Author Walter Dean Myers (pictured) often writes from the perspective of troubled teens with uncanny flair and ease, perhaps due to his own tough upbringing in Harlem in the 1940s.
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Unbeknownst to his fellow street urchins at the time, Myers harbored a love for books that would eventually form the basis of his long and celebrated career. A high school dropout, Myers has penned 104 young adult and children’s books, winning several awards for a few of his titles.
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Myers was born in West Virginia. But as he explained in his bio on his website, he was given to a family from Harlem for reasons still unknown to him. Growing up in a loving household, he thrived in his neighborhood despite the hardships that surrounded him, using books as his means of escapism. It was a teacher’s advice that he should sharpen his skill as a writer that sparked his ambition to pursue a career in writing.
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One day after working on a construction job, his teacher’s advice came to mind and he began writing at night. He would write for small magazines during his time off and attended writing workshops. Myers supported himself with several odd jobs and even managed to win a contest for writing a picture book. Writing was cathartic for Myers, who was plagued by some of the troubles of his youth and crafted his tales while using his native Harlem as a backdrop. After his uncle and brother were killed in two separate events, his writing would inform the stories that were based on the turbulence of his life.
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“When my family fell apart, it was such a troubled part of my life. I think I could understand what I was going through, but I didn’t have the vocabulary for it,” Myers shared in a recent piece from the Christian Science Monitor. His 1988 book ,”Fallen Angels,” has been frequently banned in some schools due to harsh language and his portrayal of the Vietnam War. Myers was inspired to write the tale after losing his younger brother to the War.
Myers’ hard work has paid off in a remarkable way. Beyond his success as an author, the Library of Congress has appointed him the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He was given the two-year appointment at the top of the year and part of his duties is to spread the importance of reading and literacy to young readers. A New York Times interview captured the root of Myers’ message and what he hopes to promote in the post.
“I think that what we need to do is say reading is going to really affect your life,” said Myers “You take a Black man who doesn’t have a job, but you say to him, ‘Look, you can make a difference in your child’s life, just by reading to him for 30 minutes a day.’ That’s what I would like to do.”
Walter Dean Myers, thank you for your contribution to reading and literacy.