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Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

(Stacie Johnson, Walter M. Myers)

Personal

Born Walter Milton Myers, August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, WV; son of George Ambrose and Mary Myers; raised from age three by Herbert Julius (a shipping clerk) and Florence (a factory worker) Dean; married (marriage dissolved); married Constance Brendel, June 19, 1973; children: (first marriage) Karen, Michael Dean; (second marriage) Christopher. Education: Attended City College of the City University of New York; Empire State College, B.A., 1984.

Addresses

Home—Jersey City, NJ. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

New York State Department of Labor, New York, NY, employment supervisor, 1966-70; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc. (publisher), New York, NY, senior trade books editor, 1970-77; full-time writer, beginning 1977. Teacher of creative writing and black history on a part-time basis in New York, NY, 1974-75; worked variously as a post-office clerk, inter-office messenger, and an interviewer at a factory. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-57.

Member

PEN, Harlem Writers Guild.

Awards, Honors

Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, 1968, for Where Does the Day Go?; Children's Book of the Year, Child Study Association of America (CSAA), 1972, for The Dancers; Notable Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), 1975, and Woodward Park School Annual Book Award, 1976, both for Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff; Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1978, for It Ain't All for Nothin', and 1979, for The Young Landlords; Coretta Scott King Award, 1980, for The Young Landlords; Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1981, and Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1982, both for The Legend of Tarik; runner-up, Edgar Allan Poe Award, and Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA,

1982, both for Hoops; Parents' Choice Award, Parents' Choice Foundation, 1982, for Won't Know till I Get There, 1984, for The Outside Shot, and 1988, for Fallen Angels; New Jersey Institute of Technology Authors Award, 1983, for Tales of a Dead King; Coretta Scott King Award, 1985, for Motown and Didi; Children's Book of the Year, CSAA, 1987, for Adventure in Granada; Parents' Choice Award, 1987, for Crystal; New Jersey Institute of Technology Authors Award and Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1988, Coretta Scott King Award, 1989, and Children's Book Award, South Carolina Association of School Librarians, 1991, all for Fallen Angels; Notable Book and Best Books for Young Adults designations, ALA, both 1988, both for Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid; Notable Book designation, ALA, 1988, and Newbery Medal Honor Book designation, ALA, 1989, both for Scorpions; Parents' Choice Award, 1990, for The Mouse Rap; Golden Kite Award Honor Book, and Jane Addams Award Honor Book designation, both 1991, and Coretta Scott King Award, and Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book designation, both 1992, all for Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom; Parents' Choice Award, 1992, for The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book, 1992, and Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, and Newbery Medal Honor Book designation, both 1993, all for Somewhere in the Darkness; Jeremiah Ludington Award, Educational Paperback Association, 1993, for "18 Pine St." series; CRABberry Award, 1993, for Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary; Margaret A. Edwards Award, ALA/SchoolLibrary Journal, 1994, for contributions to young adult literature; Coretta Scott King Award, 1997, for Slam!; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book designation, 1997, for Harlem: A Poem; Michael Printz Award, and Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book designation, both ALA, both 2000, both for Monster; Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, International Reading Association, 2005, for Here in Harlem; May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award, ALA, 2009; several child-selected awards.

Writings

FICTION; FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.

Brainstorm, photographs by Chuck Freedman, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1977.

Mojo and the Russians, Viking (New York, NY), 1977.

Victory for Jamie, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1977.

It Ain't All for Nothin', Viking (New York, NY), 1978.

The Young Landlords, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.

The Golden Serpent, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Hoops, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.

The Legend of Tarik, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.

Won't Know till I Get There, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.

The Nicholas Factor, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.

Tales of a Dead King, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.

Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.

The Outside Shot, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.

Sweet Illusions, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1986.

Crystal, Viking (New York, NY), 1987, reprinted, HarperTrophy (New York, NY), 2001.

Scorpions, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.

Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid, illustrated by Rodney Pate, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.

Fallen Angels, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1988.

The Mouse Rap, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.

Somewhere in the Darkness, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.

Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.

The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

The Glory Field, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

Darnell Rock Reporting, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.

Shadow of the Red Moon, illustrated by son Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.

Sniffy Blue, Ace Crime Detective: The Case of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories, illustrated by David J.A. Sims, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

Slam!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.

The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier, Normandy, France, 1944, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Monster, illustrated by Christopher Myers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

The Blues of Flats Brown, illustrated by Nina Laden, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

145th Street: Short Stories, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

The Journal of Biddy Owens and the Negro Leagues, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Three Swords for Granada, illustrated by John Speirs, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

Handbook for Boys, illustrated by Matthew Bandsuch, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

A Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

The Beast, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

The Dream Bearer, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Shooter, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2004.

Southern Fried, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother, HarperTempest/Amistad (New York, NY), 2005.

Street Love, HarperTempest/Amistad (New York, NY), 2006.

Harlem Summer, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2007.

What They Found: Love on 145th St. (short stories), Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Game, HarperTeen (New York, NY), 2008.

Sunrise over Fallujah (sequel to Fallen Angels), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2008.

Dope Stick, HarperTeen/Amistad (New York, NY), 2009.

Creator and editor of "18 Pine Street" series of young-adult novels, Bantam, beginning 1992. Work represented in anthologies, including What We Must SEE: Young Black Storytellers, Dodd, 1971, and We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans.

"ARROW" SERIES

Adventure in Granada, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

The Hidden Shrine, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

Duel in the Desert, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

Ambush in the Amazon, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

JUVENILE NONFICTION

The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1975.

Social Welfare, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1976.

Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, illustrated by Frederick Porter, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Young Martin's Promise (picture book), illustrated by Barbara Higgins Bond, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Turning Points: When Everything Changes, Troll Communications (Matwah, NJ), 1996.

Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, illustrated by Jacob Lawrence, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.

Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Bad Boy: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

USS Constellation: Pride of the American Navy, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

(With William Miles) The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.

PICTURE BOOKS

(Under name Walter M. Myers) Where Does the Day Go?, illustrated by Leo Carty, Parents Magazine Press, 1969.

The Dragon Takes a Wife, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1972.

The Dancers, illustrated by Anne Rockwell, Parents Magazine Press, 1972.

Fly, Jimmy, Fly!, illustrated by Moneta Barnett, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974.

The Black Pearl and the Ghost; or, One Mystery after Another, illustrated by Robert Quackenbush, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.

The Story of the Three Kingdoms, illustrated by Ashley Bryan, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, illustrated by Synthia Saint James, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.

Harlem: A Poem, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.

Jazz, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.

Amiri and Odette: A Dance for Two, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2009.

POETRY

Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Remember Us Well: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Blues Journey, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

UNDER NAME STACIE JOHNSON

Sort of Sisters, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.

The Party, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.

The Prince, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.

Contributor of articles and fiction to books and to periodicals, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Argosy, Black Creation, Black World, Boy's Life, Ebony, Jr.!, Espionage, Essence, McCall's, National Enquirer, Negro Digest, and Scholastic; also contributor of poetry to university reviews and quarterlies.

Adaptations

The Young Landlords was made into a film by Topol Productions. Mojo and the Russians was made into a videorecording by Children's Television International, Great Plains National Instructional Television Library, 1980. Demco Media released videos of Fallen Angels and Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid in 1988, Scorpions in 1990, and The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner in 1996. Darnell Rock Reporting was released on video in 1996. Harlem: A Poem was released as a combination book and audio version in 1997. Scorpions was adapted as a sound recording in 1998.

Sidelights

Deemed "a giant among children's and young adult authors" by Frances Bradburn in the Wilson Library Bulletin, Walter Dean Myers ranks among the best-known contemporary American writers for children and teens. An author of African-American descent, Myers is credited with helping to redefine the image of blacks in juvenile literature through award-winning books such as The Glory Field, Monster, and Somewhere in the Darkness.

During the 1960s and 1970s African-American writers such as Alice Childress, Lucille Clifton, Eloise Greenfield, Virginia Hamilton, and Sharon Bell Mathis sought to provide realistic storylines and well-rounded portrayals of black characters in books for younger readers. As a member of this group, Myers distinguished himself by bringing both humor and poignancy to his work, as well by creating books with special appeal to boys; in addition, he is considered the only prominent male writer of the group to have consistently published books of quality. A versatile and prolific author, Myers has written realistic and historical fiction, mysteries, adventure stories, fantasies, nonfiction, poetry, and picture books. Praised for his contributions to several genres, he is perhaps best known for his books geared for readers in middle school and high school, stories that range from farcical, lighthearted tales for preteens to powerful, moving novels for older adolescents. Myers stresses the more positive aspects of black urban life in his works; often setting his stories in his boyhood home of Harlem, he is acknowledged for depicting the strength and dignity of his characters without downplaying the harsh realities of their lives.

Although he features both young men and women as protagonists, Myers is noted for his focus on young black males. His themes often include the relationship between fathers and sons as well as the search for identity and self-worth in an environment of poverty, drugs, gangs, and racism. Although his characters confront difficult issues, Myers stresses survival, pride, and hope in his works, which are filled with love and laughter and a strong sense of possibility for the future of their protagonists. Lauded for his understanding of the young, Myers is acclaimed as the creator of believable, sympathetic adolescent characters; he is also praised for creating realistic dialogue, some of which draws on rap music and other aspects of black culture.

Calling Myers "a unique voice," Rudine Sims Bishop wrote in Presenting Walter Dean Myers that the author is significant "because he creates books that appeal to young adults from many cultural groups. They appeal because Myers knows and cares about the things that concern his readers and because he creates characters … readers are happy to spend time with." R.D. Lane noted in the African American Review that the author "celebrates children by weaving narratives of the black juvenile experience in ways that reverse the effects of mediated messages of the black experience in public culture…. Myers's stratagem is revolutionary: the intrinsic value to black youth of his lessons stands priceless, timeless, and class-transcendent." In her entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Carmen Subryan concluded that "Myers's books demonstrate that writers can not only challenge the minds of black youths but also emphasize the black experience in a nondidactic way that benefits all readers."

Born Walter Milton Myers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Myers lost his mother, Mary Green Myers, at age two, during the birth of his younger sister Imogene. Since his father, George Ambrose Myers, was struggling economically, Walter and two of his sisters were informally adopted by family friends Florence and Herbert Dean; Myers has written about surrogate parenting in several of his stories, including Won't Know Till I Get There and Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid.

The Dean family moved to Harlem when Myers was about three years old. He recalled in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), "I loved Harlem. I lived in an exciting corner of the renowned Black capital and in an exciting era. The people I met there, the things I did, have left a permanent impression on me." When he was four years old Myers was taught to read by his foster mother; his foster father sat the boy on his knee and told him "endless stories." As the author later wrote in Children's Books and Their Creators, "Somewhere along the line I discovered that books could be part of a child's world, and by the time I was nine I found myself spending long hours reading in my room. The books began to shape new bouts of imagination."

When not reading, Myers enjoyed playing sports, especially stickball, baseball, and basketball, and sports provide the background for young-adult novels such as Hoops, The Outside Shot, and Slam! At school, he enjoyed classwork but found that a speech impediment caused him some difficulty. His fellow classmates would laugh at him and, as a result, he would fight back; consequently, he was often suspended from school. When Myers was in fifth grade, as he recalled in SAAS, "a marvelous thing happened." Made to sit at the back of the class for fighting, he was reading a comic book during a math lesson when the teacher, Mrs. Conway, caught him. Mrs. Conway, who was known for her meanness, surprised Walter by saying that if he was going to read, he might as well read something decent and brought him a selection of children's books; Myers remembered Asbjornsen and Moe's East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a collection of Norwegian folktales, as a turning point in his appreciation of literature. Mrs. Conway also required her students to read aloud in class. In order to avoid some of the words that he had trouble speaking, she suggested that Walter write something for himself to read.

After junior high, Myers attended Stuyvesant High School, a school for boys that stressed academic achievement. Although he struggled somewhat due to the school's focus on science, he met another influential teacher, Bonnie Liebow, who interviewed each of her students and made up individualized reading lists for them. Myers's list included works by such European authors as Emile Zola and Thomas Mann. Liebow also told Myers that he was a gifted writer, inspiring him to consider writing as a career.

Despite this encouragement, as a teen Myers realized that writing "had no practical value for a Black child," as he recalled. "These minor victories did not bolster my ego. Instead, they convinced me that even though I was bright, even though I might have some talent, I was still defined by factors other than my ability." In addition, Myers was depressed by the fact that he would not be able to attend college due to his family's financial status. Consequently, he wrote in SAAS, he began "writing poems about death, despair, and doom" and began "having doubts about everything in my life."

When not writing or working odd jobs, Myers hung out in the streets: "I was steeped in the mystique of the semi-hoodlum," he recalled in SAAS. He acquired a sti- letto and acted as a drug courier; he also became a target for one of the local gangs after intervening in a fight between three gang members and a new boy in the neighborhood. Finally, influenced by the war poems of British writer Rupert Brooke, Myers joined the army at age seventeen in order to, as he wrote in SAAS, "hie myself off to some far-off battlefield and get killed. There, where I fell, would be a little piece of Harlem."

