Walter Dean Myers

In his autobiographical novel for young people, Bad Boy, Walter Dean Myers wrote of a world--1940s Harlem--that was markedly different from that of today. Most families were tightly-knit as was the community itself. Even so, it wasn’t a perfect place.  As he grew up his family struggled to get by, and, as he became a teenager, he became more aware of racism and how it could affect his future.

But during his early years, he didn’t think too much about race. He had friends who were white and black, and the woman he thought of as his mother was of German and Native American ancestry. The man who raised him, though not his biological father, was African American.  Herbert and Florence Dean took Walter and his half-sisters in to be fostered when they needed a loving and caring home.

Cover to Bad Boy, by Walter Dean MyersHis first years at school were difficult. Walter loved to read at home to his foster mother, who also read to him, but in the very early grades his teachers required students to read out loud in front of the class. He dreaded this because he had difficulty pronouncing the words. In his mind, as he said them, they sounded fine, but few other people could understand him. When the other students laughed, he became very angry. He got into fights. He even fought with his teachers, getting into a lot of trouble.  But one teacher who caught him reading silently in class at a non-reading time did something unusual. She gave him a frosty look—and a better book to read.

Soon he had a secret reading life.  Guys in his neighborhood were supposed to be interested in sports--not books--so he played a lot of basketball and hid the books.  Eventually his teachers realized he was very good at reading--and writing. He was eventually allowed to go to Stuyvesant High School, where his gifts were encouraged.  Along the way, he got help with his speech problems, too.

But he didn’t stay out of trouble, and his family was still poor--too poor for him to go to college.  He dropped out of high school and did a stint in the Army. After he got out of the service, he eventually started working in the publishing industry, following advice from a teacher who told him that whatever else he did in life, he should keep writing.

Through the years, Walter Dean Myers has written dozens of books for children and young adults. A lot of them focus on the real-world problems that face inner-city kids: gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, and just the hopelessness experienced by many who feel trapped by their surroundings.  These books are not just award-winners; they are popular with the kids who are looking for books that reflect the harsh realities of their lives while still offering hope.

In addition to his books that reflect urban passages, he has written in many other areas, including fairy tales, picture books, and history. At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England tells the true story of a young girl rescued from slavers by an English sea captain who grew up in London’s high society. Looking for the Easy Life is a picture book fable of five monkeys who learn that "easy ain't always good" and "a little work ain't always bad."

In January 2012, Myers replaced Katherine Paterson as the Library of Congress's National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a two-year position created to raise national awareness of the importance of lifelong literacy and education.Cover to At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England

Fast Facts:

Born: August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, West Virginia
Birth name: Walter Milton Myers
Military Service: United States Army, 1952-1954
Career: Employment Supervisor, New York State Department of Labor, Brooklyn, 1966-1969; Senior Editor, Bobbs-Merrill Publishers, New York, 1970-1977; part-time teacher of creative writing and black history, New York, 1974-1975; freelance writer, since 1977.
Family: married Joyce Smith in 1960, two children, Karen and Michael Dean; divorced in 1970; married to Constance Brendel in 1973, one son, Christopher.
Education:  Empire State College, New York, B.A. 1984.
Literary Awards (Selected): Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, 1968, for Where Does the Day Go?; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children's Books List, 1975, for Fast Sam, Cool Clyde and Stuff, 1978, for It Ain't All for Nothin', 1979, for The Young Landlords, 1981, for Legend of Tarik, 1982, for Hoops, 1988, for Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid and Scorpions, and 1993, for Somewhere in the Darkness; Coretta Scott King Award, 1980, for The Young Landlords, 1985, for Motown and Didi,1989, for Fallen Angels, 1992, for Now Is Your Time, 1993, for Somewhere in the Darkness, 1994, for Malcolm X, 1997, for Slam!, and 1998, for Harlem; Newbery Honor Book, 1989, for Scorpions, and 1993, for Somewhere in the Darkness.
Contact: Walter Dean Myers, ? Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency, 53 Old Post Rd. N, Red Hook, NY, United States 12571-2262.

Read more about Walter Dean Myers in the library:

African-American Writers, by Amy Sickels
Includes information on these authors and their works: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Ernest J. Gaines, Walter Dean Myers, Alice Walker, August Wilson, Charles Johnson, and Gloria Naylor.

Great Black Heroes: Five Famous Writers, by Lynda Jones
This Level 4 reader gives students a quick and interesting look at the lives of Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, Virginia Hamilton, and Walter Dean Myers.

…And Online

inReads Interview with Walter Dean Myers
http://www.inreads.com/blog/2012/02/27/inreads-interview-with-walter-dean-myers/
This short interview with the author has some wonderful ponderings on the importance of reading and includes some biographical information.

Learning about Walter Dean Myers
http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/professional-development/childlit/myers.html
Has some biography, a bibliography and summaries of his works.

SLJ's 2012 Day of Dialog: Walter Dean Myers Vows to Close the Reading Gap
http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/894655-312/sljs_2012_day_of_dialog.html.csp
School Library Journal interviewed Myers on his hopes for making a difference in students’ lives in his role as the Library of Congress’ National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

To Do Well in Life, You Have to ‘Read Well’
http://www.npr.org/2012/01/10/144944598/to-do-well-in-life-you-have-to-read-well
In this short interview, NPR’s David Greene discusses the importance of reading in today’s world with Walter Dean Myers.

A Video Interview with Walter Dean Myers
http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/myersw/
You can either watch the video or read its transcript. Includes a short biography.

Walter Dean Myers
http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/
The author’s own Web site has a short and interesting autobiography, photos, reviews of his works, and contact information.

These articles are part of our online research collection. You will need a CRRL card to access these.  Only a few of the many articles available in these databases are listed below:

From Biography in Context:

"Walter Dean Myers." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2012. “Walter Dean Myers,” in St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers , 1999.
“Walter Dean Myers,” in Notable Black American Men, Book II, October 1, 2006. Updated: April 22, 2010

From Literature Resource Center

Ishola, Olubunmi. "An Interview with Walter Dean Myers." World Literature Today 81.3 (2007): 63+
Smith, Amanda. "Walter Dean Myers: This Award-winning Author for Young People Tells It like It Is." Publishers Weekly 20 July 1992: 217+