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Walter Dean Myers

(b. 1937)


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(b. 1937), poet, editor, and novelist.

A versatile and prolific writer, Walter Dean Myers (also Walter M. Myers) has published short fiction, essays, and poetry in such disparate periodicals as the Liberator, Negro Digest, McCall's, Essence, Espionage, and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. He was a regular contributor to men's magazines until, as he says, “they gave themselves up to pornography.” In 1968, he wrote his first children's book as an entry to a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. He won, Where Does the Day Go? was published by Parent's Magazine Press, and thus began his career as a writer of children's and young adult literature. To date, Myers has published nearly sixty books, many of which have earned awards and citations such as the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, the Newbery Honor Book, the Boston Globe>/Horn Book Honor Book, and the Coretta Scott King Award. In 1994, Walter Dean Myers was honored by the American Library Association and School Library Journal with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Myers writes fantasy with black characters (The Golden Serpent, 1980, and The Legend of Tarik, 1981). He retells his father's and grandfather's ghost stories and legends (The Black Pearl and the Ghost, 1980, and Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, 1984). His adventure tales take black adolescents to Peruvian jungles and Hong Kong temples (The Nicholas Factor, 1983, and The Hidden Shrine, 1985). His nonfiction is often innovative in form and subject matter. In Sweet Illusions (1987), Myers examines pregnancy through the stories of fourteen teenage mothers, fathers, and their friends and relatives. Each chapter ends with blank pages for readers to complete the ending. His biography of Malcolm X(1994) uses actual photographs and inserts from newspapers, interviews, and magazines to create an inspirational and provocative book. Myers pairs poems and commentary to turn-of-the-century photographs of African American children in Brown Angels (1993) and Jacob Lawrence's pictures in The Great Migration (1994).

Walter Dean Myers is best known, however, for his young adult novels about Harlem residents. Like many black writers, Myers loved to read but rarely encountered books about people like him or his friends and family. This desire to fill a void, to create for other youth that which had been lacking in his own adolescence, was further motivated by his displeasure with the prevalent images of African Americans as exotics, misfits, criminals, victims, and “unserious” people. Having grown up in Harlem, he was particularly upset by the negative and monolithic portrayals of that community. Myers's stories usually take place within a Harlem community of diverse people who love, laugh, work, and dream as much as any other people in the world. Though praised for his natural dialogues, his optimistic endings, and his eccentric but loveable characters, Myers does not romanticize. Drugs and violence, loneliness and indifference, sex, religion, economics, and other oppressive and challenging agencies figure into his plots. In It Ain't All for Nothin’ (1978), Tippy's grandmother is put into a nursing home and his ex-convict father involves him in a robbery. Steve's parents in Won't Know Till I Get There (1982) try to rehabilitate a troubled teen only to have their middle-class child and his friends end up in juvenile court. Lonnie Jackson escapes Harlem with an athletic scholarship but the predominantly white midwestern college presents a new set of problems in The Outside Shot (1984). Richie Perry's escape, on the other hand, moves him from the frying pan of Harlem to the fire of Vietnam in Fallen Angels (1989). Myers tends to focus upon male relationships but his female protagonists are neither stereotypical nor predictable. Crystal (1987) presents a sixteen-year-old fashion model and actress whose meteoric rise does not satisfy her. In Motown and Didi: A Love Story (1984), a disciplined and intelligent student's college career is jeopardized by her brother's drug addiction and her mother's mental instability. Each individual works out her or his own destiny, but each comes to recognize and value supportive relationships.

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Subjects: Literature.


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