Creating a book in a day? It's not just words.

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Loudoun County High School students selected a title for their book of poetry in 15 minutes. Shortly after lunchtime, designs for the book's cover filled a library table.

At the end of the day, a little memory drive carried a finished manuscript with a dedication page, an introduction, a video blog, a marketing plan and a date and location for a book-signing party.

"You guys have no idea what you're getting into," said Kwame Alexander, the poet and author of 13 books who served as a guide during the day-long crash course in publishing.

Alexander, who was the poet in residence at Loudoun County public libraries, is the founding director of Book-in-a-Day, a three-year-old Alexandria-based nonprofit group that aims to encourage reading and writing by helping students complete a book in one day. Loudoun County is the first school in the district to take part in the project.

At the student workshop April 30, the first objective was selecting a title. Poems for the book had been due earlier in the week. Alexander stood near a white board with an eraser. He started with a title suggestion from the poetry club, "Unraveling, Who?" Alexander said it was interesting but called for more ideas.

"Generally, you want something kind of catchy," he said. They tried other titles, including "A Map That Leads Somewhere," "Identifying Identity," "Deeper Look" and "Life Un[defined]." Alexander asked the students to generate ideas using figurative language.

After rounds of voting, a winner emerged: "Life Un[defined]. With the eraser, Alexander wiped away the first word: The title of their paperback will be "Un[defined]."

Next, Alexander passed out what looked like typeset pages of poems. He asked the student writers to check their submissions for errors. Some students had one poem in the book; others had more.

Sam Guidry, a senior, had four. One deals with selfish people: "You are insulted every time it rains/With every single drop that falls/You wince in pain."

Guidry said his poem is "about how self-centered people can be. For them, it's not about how life is through somebody else's eyes and how everybody else pictures it."

Alexander praised senior Alexis Gray. Part of her poem reads: "I am/Just trying/To be/Be me/Be free/To be."

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