In Your Ear: Poet Kwame Alexander

In Tell Me More's regular "In Your Ear" segment, author and poet Kwame Alexander shares some of the tunes that inspire him.


And now another edition of our occasional series, In Your Ear. That's where we ask some of our guests about the music that they like. Today we hear from poet Kwame Alexander. He's the author of 16 books and producer of the Capital Bookfest Literary Festival. Alexander frequently looks to music for inspiration at each step of his creative process and today he shares the songs that make his words flow.

(Soundbite of song, "Wave")

Mr. KWAME ALEXANDER (Poet; Producer, Capital Bookfest Literary Festival): I'm Kwame Alexander. Whenever I'm writing, I go through this process of thinking. And inevitably, the best thing for me to listen to while I'm thinking is bossa nova. It's something about that coolness, that melancholy, that pensiveness that gets me really thinking. So what comes to mind is Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave." One of my favorite pieces to listen to.

(Soundbite of song, "Wave")

Mr. KWAME: After I finish that thinking, I go into writing. And I need to have music that's going to be uplifting, inspiring and really just sort of hip and on the edge and so of course I'm going to choose jazz.

(Soundbite of song, "Filthy McNasty")

Mr. KWAME: One of my favorite pieces is Horace Silver's piece, "Filthy McNasty." One time I was listening to that piece and I actually ended up writing a whole book based on that one song.

(Soundbite of song, "Filthy McNasty")

Mr. KWAME: Once the books are written, I got to get out and meet the audiences. I've got to read. I've got to perform. And on my way to each gig, invariably, I am going to pump up some music that's going to get me hyped, get me excited and, you know, most times that's hip hop. But to be really specific, there's this one artist who's, like, on the cutting edge of hip hop and, like, techno and just really high energy, that boom bap, and that's Vikter Duplaix.

(Soundbite of song, "Messages")

Mr. VIKTER DUPLAIX (Musician): (Singing) Yeah. Yeah. Come and take a ride. Come dance with me.

Mr. KWAME: And he's got some pretty incredible music, especially this song, "Messages," has a message. I mean it has a point to it and it's very inspiring. It's informative and entertaining. And at the same time, before I'm heading to a performance, this song has so much boom bap in it. It has so much hype. It has so much energy that, you know, by the time I get in front of an audience, I am ready to deliver, ready to perform, ready to get out here and do the write thing, W-R-I-T-E.

(Soundbite of song, "Messages")

Mr. DUPLAIX: (Singing) Come dance with me. I feel this. Can you dance? I feel this.

MARTIN: That was poet Kwame Alexander telling us what's playing in his ear.

In just a few minutes, he'll join us, along with award-winning poet Nikki Giovanni, to talk to us about her new anthology, the 100 best African-American poems. He helped bring it together. That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

I'm Michel Martin.

(Soundbite of song, "Messages")

Mr. DUPLAIX: (Singing) I feel this. Can you dance? I feel this. Come dance with me. I feel this. Can you dance? I feel this.

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