Author Crush: Walter Dean Myers
Crush is not the word I would use to describe my feelings for the late, wonderful Walter Dean Myers. I had the honor of meeting Mr. Myers when he was given the Chicago Tribune Prize for Writers of Young Adult Literature in 2010. Listening to him speak was the first time I understood that the literary community was just that: a community. Until then, I thought there was a wall between the people who wrote books and the people who read those books, and that climbing that wall to get to authors and speak to them, both about their books and about the craft of writing, was like trying to climb a mountain. The day I met Mr. Myers, I realized that there was no wall, that authors are just as interested in talking about the craft of writing and their love of books as they are in creating them, and that they--mostly--actively want to talk to their readers about all three. He took the time to make a personal connection with every person he spoke with, offered advice (both of the writing and the life variety), and generally showed a passion for sharing his love of literature and writing with others that helped inspire me to become a librarian.
Myers brought this same level of passion and attention to his writing. Over the span of his career, Myers wrote and published over a hundred books for young adults and children. He took inspiration from his own youth growing up in Harlem, using his background to give voice to and inspire African American youth who do not frequently see themselves represented in literature.
His book Monster broke the mold of what a YA book could look like. In the book, 16-yearl-old Steve Harmon attempts to prove his innocence in a convenience store robbery turned fatal shooting, for which he is on trial as an accomplice. He narrates the story in screenplay format, and combined with the fact that he is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators* makes for a compelling read that will leave you wondering what really happened long after you finish reading. The book was recently adapted into a graphic novel by Guy Sims and Dawud Yabwile.
His award-winning historical fiction novels Fallen Angels, Sunrise over Fallujah, and Invasion explore the horrors and heroism of warfare, spanning almost 60 years of war. Fallen Angels follows Richie Perry through a tour of the Vietnam War. Sunrise over Fallujah follows Robert Perry from his home in Harlem to the Iraq War in 2003. His latest, Invasion!, follows two friends from Virginia to the Normandy Invasion that marked the American entrance into World War II.
Not all of his historical fiction was directly about war. His book Riot tells the story of fifteen-year-old Claire, the daughter of an Irish mother and a black father, who faces ugly truths and great danger when Irish immigrants, enraged by the Civil War and a federal draft, lash out against blacks and wealthy "swells" of New York City.
He also penned many delightful non-fiction titles, including: The Harlem Hellfighters, which tells the story of the 369th Infantry Regiment, a group of African-American who fought during World War I; Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champion, a biography of one of the most famous boxers in history; and Malcom X: By Any Means Necessary, a biography of the civil rights leader.
Even if none of these selections tickle your fancy, with over 100 titles to choose from, you are bound to find something of his to enjoy.
Bonus! His son, Christopher Myers, is following in his father’s writing footsteps with as an author and illustrator of a gorgeous collection of picture books.
*An unreliable narrator is a narrator you cannot be certain is telling the truth of what happened or who may not remember events correctly due to faulty memories, trauma, mental illness, substance abuse, and/or other factors.