In Bad Boy: A Memoir, Myers recounts his childhood, then takes the reader through his adolescence—during which he often skipped school and sometimes made deliveries for drug dealers—and to his beginnings as a writer. Rochman said of this work that "the most beautiful writing is about Mama: how she taught him to read, sharing True Romance magazines." "The author's growing awareness of racism and of his own identity as a black man make up one of the most interesting threads" of Bad Boy, wrote Miranda Doyle in School Library Journal. Myers' "voice and heart are consistently heard and felt throughout," concluded a Horn Book contributor.

Myers's army experience was less than the glorious adventure promised by the poetry he had read; he went to radio-repair school and spent most of his time playing basketball. "I also learned several efficient ways of killing human beings," he later recalled. In addition, as he told Bishop in Presenting Walter Dean Myers, "I learned something about dying. I learned a lot about facilitating the process, of making it abstract." During his military service, Myer also developed the strong antiwar attitude that would later become part of his young-adult novel Fallen Angels, the story of a young black soldier in Vietnam.

After three years in the U.S. Army, Myers returned home to his parents, who had by now moved to Morristown, New Jersey. Then he returned to Harlem, where he took an apartment and began to work at becoming a professional writer. In what he recalled as his "starving artist period," Myers wrote poetry and read books about the Bohemian life by such authors as George Orwell and André Gide; he also lived on two dollars a week from unemployment compensation and lost fifty pounds. While working briefly for the U.S. Post Office, he married Joyce, a woman he later called "wonderful, warm, beautiful, religious, caring."

Even after becoming a father—two of his three children, Karen and Michael, are from his first marriage—Myers continued to try to live a romantic lifestyle. While working odd jobs in a factory and an office, he played bongos with a group of jazz musicians, some of whom were into heroin and cocaine, and wrote jazz-based poetry, some of which was published in Canada. He also began to be published in African-American magazines such as the Negro Digest and the Liberator as well as in men's magazines such as Argosy and Cavalier. During this time, his first marriage collapsed.

In 1961, Myers enrolled in a writing class with author Lajos Egri, who told him that he had a special talent. A few years later, he attended City College of the City University of New York as a night student, but dropped out. At a writer's workshop at Columbia University led by novelist John Oliver Killens, he was recommended for a new editorial position at the publishing house Bobbs-Merrill and became an acquisitions editor. In 1968, he won first prize in a contest for black writers sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children and a year later his picture-book text was published by Parents' Magazine Press as Where Does the Day Go?

Where Does the Day Go? features Steven, a small black boy whose father takes him and a group of children of various races for an evening walk in the park. When Steven wonders where the day goes, his friends each provide imaginative opinions of their own. Finally, Steven's dad explains that day and night are different, just like people, and that the times of day are caused by the rotation of the Earth. "Integration, involvement, and togetherness are all deftly handled," noted Mary Eble in School Library Journal, while Zena Sutherland, Dianne L. Monson, and May Hill Arbuthnot claimed in Children and Books that the story has "other strong values in addition to its exploration of the mystery of night and day." The critics noted that Where Does the Day Go? "explains natural phenomena accurately, and it presents an exemplary father."

After the publication of his first book, Myers changed his name from Walter Milton Myers to "one that would honor my foster parents, Walter Dean Myers." He also remarried, and he and his wife Connie had a son, Christopher, now an artist who has illustrated several of his father's works. In 1972, Myers published The Dragon Takes a Wife, a picture book that some considered controversial. The story features Harry, a lonely dragon who cannot fight, and Mabel May, the African-American fairy who helps him. In order to acquire a wife, Harry must defeat a knight in battle. When Mabel May turns into a dragon to show Harry how to fight, Harry falls in love with her, defeats the knight, and wins her hand, not to mention a good job at the post office.

Other picture books by Myers include several in which he teams up with son Christopher Myers. In Jazz, Myers "creates a scintillating paean to jazz," claimed a Publishers Weekly critic. Compared to other authors who struggle to capture the spirit of the music form in text, Booklist reviewer Bill Ott found Jazz "an absolutely airtight melding of words and pictures that is perfectly accessible to a younger audience." Through a series of poems accompanied by brightly colored illustrations, the pair chronicles the evolution of the music form, from fast-paced New Orleans jazz to bebop, so clearly "readers will find music coming irresistibly into their heads," suggested Roger Sutton in Horn Book.

The Blues of Flats Brown is a children's picture book about a dog that flees to Memphis and has a hit record. The pup's success angers former owner A.J. Grubbs, who follows him on to New York. "Myers's shaggy fantasy has the slow-and-easy pacing of a lazy Southern afternoon," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Myers beautifully conveys the blues' unique roots and the way the music bestows comfort, catharsis, and healing," said Shelle Rosenfeld in Booklist.

In 1975, Myers published his first novel for young adults, Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff. Set in a Harlem neighborhood much like the one in which its author grew up, the story describes a group of young teens who take a positive approach to living in a difficult environment. The story is narrated by eighteen-year-old Stuff, who recalls the year that he was thirteen and formed a sort of anti-gang, the Good People, with his best friends Fast Sam and Cool Clyde plus five other boys and girls from the neighborhood. The Good People have several hilarious adventures, including one where Sam and Clyde—who is dressed as a girl—win a dance contest. However, they also deal with such problems as mistaken arrest and the deaths of one of their fathers and a friend who has turned to drugs. The children survive, both through their inner strength and the fellowship of their friends, who are dependable and respectful of one another. Writing in English Journal, Alleen Pace Nilsen called Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff "a rich, warm story about black kids in which Myers makes the reader feel so close to the characters that ethnic group identification is secondary." In Horn Book, Paul Heins noted that "the humorous and ironic elements of the plot give the book the flavor of a Harlem Tom Sawyer or Penrod."

In 1977, after leaving Bobbs-Merrill, Myers became a full-time writer. It Ain't All for Nothin', a young-adult novel published the next year, is considered the first of his more serious, thought-provoking works. The novel features twelve-year-old Tippy, a motherless Harlem boy who has been living with his loving, principled grandmother since he was a baby. When she goes into a nursing home, Tippy moves in with his father Lonnie, an ex-con who makes his living by stealing and who beats his son viciously. Lonely and afraid, Tippy begins drinking whiskey. When Lonnie and his pals rob a store, he coerces Tippy into participating. Bubba, a member of the group, is shot during the heist; in order to save Bubba and save himself, Tippy calls the police and turns in his father. At the end of the novel, Tippy goes to live with Mr. Roland, a kind man who has befriended him.

It Ain't All for Nothin' was praised by Steven Matthews in School Library Journal as "a first-rate read," and by a critic in Kirkus Reviews as "like Tippy—a winner." Although questioning "how many children are really going to ‘drop a dime’ on their father?," Ashley Jane Pennington concluded in her review for Interracial Books for Children Bulletin that It Ain't All for Nothin' "is a devastating book which needed to be written." Motown and Didi: A Love Story, a highly praised sequel, features two of the peripheral characters from It Ain't All for Nothin' and includes a strong anti-drug message as well as the theme that love can conquer all. Shooter focuses on the events leading up to and following a school shooting. Ironically, many reviewers compared the book to the real-life and well-publicized Columbine school tragedy, which occurred months prior to

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Shooter's publication. The novel is told through a unique narrative approach: the book consists of police reports, news articles, a journal, and other "real-life" documentation of the event. For its dark subject matter and its unique narration, Shooter has often been compared with Monster. Of Shooter, Lauren Adams wrote in Horn Book that Myers's "exacting look at the many possible players and causes in the events makes for a compelling story." A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the author for his handling of a controversial subject in which "no one is completely innocent and no one is entirely to blame." The reviewer concluded, "Readers will find themselves racing through the pages, then turning back to pore over the details once more."

Although Myers turns to a lighter subject in Game, he still explores serious themes through the first-person perspective of Drew, a seventeen year old from Harlem who hopes to earn a college basketball scholarship and play at the professional level. Like several of the author's earlier novels, Game features an African-American male from the inner city who reflects on the urban environment around him and questions his place in it. In addition to narrating Drew's struggle to chart his future, Myers includes "tautly choreographed game sequences that … bristle with the electricity of the sport," noted a New York Times Book Review critic. Predicting the book will appeal to readers who enjoyed Monster and Slam, a Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Game offers readers "a sensitive portrait of a likable young man, his family, city and dreams."

The middle-grade novels Scorpions and Fallen Angels are considered among Myers' best. In Scorpions twelve-year-old Jamal lives in Harlem with his mother and younger sister. He is approached to take the place of his older brother Randy, who is in jail for killing a man, as the leader of his gang, the Scorpions. At first, Jamal refuses; however, he is fascinated with the gun that Randy's friend Mack gives him and is searching for a way to help his family raise the money for Randy's appeal. Jamal and his best friend Tito, a sensitive Puerto Rican boy, join the Scorpions, who are dealing cocaine. During a confrontation, Jamal is defended by Tito, who uses the gun Mack had given Jamal to kill to protect his friend. Marcus Crouch wrote in Junior Bookshelf that Myers "writes with great power, capturing the cadences of black New York, and keeps a firm hold on his narrative and his emotions. He is a fine story-teller as well as a social critic and, I suspect, a moralist." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Roger Sutton noted that Myers's "compassion for Tito and Jamal is deep; perhaps the book's seminal achievement is the way it makes us realize how young, in Harlem and elsewhere, twelve years old really is."

Fallen Angels describes the horrors of the Vietnam War from the perspective of Richie Perry, a seventeen-year-old African American who has joined the U.S. Army as a way to make life easier for his mother and younger brother at home in Harlem. During the course of a year, Richie experiences fear and terror as he fights in the war; he burns the bodies of American soldiers because they cannot be carried and—with a rifle at his head—shoots a North Vietnamese soldier in the face; finally, after being wounded twice, he is sent home. Underscoring the novel, which includes rough language and gallows humor, is a strong antiwar message; Myers also addresses such issues as racial discrimination within the service and the conditions faced by the Vietnamese people. Calling Myers "a writer of skill, maturity, and judgment," Ethel L. Heins maintained in Horn Book that, "With its intensity and vividness in depicting a young soldier amid the chaos and the carnage of war, the novel recalls Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage." W. Keith McCoy, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, commented that "Everything about this book rings true," while Mary Veeder, writing in Chicago's Tribune Books, noted that Fallen Angels "may be the best novel for young adults I've read this year."

Myers wrote Fallen Angels as a tribute to his brother Sonny, who was killed on his first day as a soldier in Vietnam; he also based much of the book on his own experience in the U.S. Army. In discussing both Fallen Angels and Scorpions with Kimberly Olson Fakih in Publishers Weekly, Myers called these books "a departure" and "very serious, probing work." He concluded: "Not that the others didn't address serious issues, too, but the new ones were more difficult to write." Also inspired by the war, A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam is a well-received biography of Colonel Fred V. Cherry, an African-American Air Force pilot who was held as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for nearly eight years.

In Sunrise over Fallujah, Myers returns to the family depicted in his award-winning Fallen Angels. While the first book spoke about the horrors of the Vietnam War, Sunrise over Fallujah focuses on the Second Gulf War in Iraq. Enlisting after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Robin, the nephew of Richie from Fallen Angels, narrates his experiences in the army through a series of letters he sends home during his time in Iraq. Initially assigned to a Civil Affairs unit working to gain the cooperation of Iraqi citizens, Robin struggles to comprehend the collateral bloodshed occurring as the

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

conflict progresses as well as deal with the constant threat to his life from Iraqis fighting against the presence of American troops in their country. By experiencing first hand the horrors of war similar to those his uncle endured, the young soldier finally understands why Uncle Richie kept silent about his experiences in the jungles of Southeast Asia a generation earlier. Writing in School Library Journal, Diane P. Tuccillo thought the author avoids editorializing about the war and instead offers an "expert portrayal of a soldier's feelings and perspectives … allow[ing] the circumstances to speak for themselves." Several reviewers also commended Myers for his efforts to write about the war, as few novels for teens exist on the subject. In light of this lack of material, a Kirkus Reviews writer deemed Sunrise over Fallujah "an important volume, covering much ground and offering much insight," while a Publishers Weekly critic suggested that Myers has written "the novel that will allow American teens to grapple intelligently and thoughtfully with the war in Iraq."

In addition to his fiction, Myers has written several highly praised informational books for children and young people in which he characteristically outlines the fight for freedom by people of color; he has also written biographies of such figures as Toussaint L'Ouverture, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. In Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom Myers recounts the history of black Americans through both overviews and profiles of individuals. "What happens," wrote a critic in Kirkus Reviews, "when a gifted novelist chooses to write the story of his people? In this case, the result is engrossing history with a strong unifying theme, the narrative enriched with accounts of outstanding lives." Michael Dirda, writing in the Washington Post Book World, added that Myers "writes with the vividness of a novelist, the balance of a historian, and the passion of an advocate. He tells a familiar story and shocks us with it all over again." Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Kellie Flynn noted that Now Is Your Time! "is alive and vital—with breathing biographical sketches and historic interpretations like rabbit punches."

With Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom Myers tells the dramatic story of the captive Africans who mutinied against their captors on the slave ship Amistad in the late 1830s. The book recounts the hellish journey on the ship and the forced landing in Connecticut as well as the landmark trial and the struggle of the West Africans to return home. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman stated that "the narrative is exciting, not only the account of the uprising but also the tension of the court arguments about whether the captives were property and what their rights were in a country that banned the slave trade but allowed slavery." Gerry Larson added in a review for School Library Journal that, "with characteristic scholarship, clarity, insight, and compassion, Myers presents readers with the facts and the moral and historical significance of the Amistad episode."

A longtime collector of historical photographs and documents depicting the lives and culture of African Americans, Myers has used his own art to illustrate several of his informational books. The photos and letters from the author's collection have also inspired several of his works, including volumes of original poetry on black children and mothers and the biography At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England. Published in 1999, this work reconstructs the life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a child of royal African descent who became a goddaughter of Queen Victoria as well as a British celebrity. Saved from a sacrificial rite in Dahomey by English sea captain Frederick E. Forbes, orphaned Sarah—named after her rescuer and his ship—was brought to England as a gift for Queen Victoria from the Dahomian king who slaughtered her family. Victoria provided the means for Sarah—nicknamed Sally—to be educated as a young woman of privilege in a missionary school in Sierra Leone. Sally, who often returned to England to visit her benefactor, eventually married a West African businessman and named her first-born child Victoria. Eventually returning with her husband to Africa, she taught in missionary schools until she died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-six.

Working from a packet of letters he discovered in a London bookstore, Myers tells Sally's story, which he embellishes with quotes from Queen Victoria's diary, newspapers, and other memoirs of the time. As a critic in Kirkus Reviews commented, "This vividly researched biography will enthrall readers, and ranks among Myers's best writing." Calling At Her Majesty's Request a "fascinating biography" and a "moving and very humane portrait of a princess," a reviewer in Publishers Weekly concluded that Myers "portrays a young woman who never truly belongs."

Myers's second book about Malcolm X, Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, focuses on the stages of Malcolm's life and contains Leonard Jenkins's artwork, "full-color montage illustrations, in acrylic, pastel, and spray paint … like mural art, with larger-than-life individual portraits set against the crowded streets and the swirl of politics," wrote Booklist contributor Rochman, who noted that nearly every page contains a quote from speeches or writings. Myers chronicles Malcolm's childhood, his time in the Charlestown State Prison, his conversion to Islam, leadership of the Black Muslims until his break with Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, and his pilgrimage to Mecca prior to his assassination in 1965.

In The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Myers documents the life of the boxer born Cassius Clay, moving from Ali's childhood in segregated St. Louis to his Olympic win in 1960 and his success as a world-class athlete. Myers then relates the athlete's commitment as a Black Muslim and his political activism as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Myers also reports on Ali's major fights against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. Horn Book contributor Jack Forman felt the book "is more a portrait of Ali's character and cultural impact than a narrative of his life." "This is finally a story about a black man of tremendous cour- age," wrote Bill Ott in Booklist, "the kind of universal story that needs a writer as talented as Myers to retell it for every generation." Khafre K. Abif added in Black Issues Book Review that in The Greatest Myers "inspires a new generation of fans by exposing the hazards Ali faced in boxing, the rise of a champion, and now his battle against Parkinson's disease."

Myers's nonfiction title USS Constellation relates the entire story of the famous ship, from construction to war victories to encounters with slave ships to crew training. The book is complemented by first-person accounts, along with illustrations and charts. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, praised USS Constellation as a "well-researched" volume, calling it a "unique addition to American history collections." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer praised Myers book as a "meticulously researched, fast-flowing chronicle," and applauded USS Constellation for offering "a larger view of the shaping of America." Betty Carter, writing in Horn Book, noted that the first-person accounts "lend authenticity while personalizing events."

In Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Myers presents over fifty poems that explore the streets of Harlem through the experiences of dozens of characters. He "treats readers to a tour of Harlem's past and present," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor, by covering a wide variety of settings, including a church, hair salons, and restaurants. Accompanying the poems are period photographs of Harlem, offering readers a visual context to the poems, which vary in style from free verse to conversational. In Booklist Carolyn Phelan dubbed Here in Harlem "a colorful and warmly personal portrayal of Harlem," before going on to predict, "this unusual book will be long remembered."

"Children and adults," wrote Myers in SAAS, "must have role models with which they can identify"; therefore in his writing he has attempted to "deliver images upon which [they] could build and expand their own worlds." In an interview with Roger Sutton for School Library Journal, Myers noted that writing about the African-American experience is fraught with complexity and difficulties. "Very often people want more from books than a story," the author explained; "they want books to represent them well. This is where I get the flak."

Commenting on the question of writing primarily for a black audience, Myers stated: "as a black person you are always representing the race…. So what you have to do is try to write it as well as you can and hope that if you write the story well enough, people won't be offended." Myers sees an element of racism in the notion that black authors must write about "black subjects" for a primarily black audience. Likewise, he views the controversy surrounding the question of whether whites should write about the black experience as "a false issue." "I think basically you need to write what you believe in."

Writing in SAAS, Myers stated that he feels the need to show young blacks "the possibilities that exist for them that were never revealed to me as a youngster; possibilities that did not even exist for me then." He continued: "As a Black writer I want to talk about my people…. I want to tell Black children about their humanity and about their history and how to grease their legs so the ash won't show and how to braid their hair so it's easy to comb on frosty winter mornings. The books come. They pour from me at a great rate…. There is always one more story to tell, one more person whose life needs to be held up to the sun."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Bishop, Rudine Sims, Presenting Walter Dean Myers, Twayne, 1991.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, pp. 199-202.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 143-156.

PERIODICALS

African American Review, spring, 1988, R.H. Lane, "Keepin It Real: Walter Dean Myers and the Promise of African-American Children's Literature," p. 125.

Black Issues Book Review, May, 2001, Khafre K. Abif, review of The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, p. 80.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, "Some Versions of Amistad," p. 1003; February 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 1103; March 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 1242; January 1, 2001, Bill Ott, review of The Greatest, p. 952; May 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Bad Boy: A Memoir, p. 1673; July, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of USS Constellation, p. 1841; November 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, p. 480; February 1, 2006, Jennifer Hubert, review of The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, p. 62; September 1, 2006, Bill Ott, review of Jazz, p. 127; October 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Street Love, p. 52; February 1, 2007, Michael Cart, review of Harlem Summer, p. 56; July 1, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of What They Found: Love on 145th Street, p. 61; February 1, 2008, Gillian Engberg, review of Game, p. 51; February 15, 2008, Jennifer Mattson, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 76.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1988, review of Scorpions, p. 235.

English Journal, March, 1976, Alleen Pace Nilsen, "Love and the Teenage Reader," pp. 90-92.

Horn Book, August, 1975, Ethel L. Heins, review of Fallen Angels, pp. 503-504; July-August, 1988, Paul Heins, review of Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, pp. 388-389; May, 2000, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 336; January, 2000, Jack Forman, review of The Greatest, p. 115; July, 2001, review of Bad Boy, p. 473; May-June, 2004, Lauren Adams, review of Shooter, p. 335; July-August, 2004, Betty Carter, review of USS Constellation, p. 469; November-December, 2006, Roger Sutton, review of Jazz, p. 735, and Claire E. Gross, review of Street Love, p. 722; May-June, 2007, Roger Sutton, review of Harlem Summer, p. 286; May-June, 2008, Betty Carter, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 324.

Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 10, number 4, 1979, Ashley Jane Pennington, review of It Ain't All for Nothin', p. 18.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1990, Marcus Crouch, review of Scorpions, pp. 190-191.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1972, review of The Dragon Takes a Wife, p. 256; October 15, 1978, review of It Ain't All for Nothin', p. 1143; October 1, 1991, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 1537; December 15, 1998, review of At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, p. 1802; November 15, 2005, review of The Harlem Hellfighters, p. 1235; December 15, 2007, review of Game; April 1, 2008, review of Sunrise over Fallujah.

Kliatt, July, 2005, KaaVonia Hinton, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 14; March, 2007, Paula Rohrlick, review of Harlem Summer, p. 17; January, 2008, Paula Rohrlick, review of Game, p. 11; May, 2008, Paula Rohrlick, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 15.

New York Times Book Review, April 19, 1972, Nancy Griffin, review of The Dragon Takes a Wife, p. 8; October 21, 2001, Kermit Frazier, review of Bad Boy, p. 31; May 11, 2008, review of Game and Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1988, "Walter Dean Myers," p. 117; February 8, 1999, review of At Her Majesty's Request, p. 215; January 24, 2000, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 311; March 22, 2004, review of Shooter, p. 87; June 28, 2004, review of USS Constellation, p. 52; November 15, 2004, review of Here in Harlem, p. 61; September 19, 2005, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 68; August 7, 2006, review of Jazz, p. 57; March 26, 2007, review of Harlem Summer, p. 94; April 21, 2008, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 59.

School Librarian, August, 1990, Allison Hurst, review of Fallen Angels, pp. 118-119.

School Library Journal, April 15, 1970, Mary Eble, review of Where Does the Day Go?, p. 111; October, 1978, Steven Matthews, review of It Aint' All for Nothin', p. 158; May, 1998, Gerry Larson, review of Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, p. 158; March, 2000, Karen James, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 210; May, 2001, Miranda Doyle, review of Bad Boy, p. 169; December, 2001, Kathleen Baxter, review of The Greatest, p. 39; April, 2005, Nina Lindsay, review of Here in Harlem, p. 57; August, 2005, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 132; March, 2007, Hillias J. Martin, review of Harlem Summer, p. 216; August, 2007, Chris Shoemaker, review of What They Found: Love on 145th Street, p. 122; April, 2008, Diane P. Tuccillo, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 146; February, 2008, Richard Luzer, review of Game, p. 122.

Teaching and Learning Literature, September-October, 1998, Ellen A. Greever, "Making Connections in the Life and Works of Walter Dean Myers," pp. 42-54.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 13, 1988, Mary Veeder, "Some Versions of Fallen Angels," p. 6.

USA Today, April 24, 2008, Bob Minzesheimer, "The Somber Realities of War Cross Generations," interview with Myers, p. 7D.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1988, W. Keith McCoy, review of Fallen Angels, p. 133; February, 1992, Kellie Flynn, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 398.

Washington Post Book World, March 8, 1992, Michael Dirda, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 11.

Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1993, Frances Bradburn, review of The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, p. 88.

ONLINE

Walter Dean Myers Home Page,http://www.walterdeanmyers.net (October 15, 2008).

National Public Radio Web site,http://www.npr.org/ (August 19, 2008), Juan Williams, "Walter Dean Myers: A ‘Bad Boy’ Makes Good."

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Myers, Walter Dean 1937-

MYERS, Walter Dean 1937-

(Walter M. Myers)

Personal

Born Walter Milton Myers, August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, WV; son of George Ambrose and Mary (Green) Myers; raised from age three by Herbert Julius (a shipping clerk) and Florence (a factory worker) Dean; married (marriage dissolved); married Constance Brendel, June 19, 1973; children: (first marriage) Karen, Michael Dean; (second marriage) Christopher. Education: Attended City College of the City University of New York; Empire State College, B.A., 1984.


Addresses

Home 2543 Kennedy Blvd., Jersey City, NJ 07304.


Career

New York State Department of Labor, New York, NY, employment supervisor, 1966-70; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc. (publisher), New York, NY, senior trade books editor, 1970-77; full-time writer, beginning 1977. Teacher of creative writing and black history on a part-time basis in New York, NY, 1974-75; worked variously as a post-office clerk, inter-office messenger, and a interviewer at a factory. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-57.


Member

PEN, Harlem Writers Guild.


