Walter Dean Myers, children's author, dies at 76
NEW YORK - Walter Dean Myers, 76, a best-selling and prolific children's author and a tireless champion of literacy and education, died Tuesday at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan after a brief illness, publisher HarperCollins announced. He lived in Jersey City, N.J.
A onetime troublemaker who dropped out of high school, the tall, soft-spoken Mr. Myers spent much of his adult life writing realistic and accessible stories about crime, war, and life in the streets. He wrote more than 100 books, his notable works including Monster and Lockdown, and was the rare author to have a wide following among middle-school boys. He was a three-time National Book Award nominee, received five Coretta Scott King awards for African American fiction, and in 2012-13 served as national ambassador for young people's literature, a position created in part by the Library of Congress.
Well before that, he traveled the country, visiting schools, prisons, and libraries.
Mr. Myers' books were usually narrated by teenagers trying to make right choices when the wrong ones were so much easier. There was the 17-year-old hiding from the police in Dope Sick, or the boarding school student in The Beast who learns that his girlfriend is hooked on drugs. Mr. Myers was careful not to make judgments, and in the crime story Monster left doubt over whether the narrator was really guilty.
One of five siblings, Walter M. Myers was born in Martinsburg, W.Va., in 1937. His mother died when he was 18 months old, and he was sent to Harlem and raised in a foster home by Herbert and Florence Dean. In honor of his foster parents, he took the pen name Walter Dean Myers.
Myers was accepted at one of Manhattan's best public schools, Stuyvesant. But he was also shy, too poor to afford new clothes, and unable to keep up with the work. Mr. Myers began skipping school for weeks at a time and never graduated.
He served three years in the military. Anxious to be a writer, he contributed to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and numerous sports publications.
His first book, Where Does the Day Go?, was published in 1969 after he won a contest for children's literature by people of color.
Mr. Myers' novel On a Clear Day is scheduled to come out in September.