Walter Dean Myers

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Walter Dean Myers was born in West Virginia into a large family. When he was three years old, his mother died. Burdened by poverty, his father sent Myers to live with foster parents in New York City. The foster parents, Herbert and Florence Dean, raised the boy in Harlem, which Myers remembers as teeming with life and excitement. Myers changed his original middle name, Milton, to Dean in honor of his foster parents.

Myers’s foster mother read to him every day until he could read for himself. Myers was a good student in the sense that he was literate, but he became known as a discipline problem in school. He had a speech impediment that prevented people from understanding what he was saying. His classmates teased him, and Myers responded with anger. He spent many days in the principal’s office or on suspension.

He received some guidance from his fifth-grade teacher, who thought that writing down words would help him with his speech problem. He filled notebooks with poems and stories but did not consider writing as a career. When not in school, Myers hung out with the street gangs and played basketball until it was too dark to see. Later in his life, the game of basketball would be a prominent feature in several of his books.

At age sixteen, Myers dropped out of school, and he joined the Army the next year. After his tour, he returned to Harlem and worked in a series of low-paying jobs. At the same time, he began to write for magazines. He entered a writing contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children and won first place. The entry was his first book, Where Does the Day Go? (1969), which won in the picture book category. Myers wrote a few more books for preschoolers before directing his efforts toward teenagers. Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff (1975) was his first young-adult novel.

For twenty years, Myers worked as an editor during the day and wrote fiction at night. When the company he worked for laid him off, he became a full-time writer. As a result, Myers has been prolific, publishing more than five dozen books for young people. Monster (1999) won the first Michael O. Printz Award. Two of his other books received Newbery Honor Awards. He is the father of three children and lives with his wife in New Jersey.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Harsh reality becomes the foundation for growth in Myers’s books about young people living in poverty and without hope. His characters struggle to perceive the possibilities of a positive future and to learn values such as integrity, honor, and morality in a world that marginalizes them.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Walter Dean Myers was born Walter Milton Myers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1937. His life was irrevocably altered when he lost his mother at a young age. His foster family (the Deans, whose name he adopted) moved to Harlem in New York City before his third birthday. Myers reportedly had a happy childhood, but he encountered problems in school because of a slight speech defect that hampered his pronunciation. His teachers, however, promoted and nurtured in him a love for reading and writing that fulfilled the young author-to-be.

Because the concept of actually supporting himself through writing did not occur to Myers until later, he left Stuyvesant High School at age seventeen to join the U.S. Army, in which he served from 1954 to 1957. This was an auspicious decision, as his military experience would provide the background that Myers would later use in several books, most notably Fallen Angels. After he was discharged from the Army, Myers obtained a bachelor of arts degree from Empire State College. He worked at several jobs, but the one that provided fortuitous insight for his future career was with the publishing company Bobbs-Merrill. Myers has stated that it was this experience that taught him the inner workings of the “book business” and informed him of the reality of writing—a reality that finally seemed possible to him.

The major impetus for Myers’s success in writing books was his winning of a contest...

(The entire section is 2,687 words.)