Awards, Honors

Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, 1968, for Where Does the Day Go?; Children's Book of the Year, Child Study Association of America (CSAA), 1972, for The Dancers; Notable Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), 1975, and Woodward Park School Annual Book Award, 1976, both for Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff; Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1978, for It Ain't All for Nothin', and 1979, for The Young Landlords; Coretta Scott King Award, 1980, for The Young Landlords; Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1981, and Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1982, both for The Legend of Tarik; runner-up, Edgar Allan Poe Award, and Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1982, both for Hoops; Parents' Choice Award, Parents' Choice Foundation, 1982, for Won't Know till I Get There, 1984, for The Outside Shot, and 1988, for Fallen Angels; New Jersey Institute of Technology Authors Award, 1983, for Tales of a Dead King; Coretta Scott King Award, 1985, for Motown and Didi; Children's Book of the Year, CSAA, 1987, for Adventure in Granada; Parents' Choice Award, 1987, for Crystal; New Jersey Institute of Technology Authors Award and Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1988, Coretta Scott King Award, 1989, and Children's Book Award, South Carolina Association of School Librarians, 1991, all for Fallen Angels; Notable Book and Best Books for Young Adults designations, ALA, both 1988, both for Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid; Notable Book designation, ALA, 1988, and Newbery Medal Honor Book designation, ALA, 1989, both for Scorpions; Parents' Choice Award, 1990, for The Mouse Rap; Golden Kite Award Honor Book, and Jane Addams Award Honor Book, both 1991, and Coretta Scott King Award, and Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book, both 1992, all for Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom; Parents' Choice Award, 1992, for The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book, 1992, and Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, and Newbery Medal Honor Book, both 1993, all for Somewhere in the Darkness; Jeremiah Ludington Award, Educational Paperback Association, 1993, for "18 Pine St." series; CRAB-berry Award, 1993, for Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary; Margaret A. Edwards Award, ALA/School Library Journal, 1994, for contributions to young adult literature; Coretta Scott King Award, 1997, for Slam!; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book designation, 1997, for Harlem: A Poem; several child-selected awards.

Writings

FICTION; FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.

Brainstorm, photographs by Chuck Freedman, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1977.

Mojo and the Russians, Viking (New York, NY), 1977.

Victory for Jamie, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1977.

It Ain't All for Nothin', Viking (New York, NY), 1978.

The Young Landlords, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.

The Golden Serpent, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Hoops, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.

The Legend of Tarik, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.

Won't Know till I Get There, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.

The Nicholas Factor, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.

Tales of a Dead King, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.

Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.

The Outside Shot, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.

Sweet Illusions, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1986.

Crystal, Viking (New York, NY), 1987, reprinted, Harper-Trophy (New York, NY), 2001.

Scorpions, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.

Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid, illustrated by Rodney Pate, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.

Fallen Angels, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1988.

The Mouse Rap, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.

Somewhere in the Darkness, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.

Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.

The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

The Glory Field, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

Darnell Rock Reporting, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.

Shadow of the Red Moon, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.

Sniffy Blue, Ace Crime Detective: The Case of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories, illustrated by David J. A. Sims, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

Slam!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, Atheneum, 1999.

The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier, Normandy, France, 1944, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Monster, illustrated by Christopher Myers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

The Blues of Flats Brown, illustrated by Nina Laden, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

145th Street: Short Stories, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

The Journal of Biddy Owens and the Negro Leagues, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Three Swords for Granada, illustrated by John Speirs, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

Handbook for Boys: A Novel, illustrated by Matthew Bandsuch, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

A Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

The Beast, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

The Dream Bearer, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Shooter, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2004.

Southern Fried, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.


Creator and editor of "18 Pine Street" series of young adult novels, Bantam, beginning 1992. Work represented in anthologies, including What We Must SEE: Young Black Storytellers, Dodd, 1971, and We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans.


"ARROW" SERIES

Adventure in Granada, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

The Hidden Shrine, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

Duel in the Desert, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

Ambush in the Amazon, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.


JUVENILE NONFICTION

The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career, Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

Social Welfare, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1976.

Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, illustrated by Frederick Porter, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Young Martin's Promise (picture book), illustrated by Barbara Higgins Bond, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Turning Points: When Everything Changes, Troll Communications (Matwah, NJ), 1996.

Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, illustrated by Jacob Lawrence, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.

Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Bad Boy: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

USS Constellation: Pride of the American Navy, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.


PICTURE BOOKS

(Under name Walter M. Myers) Where Does the Day Go?, illustrated by Leo Carty, Parents Magazine Press, 1969.

The Dragon Takes a Wife, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

The Dancers, illustrated by Anne Rockwell, Parents Magazine Press, 1972.

Fly, Jimmy, Fly!, illustrated by Moneta Barnett, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974.

The Black Pearl and the Ghost; or, One Mystery after Another, illustrated by Robert Quackenbush, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.

The Story of the Three Kingdoms, illustrated by Ashley Bryan, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, illustrated by Synthia Saint James, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.

Harlem: A Poem, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.


POETRY

Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Remember Us Well: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Blues Journey, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

OTHER

Contributor of articles and fiction to books and to periodicals, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Argosy, Black Creation, Black World, Boy's Life, Ebony, Jr.!, Espionage, Essence, McCall's, National Enquirer, Negro Digest, and Scholastic; also contributor of poetry to university reviews and quarterlies.

Adaptations

The Young Landlords was made into a film by Topol Productions. Mojo and the Russians was made into a videorecording by Children's Television International, Great Plains National Instructional Television Library, 1980. Demco Media released videos of Fallen Angels and Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid in 1988, Scorpions in 1990, and The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner in 1996. Darnell Rock Reporting was released on video in 1996. Harlem: A Poem was released as a combination book and audio version in 1997. Scorpions was adapted as a sound recording in 1998.

Sidelights

Called "one of today's most important authors of young adult literature" by Rudine Sims Bishop in Presenting Walter Dean Myers and "a giant among children's and young adult authors" by Frances Bradburn in the Wilson Library Bulletin, Walter Dean Myers is regarded as one of the best contemporary American writers for children and teens. An author of African-American descent, he is credited with helping to redefine the image of blacks in juvenile literature.

A number of African-American writers emerged in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to provide more realistic storylines and more well-rounded portrayals of black characters than those by previous authors. As a member of this group, which also includes Alice Childress, Lucille Clifton, Eloise Greenfield, Virginia Hamilton, and Sharon Bell Mathis, Myers distinguished himself by bringing both humor and poignancy to his work as well by creating books with special appeal to boys; in addition, he is considered the only prominent male writer of the group to have consistently published books of quality. A versatile and prolific author, Myers has written realistic and historical fiction, mysteries, adventure stories, fantasies, nonfiction, poetry, and picture books for a diverse audience of young people. Although he is praised for his contributions to several genres, he is perhaps best known as the writer of books for readers in junior high and high school that range from farcical, lighthearted stories for younger teens to powerful, moving novels for older adolescents. Myers stresses the more positive aspects of black urban life in his works; often setting his stories in his boyhood home of Harlem, he is acknowledged for depicting the strength and dignity of his characters without downplaying the harsh realities of their lives.

Although he features both young men and women as protagonists, Myers is noted for his focus on young black males. His themes often include the relationship between fathers and sons as well as the search for identity and self-worth in an environment of poverty, drugs, gangs, and racism. Although his characters confront difficult issues, Myers stresses survival, pride, and hope in his works, which are filled with love and laughter and a strong sense of possibility for the future of their protagonists. Lauded for his understanding of the young, Myers is acclaimed as the creator of believable, sympathetic adolescent characters; he is also praised for creating realistic dialogue, some of which draws on rap music and other aspects of black culture.Calling Myers "a unique voice," Rudine Sims Bishop said that Myers has become "an important writer because he creates books that appeal to young adults from many cultural groups. They appeal because Myers knows and cares about the things that concern his readers and because he creates characters that readers are happy to spend time with." R. D. Lane noted in the African American Review that the author "celebrates children by weaving narratives of the black juvenile experience in ways that reverse the effects of mediated messages of the black experience in public culture. . . . Myers's stratagem is revolutionary: the intrinsic value to black youth of his lessons stands priceless, timeless, and class-transcendent." In her entry in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Carmen Subryan concluded, "Myers's books demonstrate that writers can not only challenge the minds of black youths but also emphasize the black experience in a nondidactic way that benefits all readers."

Born Walter Milton Myers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Myers lost his mother, Mary Green Myers, at age two, during the birth of his younger sister Imogene. Since his father, George Ambrose Myers, was struggling economically, Walter and two of his sisters were informally adopted by family friends Florence and Herbert Dean; Myers has written about surrogate parenting in several of his stories, including Won't Know Till I Get There and Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid.


The Deans moved their family to Harlem when Myers was about three years old. He recalled in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), "I loved Harlem. I lived in an exciting corner of the renowned Black capital and in an exciting era. The people I met there, the things I did, have left a permanent impression on me." When he was four years old Myers was taught to read by his foster mother; his foster father sat the boy on his knee and told him what Myers called "endless stories" in SAAS. The author wrote in Children's Books and Their Creators, "Somewhere along the line I discovered that books could be part of a child's world, and by the time I was nine I found myself spending long hours reading in my room. The books began to shape new bouts of imagination. Now I was one of 'The Three Musketeers' (always the one in the middle), or participating in the adventures of Jo's boys. John R. Tunis brought me back to sports, and I remember throwing a pink ball against the wall for hours as I struggled through baseball games that existed only in the rich arena of invention."

When not reading, Myers enjoyed playing sports, especially stickball, baseball, and basketball; baseball provides the background for three of the author's most popular young-adult novels: Hoops, The Outside Shot, and Slam! At school, Myers enjoyed classwork but found that a speech impediment caused him some difficulty. His fellow classmates would laugh at him and, as a result, he would fight back; consequently, he was often suspended from school. When Myers was in fifth grade, as he recalled in SAAS, "a marvelous thing happened." Made to sit at the back of the class for fighting, he was reading a comic book during a math lesson when the teacher, Mrs. Conway, caught him. Mrs. Conway, who was known for her meanness, surprised Walter by saying that if he was going to read, he might as well read something decent and brought him a selection of children's books; Myers remembered Asbjornsen and Moe's East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a collection of Norwegian folktales, as a turning point in his appreciation of literature. Mrs. Conway also required her students to read aloud in class. In order to avoid some of the words that he had trouble speaking, she suggested that Walter write something for himself to read. The poems that he wrote for classwhich deliberately skirted problematic consonantswere Myers's first literary attempts.

After completing an accelerated junior high school program, Myers attended Stuyvesant High School, a school for boys that stressed academic achievement. Although he struggled somewhat due to the school's focus on science, Myers met another influential teacher, Bonnie Liebow, who interviewed each of her students and made up individualized reading lists for them; Myers's list included works by such European authors as Emile Zola and Thomas Mann. Liebow also told Myers that he was a gifted writer, and he began thinking of writing as a career.

He wrote every day, sometimes skipping school to sit in a tree in Central Park to read or work on his writing. However, at age sixteen Myers began to feel frustrated. Although he won a prize for an essay contest and was awarded a set of encyclopedias for one of his poems, he realized that writing "had no practical value for a Black child." He recalled: "These minor victories did not bolster my ego. Instead, they convinced me that even though I was bright, even though I might have some talent, I was still defined by factors other than my ability." In addition, Myers was depressed by the fact that he would not be able to attend college due to his family's financial status. Consequently, he wrote in SAAS, he began "writing poems about death, despair, and doom" and began "having doubts about everything in my life."

When not writing or working odd jobs, Myers hung out in the streets: "I was steeped in the mystique of the semi-hoodlum," he recalled in SAAS. He acquired a stiletto and acted as a drug courier; he also became a target for one of the local gangs after intervening in a fight between three gang members and a new boy in the neighborhood. Finally, influenced by the war poems of British writer Rupert Brooke, Myers joined the army at age seventeen in order to, as he wrote in SAAS, "hie myself off to some far-off battlefield and get killed. There, where I fell, would be a little piece of Harlem."

Myers's army experience was less than the glorious adventure promised by the poetry he had read; he went to radio-repair school and spent most of his time playing basketball. "I also learned several efficient ways of killing human beings," he wrote in SAAS. In Presenting Walter Dean Myers, the author told Bishop, "I learned something about dying. I learned a lot about facilitating the process, of making it abstract." He developed a strong antiwar attitude that would later become part of his young-adult novel Fallen Angels, the story of a young black soldier in Vietnam. After three years in the army, he returned to his parents, who had moved to Morristown, New Jersey. After a brief period, he moved back to Harlem, where he took an apartment and began to work at becoming a professional writer. In what he recalled as his "starving artist period" in SAAS, Myers wrote poetry and read books about the Bohemian life by such authors as George Orwell and André Gide; he also lived on two dollars a week from unemployment compensation and lost fifty pounds. Finally, after a friend suggested that he take the civil service exam, Myers got a job with the post office, a job that lasted only a few months. He also married Joyce, a woman he called "wonderful, warm, beautiful, religious, caring" in SAAS. Even after becoming a fathertwo of his three children, Karen and Michael, are from his first marriageMyers continued to try to live a romantic lifestyle. While working odd jobs in a factory and an office, he played bongos with a group of jazz musicians, some of whom were into heroin and cocaine, and wrote jazz-based poetry, some of which was published in Canada. He also began to be published in African-American magazines such as the Negro Digest and the Liberator as well as in men's magazines such as Argosy and Cavalier. "I also," Myers recalled in SAAS, "drank too much and ran around too much." Eventually, his marriage collapsed.

