I’m preparing for a school visit, and bossa nova when I’m at the beach. For me, music has been life-giving and lifesaving.
In ‘Solo’, Blade travels from L.A. to Ghana on a quest to learn about his heritage and himself. Why did you choose to send him to Ghana?
The novel is both a love letter to rock and roll music and a love letter to the people of Ghana. I cofounded a literacy initiative in Ghana, which includes building a library in the village of Konko. I traveled there this summer with a group of writers and educators, and took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first phase of the library construction. I am passionate about my work in Ghana and presenting new opportunities to its young people and teachers. It was important to me to include some of my experiences there in Solo—participating in this initiative in Ghana has been inspiring to my life in general and my writing in particular.
Might you and Mary consider writing a sequel to ‘Solo’?
Kids and librarians have been asking that same question—they want to know what happens next to Blade. Mary and I never set out to write a series, and in our minds the story has ended. But then I said the same thing about my novel, The Crossover [a Newbery Award winner], and I’ve just finished the final draft of a prequel! I do feel as though we’ve told Blade’s complete story in Solo—but who knows?