Walter Dean Myers, a prolific author of books for children and young adults, was born Walter Milton Myers on August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. As a toddler, he was informally adopted by Florence and Herbert Dean and moved to Harlem. Later, he would take Dean as his middle name in their honor. Growing up in Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s, Myers was influenced by the thriving African American community around him. He has set many of his award-winning books in Harlem, including Here in Harlem: A Poem in Many Voices, published in 2004.
The Harlem of Myers's childhood and adolescence was a vibrant community and a melting pot. His foster mother, also his father's first wife, was the daughter of a German immigrant and a Native American. His best friend was the son of German immigrants who owned a bakery in Harlem. But when Myers reached adolescence, he realized racism would limit his opportunities. He was torn between his life on the street and playing basketball, and his love of poetry and literature. He did not consider writing a viable career, and imagined he might end up a laborer like the other men in his family, not to mention most of the African American men he knew. Although Myers was encouraged early on by teachers to write as a way of surmounting his speech problems, he continued to have trouble in school and attended infrequently, never graduating from high school. To avoid gang involvement, he enrolled in the U.S. Army. Following a three-year stint in the military, Myers held several jobs, including mail clerk at the post office and construction worker. Disappointed with the life he was leading, he turned again to writing and began publishing in magazines. In 1968, he won a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children for his first picture book, Where Does the Day Go?, which launched his writing career.
After working seven years as a book editor at the...
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