In 1961, Myers enrolled in a writing class with author Lajos Egri, who told him that he had a special talent. A few years later, he attended City College of the City University of New York as a night student, but dropped out. At a writer's workshop at Columbia University led by novelist John Oliver Killens, Killens recommended Myers for a new editorial position at the publishing house Bobbs-Merrill. Myers got the job and became an acquisitions editor. In 1968, he entered a contest for black writers sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. The manuscript Myers submitted was selected as the first-prize winner in the picture book category; in 1969, it was published by Parents' Magazine Press as Where Does the Day Go? The book features Steven, a small black boy whose father takes him and a group of children of various races for an evening walk in the park. When Steven wonders where the day goes, his friends each provide imaginative opinions of their own. Finally, Steven's dad explains that the day and night are different, just like people, and that the times of day are caused by the rotation of the Earth. "Integration, involvement, and togetherness are all deftly handled," noted Mary Eble in School Library Journal, while Zena Sutherland, Dianne L. Monson, and May Hill Arbuthnot claimed in Children and Books that the story has "other strong values in addition to its exploration of the mystery of night and day." The critics noted that Where Does the Day Go? "explains natural phenomena accurately, and it presents an exemplary father."

After the publication of his first book, Myers changed his name from Walter Milton Myers to, as he wrote in SAAS, "one that would honor my foster parents, Walter Dean Myers." He also remarried, and he and his wife Connie had a son, Christopher, an artist who has illustrated several of his father's works. In 1972, Myers published The Dragon Takes a Wife, a picture book that was viewed by several critics as controversial. The story features Harry, a lonely dragon who cannot fight, and Mabel May, the African-American fairy who helps him. In order to acquire a wife, Harry must defeat a knight in battle. When Mabel May turns into a dragon to show Harry how to fight, Harry falls in love with her, defeats the knight, and wins her hand, not to mention a good job at the post office.

Myers received mixed reviews for The Dragon Takes a Wife. For example, a critic in Kirkus Reviews called it "pointless intercultural hocus-pocus," while Nancy Griffin of the New York Times Book Review praised it as "the funniest, most-up-to-the-minute fairy tale of 1972." Some readers were angered by the fact that Mabel May is black and speaks in hip lingo; they were also concerned that this character appears in a fairy tale for young children. The Dragon Takes a Wife was banned by some libraries; Myers also received hate mail from disgruntled adult readers of the book.

In 1975, Myers published his first novel for young adults, Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff. Set in a Harlem neighborhood much like the one in which its author grew up, the story describes a group of young teens who take a positive approach to living in a difficult environment. The story is narrated by eighteen-year-old Stuff, who recalls the year that he was thirteen and formed a sort of anti-gang, the Good People, with his best friends Fast Sam and Cool Clyde plus five other boys and girls from the neighborhood. The Good People have several hilarious adventures, including one where Sam and Clydewho is dressed as a girlwin a dance contest. However, they also deal with such problems as mistaken arrest and the deaths of one of their fathers and a friend who has turned to drugs. The children survive, both through their inner strength and the fellowship of their friends, who are dependable and respectful of one another.

Writing in English Journal, Alleen Pace Nilsen called Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff "a rich, warm story about black kids in which Myers makes the reader feel so close to the characters that ethnic group identification is secondary." Paul Heins of Horn Book noted that "the humorous and ironic elements of the plot give the book the flavor of a Harlem Tom Sawyer or Penrod. " Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff continues to be one of Myers's most popular works, especially among middle graders and junior high school students.

In 1977, after being fired from his job as a senior editor for Bobbs-Merrill due to a dispute with a company vice president, Myers became a full-time writer. It Ain't All for Nothin', a young-adult novel published the next year, is considered the first of the author's more serious, thought-provoking works. The novel features twelve-year-old Tippy, a motherless Harlem boy who has been living with his loving, principled grandmother since he was a baby. When she goes into a nursing home, Tippy moves in with his father Lonnie, an excon who makes his living by stealing and who beats his son viciously. Lonely and afraid, Tippy begins drinking whiskey. When Lonnie and his pals rob a store, he coerces Tippy into participating. Bubba, a member of the group, is shot; in order to save Bubba and save himself, Tippy calls the police and turns in his father. At the end of the novel, Tippy goes to live with Mr. Roland, a kind man who has befriended him. It Ain't All for Nothin' was praised by Steven Matthews in School Library Journal as "a first-rate read," and by a critic in Kirkus Reviews as "like Tippya winner." Although questioning "how many children are really going to 'drop a dime' on their father?," Ashley Jane Pennington concluded in her review in Interracial Books for Children Bulletin that It Ain't All for Nothin' "is a devastating book which needed to be written." In 1984, Myers published Motown and Didi: A Love Story, a highly praised sequel that features two of the novel's peripheral characters. A romance between two Harlem teens, Motown and Didi includes a strong antidrug message as well as the theme that love can conquer all.

In 1988 Myers published Scorpions and Fallen Angels, two novels for young people that are considered among his best. In Scorpions twelve-year-old Jamal lives in Harlem with his mother and younger sister. He is approached to take the place of his older brother Randy, who is in jail for killing a man, as the leader of his gang, the Scorpions. At first, Jamal refuses; however, he is fascinated with the gun that Randy's friend Mack gives him and is searching for a way to help his family raise the money for Randy's appeal. Jamal and his best friend Tito, a sensitive Puerto Rican boy, join the Scorpions, who are dealing cocaine. During a confrontation, Jamal is defended by Tito, who uses the gun Mack had given Jamal to kill to protect his friend. Marcus Crouch, in the Junior Bookshelf, wrote that Myers "writes with great power, capturing the cadences of black New York, and keeps a firm hold on his narrative and his emotions. He is a fine story-teller as well as a social critic and, I suspect, a moralist." Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Roger Sutton noted that Myers's "compassion for Tito and Jamal is deep; perhaps the book's seminal achievement is the way it makes us realize how young, in Harlem and elsewhere, twelve years old really is."

Fallen Angels describes the horrors of the Vietnam War from the perspective of Richie Perry, a seventeen-year-old African American who has joined the U.S. Army as a way to make life easier for his mother and younger brother in Harlem. During the course of a year, Richie experiences fear and terror as he fights in the war; he burns the bodies of American soldiers because they cannot be carried andwith a rifle at his headshoots a North Vietnamese soldier in the face; finally, after being wounded twice, he is sent home. Underscoring the novel, which includes rough language and gallows humor, is a strong antiwar message; Myers also addresses such issues as racial discrimination within the service and the conditions faced by the Vietnamese people. Calling Myers "a writer of skill, maturity, and judgment," Ethel L. Heins maintained in Horn Book that, "With its intensity and vividness in depicting a young soldier amid the chaos and the carnage of war, the novel recalls Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. " W. Keith McCoy, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, commented that "Everything about this book rings true," while Mary Veeder, writing in Chicago's Tribune Books, noted that Fallen Angels "may be the best novel for young adults I've read this year."


Myers wrote Fallen Angels as a tribute to his brother Sonny, who was killed on his first day as a soldier in Vietnam; he also based much of the book on his own experience in the U.S. Army. In discussing both Fallen Angels and Scorpions with Kimberly Olson Fakih in Publishers Weekly, Myers called these books "a departure" and "very serious, probing work." He concluded: "Not that the others didn't address serious issues, too, but the new ones were more difficult to write." In 1993, Myers published A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, a well-received biography of Colonel Fred V. Cherry, an Air Force pilot and African American who was held as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for nearly eight years.


In addition to his fiction, Myers has written several highly praised informational books for children and young people in which he characteristically outlines the fight for freedom by people of color; he has also written biographies of such figures as Toussaint L'Ouverture, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom is one of Myers's most well regarded works of nonfiction. In this book, the author recounts the history of black Americans through both overviews and profiles of individuals. "What happens," wrote a critic in Kirkus Reviews, "when a gifted novelist chooses to write the story of his people? In this case, the result is engrossing history with a strong unifying theme, the narrative enriched with accounts of outstanding lives." Michael Dirda, writing in the Washington Post Book World, added that Myers "writes with the vividness of a novelist, the balance of a historian, and the passion of an advocate. He tells a familiar story and shocks us with it all over again." Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Kellie Flynn noted that Now Is Your Time! "is alive and vitalwith breathing biographical sketches and historic interpretations like rabbit punches."

With Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom Myers tells the dramatic story of the captive Africans who mutinied against their captors on the slave ship Amistad in the late 1830s. The book recounts the hellish journey on the ship and the forced landing in Connecticut as well as the landmark trial and the struggle of the West Africans to return home. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman stated, "The narrative is exciting, not only the account of the uprising but also the tension of the court arguments about whether the captives were property and what their rights were in a country that banned the slave trade but allowed slavery." Gerry Larson added in a review for School Library Journal that, "With characteristic scholarship, clarity, insight, and compassion, Myers presents readers with the facts and the moral and historical significance of the Amistad episode."

A longtime collector of historical photographs and documents depicting the lives and culture of African Americans, Myers has used his own art to illustrate several of his informational books. The photos and letters from the author's collection have also inspired several of his works, including volumes of original poetry on black children and mothers and the biography At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England. Published in 1999, this work reconstructs the life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a child of royal African descent who became a goddaughter of Queen Victoria as well as a British celebrity. Saved from a sacrificial rite in Dahomey by English sea captain Frederick E. Forbes, orphaned Sarahnamed after her rescuer and his shipwas brought to England as a gift for Queen Victoria from the Dahomian king who slaughtered her family. Victoria provided the means for Sarahnicknamed Sallyto be educated as a young woman of privilege in a missionary school in Sierra Leone. Sally, who often returned to England to visit her benefactor, grew up to marry a West African businessman, a marriage arranged by Buckingham Palace; she named her first-born child Victoria. Eventually returning with her husband to Africa, Sally taught in missionary schools until she died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-six.

Working from a packet of letters he discovered in a London bookstore, Myers tells Sally's story, which he embellishes with quotes from Queen Victoria's diary, newspapers, and other memoirs of the time. A critic in Kirkus Reviews commented, "This vividly researched biography will enthrall readers, and ranks among Myers's best writing." Calling At Her Majesty's Request a "fascinating biography" and a "moving and very humane portrait of a princess," a reviewer in Publishers Weekly concluded that Myers "portrays a young woman who never truly belongs."

The Blues of Flats Brown is a children's picture book about a dog who flees to Memphis and has a hit record, angering his former owner, the mean A. J. Grubbs, who follows him on to New York. "Myers's shaggy fantasy has the slow-and-easy pacing of a lazy Southern afternoon," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Myers beautifully conveys the blues' unique roots and the way the music bestows comfort, catharsis, and healing," said Shelle Rosenfeld in Booklist.

Myers's second book about Malcolm X, Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, focuses on the stages of Malcolm's life and contains Leonard Jenkins's artwork, "full-color montage illustrations, in acrylic, pastel, and spray paint . . . like mural art, with larger-than-life individual portraits set against the crowded streets and the swirl of politics," wrote Booklist contributor Rochman, who noted that nearly every page contains a quote from speeches or writings. Myers chronicles Malcolm's childhood, his time in the Charlestown State Prison, his conversion to Islam, leadership of the Black Muslims, and ultimate break with Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, and his pilgrimage to Mecca prior to his assassination in 1965.

In The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Myers documents the life of the boxer born Cassius Clay from his childhood in segregated St. Louis to his Olympic win in 1960 and his success as a world-class athlete. Myers then relates Clay's commitment as a Black Muslim and his political activism as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Myers also reports on Ali's major fights against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. Horn Book contributor Jack Forman felt the book "is more portrait of Ali's character and cultural impact than a narrative of his life." "This is finally a story about a black man of tremendous courage," wrote Bill Ott in Booklist, "the kind of universal story that needs a writer as talented as Myers to retell it for every generation." Khafre K. Abif added in Black Issues Book Review that Myers "inspires a new generation of fans by exposing the hazards Ali faced in boxing, the rise of a champion, and now his battle against Parkinson's disease."

In Bad Boy: A Memoir, Myers begins with an account of his childhood, then takes the reader through his adolescenceduring which he often skipped school and sometimes made deliveries for drug dealersand to his beginnings as a writer. Rochman said, "The most beautiful writing is about Mama: how she taught him to read, sharing True Romance magazines." "The author's growing awareness of racism and of his own identity as a black man make up one of the most interesting threads," wrote Miranda Doyle in School Library Journal. Myers' "voice and heart are consistently heard and felt throughout," concluded a Horn Book contributor.

Myers's nonfiction title USS Constellation relates the entire story of the famous ship, from construction to war victories to encounters with slave ships to crew training. The book is complemented by first-person accounts, along with illustrations and charts. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, praised this "well-researched" volume, adding that it is a "unique addition to American history collections." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer praised Myers book as a"meticulously researched, fast-flowing chronicle," and applauded the book for offering "a larger view of the shaping of America." Betty Carter, writing in Horn Book, noted that the first-person accounts "lend authenticity while personalizing events." The novel Shooter focuses on the events leading up to and following a school shooting that many reviewers compared to the real-life and well-publicized Columbine school tragedy that had occurred months prior to Shooter 's publication. The novel is told through a unique narrative approach: the book consists of police reports, news articles, a journal, and other "real-life" documentation of the event. For its dark subject matter and its unique narration, Shooter has often been compared with Monster. Of Shooter, Lauren Adams wrote in Horn Book that Myers's "exacting look at the many possible players and causes in the events makes for a compelling story." A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the author for his handling of a controversial subject in which "no one is completely innocent and no one is entirely to blame." The reviewer concluded, "Readers will find themselves racing through the pages, then turning back to pore over the details once more."

