This has been a week of reflection as we celebrate the life of Bob Simon and the founding of Reston. Much has been said about Simon’s community vision where people work together, live together and inspire one another. Reston is one of the nation’s most successful planned communities because of these concepts, but what does that look like on a daily basis? How are you and I, and your neighbor, and my neighbor fully participating in what Bob Simon intended?
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting down with local poet and author Kwame Alexander. It became apparent within minutes that this story could be something bigger than our usual “Meet Your Neighbor” article. As we sat in Reston’s Used Book Shop — a place with its own rich history — Kwame described, in essence, his symbiotic relationship with our community.
If you aren’t familiar with Kwame Alexander, he is the author of numerous children’s books and recently received the Newbery Medal for his novel The Crossover. The Newbery Medal is is a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children, and is considered one of the most prestigious awards in children’s literature. This Restonian’s book was named one of the finest children’s books of the year.
Kwame Alexander hails from New York and then settled in Northern Virginia after college. He was always interested in poetry but didn’t have aspirations of becoming an author until after his daughter was born. Finding himself immersed in the world of children’s literature all of a sudden, he began to imagine the possibility of creating poetry for kids. It wasn’t until he published the picture book Acoustic Rooster that he began to realize the huge influence Reston would have on him.
Encouraged by his wife to set up a table at the Reston Farmers Market, Kwame not only sold a tremendous amount of books but he really began to interact with his neighbors for the first time. The positive response energized his creativity and continues to do so. He tells me that, generally, when people are fundamentally taken care of and happy, it leaves them open for new experiences. There is also a give and take of ideas that naturally occurs. These very exchanges are what Bob Simon had hoped for when he envisioned Reston.
“Not only are there interesting people in Reston, but they are all doing stuff! Volunteering, advocating for this and that…”
Kwame was also inspired by his neighbors to give back in some way. He visits schools in Reston and all over the nation to get kids excited and interested in reading and writing poetry. He founded the Book-in-a-Day program, which is a writing workshop for older children. Kwame and Scholastic will be releasing a version of Book-in-a-Day as The Page-to-Stage Writing Workshop in November 2015. It’s intended for educators to better teach poetry to children.
He says somewhere along the way, children lose their love of poetry. There is nothing that grabs kids between Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare. His book The Crossover and his upcoming book, Booked, are both full-length novels written in verse. Both have young characters that kids can relate to and are fun to read.
Kwame believes all kids, no matter their situation, should cultivate a love of poetry because it’s the basic building block of literature — It’s concise, rhythmic, and approachable. Knowing that we are fortunate in Reston, Kwame helped to develop the Literacy Empowerment Action Project or LEAP to engage those with less. Conceived during a trip to Ghana, LEAP is a global organization that aims to provide innovative literacy, school improvement, and youth development programs for children in third world countries. Bob Simon’s original concept of good citizenry may have started with Reston, but in today’s connected world it is imperative to think globally.
Kwame is one shining example of a Reston resident who is engaged personally, professionally and socially within our community. There are many ways each of us can get involved — from volunteering at Cornerstones to starting eco-programs in our schools. Kwame put it best when he said simply,
“Helping the community helps you.”
I think Bob Simon would agree, don’t you?
Look for Kwame’s upcoming books at Reston’s Used Book Shop or pre-order on Amazon:
To schedule a visit to your school or library, visit www.bookinaday.org.