Walter Dean Myers, prolific author of children’s books – from picture books for youngsters to novels for young adults, to poetry and non-fiction, many depicting the realistic struggles of growing up a person of color – passed away on July 1, 2014 after a brief illness.
After his mother died giving birth to his younger sister, Myers was taken in by his father’s first wife, Florence Dean, and her husband who lived in Harlem, New York. (He later changed his middle name to “Dean” to honor his foster parents.) Myers enjoyed his early years growing up in Harlem, and wrote of it often in his books. An avid reader and intelligent student – and already showing signs of being a promising writer – he nevertheless struggled in school partially due to a speech impediment and ended up dropping out of high school to join the Army at age 17. Years later, when working a construction job, he remembered the encouragement one of his teachers had given him to keep writing “no matter what happens.” He took that advice to heart and started writing stories at night.
His first published book, Where Does the Day Go? (illustrated by Leo Carty), was a contest submission; it won a Council on Interracial Books for Children Award in 1969. Over 100 books followed, including two Newbery Award honor winners (for The Scorpion in 1989 and in Somewhere in the Darkness in 1993), and a Michael L. Printz Award for young-adult literature (for 1999’s Monster, which was also a finalist for a National Book Award, as was 2010’s Lockdown). His novel, Fallen Angels (1988), about the Vietnam War, won the Coretta Scott King Award and was named one of the top ten American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults of all time. In 1994 he was honored with the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which recognizes one writer and a particular body of work for its “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature”, and in 2012 he was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress.
Two more books by Mr. Myers are set to be published in 2014 and 2015, respectively: On a Clear Day, and Juba!. A graphic novel of his award winning Monster is also in the works.
To learn more of Walter Dean Myers, and what will certainly become his legacy, we urge you to visit his website: Walter Dean Myers. We here at LitStack join the Children’s Book Council, the Library of Congress and the City of New York in honoring Mr. Myers works, and his life.