"Children and adults," wrote Myers in SAAS, "must have role models with which they can identify"; therefore in his writing he has attempted to "deliver images upon which [they] could build and expand their own worlds." In an interview with Roger Sutton for School Library Journal, Myers noted that writing about the African-American experience is fraught with complexity and difficulties. "Very often people want more from books than a story," the author explained; "they want books to represent them well. This is where I get the flak."

Commenting on the question of writing primarily for a black audience, Myers stated: "as a black person you are always representing the race. . . . So what you have to do is try to write it as well as you can and hope that if you write the story well enough, people won't be offended." Myers sees an element of racism in the notion that black authors must write about "black subjects" for a primarily black audience. Likewise, he views the controversy surrounding the question of whether whites should write about the black experience as "a false issue." "I think basically you need to write what you believe in."

Writing in SAAS, Myers stated that he feels the need to show young blacks "the possibilities that exist for them that were never revealed to me as a youngster; possibilities that did not even exist for me then." He continued: "As a Black writer I want to talk about my people. . . . I want to tell Black children about their humanity and about their history and how to grease their legs so the ash won't show and how to braid their hair so it's easy to comb on frosty winter mornings. The books come. They pour from me at a great rate. . . . There is always one more story to tell, one more person whose life needs to be held up to the sun."

In an interview in Teaching and Learning Literature, he noted: "What I do with whatever art I have is to try to communicate the human experience." He works to communicate this experience to "my sons, my son's sons, daughters, the next generation, and that is what life is about. We are the ones that have the gift of story, the gift of passing it on." Writing in Children's Books and Their Creators, Myers concluded: "What I do with my books is to create windows to my world that all may peer into. I share the images, the feelings and thoughts, and, I hope, the delight."


Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Bishop, Rudine Sims, Presenting Walter Dean Myers, Twayne, 1991.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, pp. 199-202.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 143-156.

PERIODICALS

African American Review, spring, 1988, R. H. Lane, "Keepin It Real: Walter Dean Myers and the Promise of African-American Children's Literature," p. 125.

Black Issues Book Review, May, 2001, Khafre K. Abif, review of The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, p. 80.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, "Some Versions of Amistad, " p. 1003; February 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 1103; March 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 1242; January 1, 2001, Bill Ott, review of The Greatest, p. 952; May 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Bad Boy: A Memoir, p. 1673; July, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of USS Constellation, p. 1841.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1988, review of Scorpions, p. 235.

English Journal, March, 1976, Alleen Pace Nilsen, "Love and the Teenage Reader," pp. 90-92.

Horn Book, August, 1975, Ethel L. Heins, review of Fallen Angels, pp. 503-504; July-August, 1988, Paul Heins, review of Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, pp. 388-389; May, 2000, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 336; January, 2000, Jack Forman, review of The Greatest, p. 115; July, 2001, review of Bad Boy, p. 473; May-June, 2004, Lauren Adams, review of Shooter, p. 335; July-August, 2004, Betty Carter, review of USS Constellation, p. 469.

Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 10, number 4, 1979, Ashley Jane Pennington, review of It Ain't All for Nothin', p. 18.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1990, Marcus Crouch, review of Scorpions, pp. 190-191.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1972, review of The Dragon Takes a Wife, p. 256; October 15, 1978, review of It Ain't All for Nothin', p. 1143; October 1, 1991, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 1537; December 15, 1998, review of At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, p. 1802.

New York Times Book Review, April 19, 1972, Nancy Griffin, review of The Dragon Takes a Wife, p. 8; October 21, 2001, Kermit Frazier, review of Bad Boy, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1988, "Walter Dean Myers," p. 117; February 8, 1999, review of At Her Majesty's Request, p. 215; January 24, 2000, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 311; March 22, 2004, review of Shooter, p. 87; June 28, 2004, review of USS Constellation, p. 52.

School Librarian, August, 1990, Allison Hurst, review of Fallen Angels, pp. 118-119.

School Library Journal, April 15, 1970, Mary Eble, review of Where Does the Day Go?, p. 111; October, 1978, Steven Matthews, review of It Aint' All for Nothin', p. 158; May, 1998, Gerry Larson, review of Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, p. 158; March, 2000, Karen James, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 210; May, 2001, Miranda Doyle, review of Bad Boy, p. 169; December, 2001, Kathleen Baxter, review of The Greatest, p. 39.

TALL, September-October, 1998, Ellen A. Greever, "Making Connections in the Life and Works of Walter Dean Myers," pp. 42-54.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 13, 1988, Mary Veeder, "Some Versions of Fallen Angels, " p. 6.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1988, W. Keith McCoy, review of Fallen Angels, p. 133; February, 1992, Kellie Flynn, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 398.

Washington Post Book World, March 8, 1992, Michael Dirda, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 11.

Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1993, Frances Bradburn, review of The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, p. 88.*

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Myers, Walter Dean

Walter Dean Myers

1937—

Writer

Walter Dean Myers is one of the best-known African-American writers of children's and young adult literature. Since the late 1960s, Myers has published dozens of books for young readers seeking realistic stories and recognizable characters. In the pages of his books Myers has tackled such pressing issues as teen pregnancy, crime, imprisonment, drug abuse, school shootings, and gang violence, as well as the ties of family and friendship that exist in black communities. He also frequently addresses historical topics in both fiction and nonfiction books and has written many biographies of notable black Americans. He often collaborates with his son, Christopher Myers, a respected illustrator, and has received numerous awards and honors, including the Coretta Scott King Award. Carmen Subryan noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "Whether he is writing about the ghettos of New York, the remote countries of Africa, or social institutions, Myers captures the essence of the developing experiences of youth."

Raised by Foster Parents

Myers was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1937. Before he turned three years old, his mother died, leaving the family in chaos. Caring for his many children with no mother and little income, Myers's father placed the boy with his first wife and her new husband. With his foster parents, Herbert and Florence Dean, and their biological children, Myers moved to Harlem. His teachers recognized his intelligence and his foster parents encouraged him to read and write—although Herbert Dean was himself illiterate—but Myers was stigmatized because of a speech impediment. Many years later, in an interview with Juan Williams on National Public Radio, Myers admitted that he had carried another burden as a child: his foster mother's alcoholism. These factors led the young Myers to neglect his studies and get into trouble often.

Although he knew early on that he had a talent for writing poems and stories, Myers was convinced that professional writing was for those from an elite white background. "I was from a family of laborers, and the idea of writing stories or essays was far removed from their experience," Myers clarified in Something about the Author Autobiography Series. "Writing had no practical value for a black child… Minor victories did not bolster my ego. Instead they convinced me that even though I might have some talent, I was still defined by factors other than my ability." Myers was classified as a "bright" student in school and was steered toward college-preparation courses. He won several awards—including a set of encyclopedias—for his essays and poetry, but, as he recounted in his 2001 memoir Bad Boy, he was torn between a hypermasculine drive to prove himself on the street and a more private, and, he felt, embarrassing, urge toward "book-smarts."

Although he thought he would never go to college, Myers continued writing. He bought a used typewriter with money he earned at a part-time job, and he read several books each week. At the age of seventeen he joined the army, still convinced that writing would be only a lifetime hobby. After three years of military service he was able to pay part of his college tuition with money from the G.I. Bill. He earned a bachelor's degree, married, and supported a family with a succession of jobs. Occasionally a periodical such as The Liberator or Negro Digest would publish one of his pieces. By 1970 Myers's marriage had ended. He was, however, beginning to make strides toward his goal of becoming a professional writer. In 1969 he had published his first book, Where Does the Day Go? A picture book for children, Where Does the Day Go? features a group of children from several ethnic backgrounds who discuss their ideas about night and day with a sensitive and wise black father during a long walk. The book won a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. It also established Myers as an author who addressed the needs of a segment of children who had too long been overlooked by the American publishing industry.

Began Writing for Teens

During the 1970s Myers worked as a senior editor for the Bobbs-Merrill publishing house. He also wrote additional picture books and began writing young adult novels. Among his earliest fiction for teens were the books Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff and Mojo and the Russians. Both tales feature, in Subryan's words, adventures depicting "the learning experiences of most youths growing up in a big city where negative influences abound." Central to these and subsequent stories by Myers is the concept of close friendships as a positive, nurturing influence, as well as the healing and strengthening power of humor. Drawing on his own youthful experiences and the stories told him by his foster father, Myers has presented characters for whom urban life is an uplifting experience despite the dangers and disappointments lurking in the streets.

Books such as The Young Landlords and Sweet Illusions tell stories of teenagers faced with adult responsibilities. Hoops and The Outside Shot offer realistic treatments of the place of sports in young people's lives. It Ain't All for Nothin', Won't Know Till I Get There, and Scorpions, among others, show young adult characters who overcome the lure of crime and drugs or the pain of broken families. In 1992 Myers published The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, a humorous adventure-crime novel for young readers that showcased African-American characters in the Wild West. His next book, Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse, was something of a departure for Myers. While his focus was still the black American experience, he told of it in poetry that he had written to describe photographs of black children at the turn of the twentieth century.

At a Glance …

Born Walter Milton Myers, August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, WV; son of George Ambrose and Mary (Green) Myers; raised from age three by Herbert Julius (a shipping clerk) and Florence (a factory worker) Dean; married Constance Brendel (second wife), June 19, 1973; children: (first marriage) Karen, Michael Dean; (second marriage) Christopher. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-57. Education: Attended State College of the City University of New York; Empire State College, BA

Career: New York State Department of Labor, Brooklyn, NY, employment supervisor, 1966-69; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., New York City, senior trade book editor, 1970-77; writer, 1977-.

Awards: Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, 1968; American Library Association "Best books for young adults" citations, 1978-79, 1982; Coretta Scott King Awards, 1980, 1984, 1991-93, 1997; Parents' Choice Award, Parents' Choice Foundation, 1982, 1984, 1987-88, 1990, 1992; Newbery Honor Book, 1989, 1993; Golden Kite Award Honor Book, 1991; Jane Addams Award Honor Book, 1991; Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book, 1992; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book, 1992, 1997; Jeremiah Ludington Award, Educational Paperback Association, 1993; CRAB-berry Award, 1993; Margaret A. Edwards Award, American Library Association/School Library Journal, 1994; Michael L. Printz Award, 1999.

Addresses: Home—2543 Kennedy Blvd., Jersey City, NJ 07304; E-mail—[email protected];walterdeanmyers.net.

A number of Myers's works center on historical or biographical subjects. In the nonfiction book Now Is Your Time! The African American Struggle for Freedom, Myers combined historical narrative with biographical accounts of courageous and innovative blacks throughout American history. Similarly, in Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Myers wove the story of the civil rights leader's life and work into the larger story of the historical context of the civil rights movement. For Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, Myers included ample archival material—maps, newspaper clippings, illustrations, and photographs—to interpret the story of mutiny on the slave ship Amistad. In The Greatest: The Life of Muhammad Ali, Myers combined biographical detail with a broader exploration of politics, religion, racism, and the world of professional boxing to illustrate the life of one of the greatest and most controversial American athletes.

Wrote about War, Juvenile Crime

Beginning in the late 1980s war became a recurring topic in Myer's works. Fallen Angels, published in 1988, is a fictionalized account of a young black soldier's experiences fighting in the Vietnam War, where he begins to question his own motives for fighting and faces institutional racism in the armed forces. Praised for its unvarnished portrayal of war, Fallen Angels won the 1989 Coretta Scott King Award and is still considered a landmark novel in children's literature. In A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, Myers recounted the experiences of Air Force Colonel Fred V. Cherry, the first African-American fighter pilot to become a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Myers returned to the subject of Vietnam in Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam, an illustrated book for grade-school children for which Myers wrote the narrative.

In 2008 Myers wrote about the Iraq war in his novel Sunrise over Fallujah. A loose sequel to Fallen Angels, Sunrise over Fallujah centers on the nephew of the soldier depicted in the earlier novel. Against his father's wishes, the young man decides to forego college and join the military after witnessing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. When he is sent to Iraq in the early days of the invasion, he learns that the situation is not as clear-cut as he had imagined, and, like his uncle in Vietnam, he finds that fighting in a war raises far more questions than it answers. Reviewing the novel in the New York Times Book Review, Leonard S. Marcus wrote simply, "This is an astonishing book."

In Monster he explored another complicated topic; the novel recounts a young man's experience in prison awaiting trial after he takes part in a fatal robbery. In 2000 the novel was awarded the first Michael L. Printz Award, an honor bestowed by the American Library Association (ALA) for excellence in young adult literature. In Shooter, Myers tackled the related problems of bullying and school shootings. In an interview in Scholastic News Online, he explained that he was motivated to write the book after going to speak to young people in juvenile detention centers and found that being bullied was a common experience among them. "[Being bullied] changes a kid. When you have an 11- or 12-year-old kid his or her life is full of potential. I want to show what turns these kids around. Is it the abuse they suffer? Why are kids abusing themselves? Because of the abuse they are already going through."

