Walter Dean Myers, beloved children’s and YA author, died July 1. He was born in 1937–think about that for a moment. It was a time when mothers frequently died in childbirth, as Walter’s mother did after the birth of his sister . That was the year the Golden Gate Bridge opened, Amelia Earhart disappeared, and Gone With the Wind won the Pulitzer. Walter’s life spanned huge social conflict and equally vast changes, and he was a force for those changes. His body of work gives perspectives on African American life that are at once unflinching and loving. He wrote picture books, novels for teens, poetry, and non-fiction. Many of us know Monster as a transformative book, but in some ways every book Walter wrote pushed new boundaries. Fallen Angels examined the moral dilemmas and the horrors of Vietnam. And he was passionate about the work he did. His recent essay, titled Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books, did much to sustain a conversation that might otherwise have been easier to dismiss. He wrote:
Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?
Here are some of the many tributes to a writer whose words carried great power, who was also a gracious, compassionate man with an intuitive understanding of the young people who would read his books. Of his own journey he said, “Once I began to read, I began to exist.”
Here’s a selection from We Are America: A Tribute From the Heart, written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by his son Christopher Myers.
Those of us whose paths crossed his, even briefly, will never forget him. We are fortunate to have his books in the world, with new ones still on the way.