Walter Dean Myers discovered at an early age that books could take him to a place beyond his neighborhood. In this exclusive video interview with Reading Rockets, Walter Dean Myers talks about the impact learning to read had on him and why his books, particularly those for older readers, tell of the urban African American experience.
Walter Dean Myers began writing poems and short stories in the fourth grade. For a boy with a severe speech impediment, writing became a wonderful form of self-expression. It was a thread that wove through his later years after he dropped out of high school, joined the army, and worked odd jobs. Through persistence, talent, and a love for writing, Myers has become one of today’s most recognized African American writers for children and young adults. He has won five Coretta Scott King Awards and two Newbery honors. Drawing from his own experiences growing up in Harlem, Myers often writes about the challenging realities that face today’s urban youth. Walter Dean Myers frequently collaborates with his son, illustrator Christopher Myers.
Walter Myers was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia in 1937. When he was only two years old, his mother died. At age three, Walter moved to Harlem with his new foster family, the Deans. Growing up, he spent a lot of his time on the basketball court and in the public library. Walter’s foster mother, a half-Indian and half-German woman, taught him how to read.
Walter Myers grew up with a speech impediment that made it difficult for him to communicate with others. Frustrated and tired of being taunted, Myers often found himself in fights. At the age of nine, he began to express himself through writing poems and short stories. Myers later dropped out of high school and joined the army on his 17th birthday.
As a young adult, Walter Myers worked odd jobs, but he never stopped writing. Whether he was loading trucks or working at the post office, he usually found time to write at night. Myers published articles in journals and magazines, but the biggest break of his career occurred in 1969, when he won a contest organized by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. His entry, Where does a day go?, became his first published children’s book. Myers has since become one of the country’s most popular African American writers for children and teens. His books include Harlem, Scorpions, Somewhere in the Darkness, and Blues Journey.
Walter Dean Myers, father of four, lived with his wife in Jersey City, New Jersey. As an adult, he adopted Dean as his middle name — in honor of his loving foster parents. Myers died in 2014, and was remembered in this New York Times obituary: Walter Dean Myers Dies at 76; Wrote of Black Youth for the Young .
See also: Walter Dean Myers’ Second Chance Initiative. Inspired by Walter Dean Myers’ powerful book, Dope Sick, the Second Chance Initiative is an effort to motivate teens to overcome life’s challenge, move beyond mistakes of the past, take advantage of the second chances they are given, and make better choices in the future.