The author of more than ninety books, Myers was selected by the American Library Association to deliver the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture for 2009. The selection is an award that is given to "an individual of distinction in the field of children's literature," according to the ALA Web site. Amy Kellman, chairperson of the selection committee explained, "Myers does not shy away from real and serious problems, yet his work offers hope as it stresses connections to others and personal responsibility…. His themes of the human struggle are universal." In 2008 Myers told Marti Parham in Jet, "I'm never going to stop writing. It's my hobby as much as it is my profession. …I do this because I love it. I'll write until I die."

Selected works

Books

(As Walter M. Myers) Where Does the Day Go?, illustrated by Leo Carty, Parents' Magazine Press, 1969.

The Dancers, illustrated by Anne Rockwell, Parents' Magazine Press, 1972.

The Dragon Takes a Wife, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

Fly, Jimmy, Fly!, illustrated by Moneta Barnett, Putnam, 1974.

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, Viking, 1975.

The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career, Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

Social Welfare, F. Watts, 1976.

Brainstorm, with photographs by Chuck Freedman, F. Watts, 1977.

Victory for Jamie, Scholastic Book Services, 1977.

It Ain't All for Nothin', Viking, 1978.

The Young Landlords, Viking, 1979.

The Black Pearl and the Ghost; or, One Mystery after Another, illustrated by Robert Quackenbush, Viking, 1980.

The Golden Serpent, illustrated by Alice Provensen and Martin Provensen, Viking, 1980.

Hoops, Delacorte, 1981.

The Legend of Tarik, Viking, 1981.

Won't Know Till I Get There, Viking, 1982.

The Nicholas Factor, Viking, 1983.

Tales of a Dead King, Morrow, 1983.

Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Delacorte, 1984.

Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Viking, 1984.

The Outside Shot, Delacorte, 1984.

Sweet Illusions, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1986.

Crystal, Viking, 1987.

Shadow of the Red Moon, Harper, 1987.

Fallen Angels, Scholastic, Inc., 1988.

Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid, Delacorte, 1988.

Scorpions, Harper, 1988.

The Mouse Rap, Harper & Row, 1990.

Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, Delacorte Press, 1992.

Now Is Your Time!: The African American Struggle for Freedom, HarperCollins, 1992.

A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, illustrated by Frederick Porter, Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1992.

The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, HarperCollins, 1992.

Somewhere in the Darkness, Scholastic, 1992.

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Scholastic, 1993.

Young Martin's Promise, Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1993.

Darnell Rock Reporting, Delacorte Press, 1994.

The Glory Field, Scholastic, 1994.

The Dragon Takes a Wife, illustrated by Fiona French, Scholastic, 1995.

Glorious Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins, 1995.

Shadow of the Red Moon, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic, 1995.

The Story of the Three Kingdoms, illustrated by Ashley Bryan, HarperCollins, 1995.

How Mr. Monkey Saw the WholeWorld, illustrated by Synthia Saint James, Doubleday, 1996.

More River to Cross: An African American Photograph Album, Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective: Case of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories, Scholastic, 1996.

Toussaint L'overtoure: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, illustrated by Jacob Lawrence, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, Dutton, 1997.

Harlem, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic, 1997.

Angel to Angel, HarperCollins, 1998.

Slam!, Scholastic, 1998.

At Her Majesty's Request, Scholastic, 1999.

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, Chisholm Trail, 1871 (My Name Is America), Scholastic, 1999.

The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: World War II, Normandy, France (My Name Is America), Scholastic, 1999.

Monster, HarperCollins, 1999.

145th Street: Short Stories, Delacorte, 2000.

The Blues of Flats Brown, illustrated by Nina Laden, Holiday House 2000.

The Greatest: The Life of Muhammad Ali, Scholastic, 2000.

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, HarperCollins 2000.

Bad Boy: A Memoir, HarperCollins, 2001.

The Journal of Biddy Owens: The Negro Leagues, 1948 (My Name Is America), Scholastic, 2001.

Handbook for Boys: A Novel, HarperCollins, 2002.

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam, illustrated by Ann Grafalconi, Harper Collins, 2002.

Three Swords for Granada, Holiday House, 2002.

The Beast, Scholastic, 2003.

Blues Journey, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House, 2003.

The Dream Bearer, HarperCollins, 2003.

A Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic, 2003.

Antarctica, Scholastic, 2004.

Constellation, Holiday House, 2004.

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Holiday House, 2004.

I've Seen the Promised Land; Martin Luther King, HarperCollins, 2004.

Shooter, HarperCollins, 2004.

Southern Fried, St. Martin's Minotaur, 2004.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother, illustrated by Christopher Myers, HarperCollins, 2005.

The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, HarperCollins, 2006.

Jazz, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House, 2006.

Street Love, HarperCollins, 2006.

Game, HarperTeen, 2008.

Sunrise over Fallujah, Scholastic, 2008.

Sources

Books

Bishop, Rudine Sims, Presenting Walter Dean Myers, Twayne, 1990.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale, 1984, pp. 199-202.

Rush, Theresa G., editor, Black American Writers: Past and Present, Scarecrow Press, 1975.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 2, Gale, 1986, pp. 143-56.

Periodicals

Booklist, May 1, 2008, p. 97; September 1, 2008, p. 121.

Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1993, section 7, p. 1.

Ebony, September 1975.

Jet, April 28, 2008, p. 37.

New York Times Book Review, November 9, 1986, p. 50; May 11, 2008.

World Literature Today, May-June 2007, p. 63.

Online

American Library Association, "Walter Dean Myers to Deliver 2009 Arbuthnot Honor Lecture," January 14, 2008, http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pressreleases2008/january2008/arbuthnot08.cfm (accessed October 1, 2008).

Carillo, Donna, "Walter Dean Myers on Stopping the Bullies," Scholastic News Online, http://teacher.scholastic.com/scholasticnews/indepth/bullying/bullying_news/index.asp?article=WalterDeanMyers&topic=0#, (accessed October 1, 2008).

Walter Dean Myers, http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/ (accessed October 1, 2008).

Other

Williams, Juan, "Walter Dean Myers: A ‘Bad Boy’ Makes Good," National Public Radio, August 19, 2008, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93699480 (accessed October 1, 2008).

—Anne Janette Johnson and Nancy Dziedzic

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Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

Walter Dean Myers 1937

Young adult writer

At a Glance

Filled a Void for Young Readers

Selected writings

Sources

Walter Dean Myers is one of the best known African-American writers in the field of young adult literature. Since the late 1970s, Myers has published more than two dozen novels, all of them for young black readers who seek realistic stories and recognizable characters. In the pages of his books Myers has tackled such pressing issues as teen pregnancy, crime, drug abuse, and gang violence, but he has also examined at length, the ties of family and friendship that exist in black communities everywhere. The authors work has received numerous national honors, including the Coretta Scott King award and the Newbery honor book citation. Carmen Subryan noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: Whether he is writing about the ghettos of New York, the remote countries of Africa, or social institutions, Myers captures the essence of the developing experiences of youth.

Myers is best known for his novels that explore the lives of young American blacks, but he is equally adept at producing fairy tales, ghost stories, science fiction, and adventure sagas. Subryan finds a common theme throughout Myerss far-ranging works. He is concerned with the development of youths, she wrote, and his message is always the same: young people must face the reality of growing up and must persevere, knowing that they can succeed despite any odds they face.! In her work Presenting Walter Dean Myers, Rudine Sims Bishop maintained that the author writes of love and laughter and offers compassion and hope. He writes of the need to find strength within oneself and of the possibility of finding strength within the group, whether the group is the family, the peer group, or the community.

Walter Milton Myers was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1937. Before he turned three years old, his mother died, leaving the family in chaos. In an essay for Something About the Author (SATA) Autobiography Series, Myers wrote: Hard times are common in West Virginia. When my mother died, my father was left to care for Imogene, myself, my brothers Douglas and George, and my sisters Géraldine, Ethel, Viola, and Gertrude. The situation quickly became impossible for Myerss father, but fate intervened. Extended families are common among poor people, Myers recalled. If a family is experiencing difficulty it is not out of the ordinary for another family, faring only slightly better, to take in one or more of the first familys children. Herbert and Florence Dean took me to raise.

At a Glance

Born Walter Milton Myers, August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, WV; son of George Ambrose and Mary (Green) Myers; raised from age three by Herbert Julius (a shipping clerk) and Florence (a factory worker) Dean; married second wife, Constance Brendel, June 19, 1973; children: (first marriage) Karen, Michael Dean; (second marriage) Christopher. Education: Attended State College of the City University of New York; Empire State College, B.A.

New York State Department of Labor, Brooklyn, NY, employment supervisor, 1966-69; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., New York City, senior trade book editor, 1970-77; writer, 1977. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-57.

Selected Awards: Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, 1968, for Where Does the Day Co?; American Library Associations Best books for young adults citations, 1978, for It Aint All for Nothing 1979, for The Young Landlords, and 1982, for Hoops; Coretta Scott King awards, 1980, for The Young Landlords, 1984, for Motown and Didi: A Love Story, and 1991 for Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom; Notable Childrens Trade Book in Social Studies citation, 1982, for The Legend of Tarik; Newbery honor book citation, 1989, for Scorpions.

Address: Home 2543 Kennedy Blvd., Jersey City, NJ 07304.

Herbert and Florence Dean, a hard-working couple with children of their own, became foster parents to Walter and two of his sisters. They all moved to the Harlem district of New York City, and both of the Deans found blue-collar jobs to support the children. Since Walter had been little more than a toddler when his mother died, he soon forgot the family tragedy and accepted the Dean household as his own. In turn, his foster parents treated him kindly. His new mother enjoyed hearing him read out loud, and his new father delighted in telling him scary storiesand sometimes acting them out as well. Myerss elementary school was integrated, and he grew up with Irish and Jewish friends.

Myers faced some difficulties in childhood, however. He was plagued by a speech impediment, and other youngsters teased him about it. Speaking in front of a class was particularly difficult for Myers, until one of his teachers suggested that he could write something of his own to read out loud. I began writing poems so that I could avoid the words that I could not pronounce, the author recalled in his SATA Autobiography Series essay. Myers discovered that he loved to write, and soon he was filling notebooks with handwritten stories, poetry, and journal entries. Ideas for his own work came from a variety of sourcesfrom the literature taught in his classrooms to the comic books he bought at the newsstand.

The fascination with words was a mixed blessing. Myers was classified as a bright student in school and was steered toward college-preparation courses. He won several awardsincluding a set of encyclopediasfor his essays and poetry, but frustration set in as his family made light of his academic achievements and encouraged him to be realistic about his future. I was from a family of laborers, and the idea of writing stories or essays was far removed from their experience, Myers clarified in SATA Autobiography Series. Writing had no practical value for a black child. Minor victories did not bolster my ego. Instead they convinced me that even though I might have some talent, I was still defined by factors other than my ability.

Although he thought he would never go to college, Myers continued writing. He bought a used typewriter with money he earned at a part-time job, and he read several books each week. At the age of 17 he joined the army, still convinced that writing would be only a lifetime hobby. After three years of military service he was able to pay part of his college tuition with money from the G.I. Bill. He earned a bachelors degree, married, and supported a family with a succession of jobs. Occasionally a periodical such as The Liberator or Negro Digest would publish one of his pieces. Myers was struggling to find himself and to determine his future. At last, he told in his SATA Autobiography Series essay, he made a choice. I decided that what I wanted to do with myself was to become a writer and live what I imagined would be the life of the writer, whatever that might be.

Filled a Void for Young Readers

By 1970 Myerss marriage had ended, a victim of his years of self-discovery. He was, however, beginning to make strides toward his goal of becoming a professional writer. In 1969 he published his first book, Where Does the Day Go?A picture book for children, Where Does the Day Go? features a group of children from several ethnic backgrounds who discuss their ideas about night and day with a sensitive and wise black father during a long walk. The book won a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. It also established Walter M. Myerswho would shortly change his name to honor his adopted parentsas an author addressing the needs of minority children who had too long been overlooked by the American publishing industry.

As the 1970s progressed, Myers worked as a senior editor for the Bobbs-Merrill publishing house. He also released more picture books and began writing the young adult novels for which he has become famous. Among his earliest fiction for teens were the books Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff and Mojo and the Russians. Both tales feature, in Subryans words, adventures depicting the learning experiences of most youths growing up in a big city where negative influences abound. Central to these and subsequent Walter Dean Myers stories is the concept of close friendships as a positive, nurturing influence, as well as the healing and strengthening power of humor. Drawing upon his own youthful experiences and the stories told him by his foster father, Myers has presented characters for whom urban life is an uplifting experience despite the dangers and disappointments lurking in the streets.

