Published July 16, 2020

Every year, the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress features a book from each of the affiliate Centers for the Book, creating an annual list of Great Reads. Each book is selected by one of the Center for the Book affiliates and represents an aspect of their local literary culture, either addressing a topic of regional interest, taking place in the area, or written or illustrated by someone from or currently living there.

This year, the Virginia Center for the Book has selected The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander as the 2020 Great Reads selection for the Commonwealth.

Winner of the 2020 Caldecott Medal

A 2020 Newbery Honor Book

Winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

On July 28, 2020, the Virginia Center for the Book and the Virginia Festival of the Book presented SHELF LIFE: The Undefeated with Kwame Alexander, a live virtual event with the author:


About the book:

Newbery Award-winning author Kwame Alexander pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from two-time Caldecott honoree Kadir Nelson. Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.

“[A] powerful tribute to the African-American experience, replete with joy and pride in the accomplishments of individual artists and athletes, leaders, and thinkers… Poetry knows when to lean forward and when to pull back, and in The Undefeated, Alexander has walked that line perfectly. This book will fill readers with a sense of the wealth and the cost of history.”—New York Times Book Review

“[T]his magnificent anthem to the courage and genius of black Americans has been turned into a picture book with stunning portraits by Nelson…. communicating clearly that when black lives matter, America is stronger.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

An incredible connector text for young readers eager to graduate to weighty conversations about our yesterday, our now, and our tomorrow.”—Kirkus, starred review

“[A] poignant and powerful ode to the resilience and strength of black life and history in America.”—School Library Journal, starred review

About the author:

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and the New York Times bestselling author of 28 books, including Rebound, the follow-up to his, Newbery medal-winning middle grade novel, The Crossover. Some of his other works include Booked, which was longlisted for the National Book Award, The Playbook: 52 Rules to Help You Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game of LifeSwing, and the picture books, Out of Wonder and The Undefeated.

A regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition, Alexander is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Author Honor, the NCTE/Charlotte Huck Honor, three NAACP Image Award Nominations, and the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award. He believes that poetry can change the world, and he uses it to inspire and empower young people around the world through The Write Thing, his K-12 writing workshop. Alexander is also the founder of Versify, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the host and producer of the literary variety/talk show, Bookish, which airs on Facebook Watch.

He’s led cultural exchange delegations to Brazil, Italy, Singapore, and Ghana, where he built the Barbara E. Alexander Memorial Library and Health Clinic, as a part of LEAP for Ghana, an international literacy program he co-founded. Learn more at


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