Wed 2 Jul, 2014 05:25 pm
I didn't know of Myers, but he seems worthy of our attention. - eb
Whenever Walter Dean Myers wrote a book — and he published nearly 100 of them for children and teens — he would ask his wife, Connie, to assemble a collage of related images that he hung above his desk.
"I like to look up and have my characters looking back at me," Myers told USA TODAY in a 2008 interview at his home in Jersey City.
Myers, whose award-winning novels and non-fiction chronicled urban life, war and African-American history, died Tuesday at the age of 76.
His gritty and realistic novels for teens include Fallen Angels (1988) about the Vietnam War, Sunrise Over Fallujah (2008) about the Iraq war and Monster (1998) about a 16-year-old boy charged with murder.
"Myers inspired generations of readers, including a 12-year-old me when I read Fallen Angels, and then a 22-year-old me when I read Monster," John Green, author of the best-selling The Fault in Our Stars, wrote on Twitter Wednesday. "It's hard to imagine YA literature without him."
Susan Katz, publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, said in a statement that Myers' books "do not shy away from the sometimes gritty truth of growing up. He wrote books for the reader he once was, books he wanted to read when he was a teen. He wrote with heart and he spoke to teens in a language they understood. For these reasons, and more, his work will live on for a long, long time."
Another publisher, Scholastic's Richard Robinson, added that Myers "changed the face of children's literature by representing the diversity of the children of our nation in his award-winning books. He was a deeply authentic person and writer who urged other authors, editors and publishers not only to make sure every child could find him or herself in a book, but also to tell compelling and challenging stories."
Robinson also said he'll will never forget when Myers appeared at a convention to speak about his book, Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. "As we waited for the booksellers to arrive, more than 100 hotel staff crowded into the dining room, drawn to this tall, dignified author they deeply admired."
Myers collaborated with his son, Christopher, an illustrator and author, on several books, including Harlem (1997) and Jazz (2008).
Myers' awards include two Newbery Honors, three National Book Award nominations and six Coretta Scott King Awards. He also was the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2012, the Library of Congress named him the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He adopted the slogan "Reading Is Not Optional," and visited not only schools but juvenile detention centers.
He was born Walter Milton Myers on Aug. 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, W.Va. After the death of his mother, his father sent his son to live with his first wife, Florence Dean, and her husband, Herbert Dean, in Harlem. Later, Myers adopted the middle name "Dean" to honor Florence and Herbert.
In Myers' 2001 memoir, Bad Boy, he wrote, "Harlem is the first place called 'home' that I can remember." It's also where "reading pushed me to discover worlds beyond my landscape, especially during dark times when my uncle was murdered and my family became dysfunctional with alcohol and grief."
He joined the Army on his 17th birthday, a "gung-ho" high school dropout, as he put it. He served three years and saw no combat during the Korean War, but he developed an interest in writing. He noticed a contest for black writers in Writers' Digest, "which I knew didn't have many black readers, so I figured I had a chance."
He won first prize: $500, "a lot of money for me then." That led to his first picture book in 1969, Where Does the Day Go? illustrated by Leo Carty. It went on to win an award from the Council on Interracial Books for Children.
Myers is survived by his wife and two sons. Several books by Myers are forthcoming, including Juba!, (to be released in April 2015), a novel for teens based on the life of a young African American dancer.