Myers did not necessarily set out to become a writer with a mission, but that is the way it turned out for him. As he began creating his own characters, he realized that he was reacting against the literature he had grown up readingthe books of his era which, if they featured blacks at all, portrayed them as idiots or buffoons. I was gaining an awareness of the black image in literature, film, and television, the author remembered in the SATA Autobiography Series. The image was disturbing. Blacks were portrayed as nonserious people. Perhaps we were sports figures, or hustlers, or comedians, but we were still nonserious. Remembering my own childhood, I realized what an effect that had on the black child. I hadnt been aware of feelings of inadequacy or the derivation of those feelings when I was a child. But I could see that I did feel inadequate as a black person. Everyone presented to me when I was a childpresidents, inventors, writers, composershad been white The message was that even the best of the blacks were somehow fatally flawed And so I have come to understand one of my roles, newly found and cautiously approached, but there nevertheless. As my books for teenagers gained in popularity I sensed that my soul-searching for my place in the artistic world was taking on an added dimension. As a black writer I had not only the personal desire to find myself, but the obligation to use my abilities to fill a void.

Myers has been fulfilling that obligation as a full-time writer for more than a decade. Books such as The Young Landlords and Sweet Illusions tell the stories of teenagers faced with adult responsibilities. Hoops and The Outside Shot offer realistic treatments of the place of sports in young peoples lives. It Aint All for Nothin, Wont Know Till I Get There, and Scorpions, among others, show young adult characters who overcome the lure of crime and drugs or the pain of broken families. In his SATA Autobiography Series essay, Myers wrote: I have a younger brother, Horace, who teaches in the New York City school system. When he asked me to come and speak to his class, I realized how few resources are available for black youngsters to open the world to them. I feel the need to show them the possibilities that exist for them that were never revealed to me as a youngster; possibilities that did not even exist for me then.

Today Myers is a respected elder statesman in the young adult literature market, an author who commands an audience that crosses all racial and economic lines. His commitment to providing quality literature for black children about black children has led him into the realms of fairy tale, fable, and science fiction, and he makes numerous personal appearances at schools and conventions to discuss his work and to encourage other writers to persevere. Myerss books have won a variety of awards, most notably the Coretta Scott King Award and the prestigious Newbery honor book citation (for Scorpions). Myers, who lives with his second wife in New Jersey, is a frequent traveler to Europe, South America, Africa, and the Far East. When he is home, he tries to write ten pages per day, and he may have several projects in motion at one time.

Reflecting on his career in his SATA Autobiography Series piece, Myers concluded: As a black writer I want to talk about my people. I want to tell the reader about an old black man I knew who told me he was God. I want to tell a reader how a blind man feels when he hears that he is not wanted because he is black. I want to tell black children about their humanity and about their history and how to grease their legs so the ash wont show and how to braid their hair so its easy to comb on frosty winter mornings. The books come. They pour from me at a great rate. I cant see how any writer can ever stop. There is always one more story to tell, one more person whose life needs to be held up to the sun.

Selected writings

(as Walter M. Myers) Where Does the Day Go?, illustrated by Leo Carty, Parents Magazine Press, 1969.

The Dancers, illustrated by Anne Rockwell, Parents Magazine Press, 1972.

The Dragon Takes a Wife, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Bobbs-Merrill, 1972.

Fly, Jimmy, Fly!, illustrated by Moneta Bamett, Putnam, 1974.

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, Viking, 1975.

The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career, Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

Social Welfare, F. Watts, 1976.

Brainstorm, with photographs by Chuck Freedman, F. Watts, 1977.

Victory for Jamie, Scholastic Book Services, 1977.

It Aint All for Nothin, Viking, 1978.

The Young Landlords, Viking, 1979.

The Black Pearl and the Ghost; or, One Mystery after Another, illustrated by Robert Quackenbush, Viking, 1980.

The Golden Serpent, illustrated by Alice Provensen and Martin Provensen, Viking, 1980.

Hoops, Delacorte, 1981.

The Legend of Tarik, Viking, 1981.

Wont Know Till I Get There, Viking, 1982.

The Nicholas Factor, Viking, 1983.

Tales of a Dead King, Morrow, 1983.

Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Delacorte, 1984.

Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Viking, 1984.

The Outside Shot, Delacorte, 1984.

Sweet Illusions, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1986.

Crystal, Viking, 1987.

Shadow of the Red Moon, Harper, 1987.

Fallen Angels, Scholastic, Inc., 1988.

Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid, Delacorte, 1988.

Scorpions, Harper, 1988.

The Mouse Rap, Harper & Row, 1990.

Now Is Your Time!: The African American Struggle for Freedom, HarperCollins, 1991.

Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, Delacorte Press, 1992.

A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, illustrated by Frederick Porter, Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1992.

The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, HarperCollins, 1992.

Somewhere in the Darkness, Scholastic, 1992. Young Martins Promise, Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1992.

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Scholastic, 1993.

The Arrow Series; for children

Adventure in Granada, Viking, 1985.

The Hidden Shrine, Viking, 1985.

Ambush in the Amazon, Viking, 1986.

Duel in the Desert, Viking, 1986.

Contributor to anthologies

Orde Coombs, editor, What We Must See: Young Black Storytellers, Dodd, 1971.

Sonia Sanchez, editor, We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans, Bantam, 1973.

Sources

Books

Bishop, Rudine Sims, Presenting Walter Dean Myers, Twayne, 1990.

Black Literature Criticism, Volume 3, Gale, 1992, pp. 1469-81.

Childrens Literature Review, Volume 4, Gale, 1982.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 35, Gale, 1985.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale, 1984, pp. 199-202.

Rush, Theresa G., editor, Black American Writers: Past

and Present, Scarecrow Press, 1975.

Something About the Author, Volume 71, Gale, 1993, pp. 133-37.

Something About the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 2, Gale, 1986, pp. 143-56.

Periodicals

Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1993, section 7, p. 1.

Ebony, September 1975.

New York Times Book Review, November 9, 1986, p. 50.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Myers, Walter Dean

Myers, Walter Dean

August 12, 1937 Martinsburg, West Virginia

Author

Walter Dean Myers is a pioneer of young adult fiction. His novels about urban teens and the challenges they face have won him both a devoted readership and dozens of book awards. His eighty-plus titles include Monster, Scorpions, and a memoir of his own youth, Bad Boy. Once thought to have been aimed at the so-called "at-risk" reader, Myers's books have stood the test of time as "poignant, tough stories for and about kids who don't appear in most storybooks," asserted Sue Corbett in a Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service report. "Children whose fathers are absent or jailed. Children who share playgrounds with drug dealers and gangs. Teens struggling to maintain their dignity while living with poverty, violence and fear."

Raised by another family

Born in 1937, Myers's own early life was marked by challenges, but they were those of a different era. He was born in the midst of the Great Depression (192941), and spent the first few years of his life in a hardscrabble West Virginia town called Martinsburg. It was about ten miles away from the former plantation on which his ancestors had once toiled as slaves. His family was extremely poor, and his mother died when he was a toddler, while giving birth to another child. A married woman who had been a friend of his mother's, Florence Dean, adopted him. Such informal adoptions were not unusual during the era. Though he was christened Walter Milton Myers, he later substituted "Dean" for his middle name in honor of the foster family who raised him.

The Deans soon moved to New York City and settled in Harlem, the northern Manhattan neighborhood that was the center of black life in the city. His foster father, Herbert, worked as a janitor and also in factories, often holding down two jobs to make ends meet. Both he and his wife had little formal schooling, but Florence had taught herself to read, and she then taught her adopted son by letting him read the True Romance magazine stories she liked. He progressed to reading comic books, but a teacher discovered him with one in class at P.S. 125 one day. "She grabbed my comic book and tore it up," Myers recalled on a biography that appeared on the Scholastic Web site. "I was really upset, but then she brought in a pile of books from her own library. That was the best thing that ever happened to me." He became a bookworm, and regularly checked books out of his local librarybut he carried them home in a paper bag so that other kids would not tease him.

"I'm not interested in building ideal families in my books. I'm more attracted to reading about poorer people, and I'm more attracted to writing about them as well."

A caring community

Although Harlem would later become a violent, drug-troubled area, it was a far more balanced community when Myers was growing up there. Because neighborhoods elsewhere were not welcoming to African Americans, Harlem was home to black judges, doctors, and other professionals, as well as to ordinary working families. Myers even lived near the poet Langston Hughes (19021967). Hughes was one of the leading names of the Harlem Renaissance, the flourishing of African American music, literature, and other forms of art that began in the 1920s. Myers once spied the famous writer sitting on his front steps "drinking beer, but I didn't think much of him," he told Jennifer M. Brown in a Publishers Weekly interview. "He didn't fit my stereotype of what serious writers should be. He wasn't writing about Venice."

Major Works by Myers

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff (novel), Viking Press, 1975.

Mojo and the Russians (novel), Viking Press, 1977.

Hoops (novel), Delacorte Press, 1981.

Fallen Angels (novel), Scholastic, 1988.

The Great Migration: An American Story (poems; paintings by Jacob Lawrence), HarperCollins, 1993.

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary (biography), Scholastic, 1993.

The Glory Field (novel), Scholastic, 1994.

Slam! (novel), Scholastic, 1996.

Harlem: A Poem, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic, 1997.

Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom (nonfiction), Dutton, 1998.

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England (nonfiction), Scholastic, 1999.

Monster (novel; illustrated by Christopher Myers), HarperCollins, 1999.

145th Street: Short Stories, Delacorte Press, 2000.

The Blues of Flats Brown (picture book; illustrated by Nina Laden), Holiday House, 2000.

Bad Boy: A Memoir, HarperCollins, 2001.

Handbook for Boys (novel), HarperCollins, 2002.

Myers retreated into books in part because he suffered from a speech impediment. When other kids made fun of him, he sometimes hit them. One teacher realized he could read aloud in class with little difficulty if he was reading words that he had written himself, and encouraged him to write more. Another teacher found a speech therapist for Myers, and also channeled the child's bossy nature into a role as the class leader. "He gave me permission to be a bright kid, permission to be smart," a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article by Jim Higgins quoted Myers as saying.

During his teens Myers became disillusioned over his lot in life. He continued to get into trouble at school, and realized that not many avenues would be open to him once he left high school. Even though he was a bright student, he knew there were few resources available for blacks. "My folks couldn't send me to even a free college," he told Amanda Smith in Publishers Weekly. "There were days when I didn't have clothing to wear to high school, and I just didn't go." He dropped out of Stuyvesant High School, and, on his seventeenth birthday in 1954, he enlisted in the Army. He served three years and returned to New York City to take a series of low-paying jobs. He worked in the post office, as a messenger, and as a factory interviewer for the New York State Bureau of Labor.

Entered writing contest

Myers had been writing since his school days, and had even won awards for his work. He had never thought that his short stories could provide a career for him, but in the 1960s he began to submit his work to magazines. He also found freelance work for publications like the National Enquirer. In 1968 he entered and won a competition sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children for African-American writers. His winning entry became a picture book, Where Does the Day Go? Its simple, charming plot involves a walk in the park led by a kindly African American dad; he takes along several children from different ethnic backgrounds, and all offer their various ideas about the sun, moon, and passage of time.

In the early 1970s Myers wrote several other picture books for young readers, including The Dragon Takes a Wife and How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World. He was hired at the Bobbs-Merrill publishing house, and spent seven years there learning the book business from the editorial side. He went on to earn a college degree from Empire State College. His first novel for teens, Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, was published in 1975. It came about entirely by accident, thanks to a short story he had submitted to his agent, who sent it on to an editor. The editor assumed it was a chapter in a book, and when she ran into Myers at a party she asked how the rest of the project was going. As he recalled in the interview with Smith, "I said, 'It goes like this,' and I made it up on the spot. She offered me a contract."

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff tells the story of the summer when Francis, a.k.a. "Stuff," moves to 116th Street in Harlem. He and his friends, Clyde and Sam, shoot baskets and try to steer clear of the dangers on the streets. The book became a classic of young adult fiction, praised by readers for its humor, and taught in schools for its message about self-esteem and community. Myers found a steady market for his novels after that, and began publishing one every year. His 1979 title The Young Landlords, about a group of teens who are given an apartment building to manage on their own, was the first of his works to win a Coretta Scott King Award from the American Library Association. The annual honor is given to the top book for young readers by an African American author.

Teen titles won devoted audience

Myers would win the King award several more times for other books. Motown and Didi: A Love Story was the next to earn the honor. The 1985 novel is set in Harlem, where Didi and her boyfriend, Motown, fall in love. He wants to find a good job, while Didi hopes to go to college, but their more immediate goal is to keep her brother out of trouble and away from the local drug kingpin.

Four years later, Myers won again for Fallen Angels, about a Harlem teen who enlists in the Army during the Vietnam War (195475). Myers called upon his own recollections of military service to write it, but the work was really written in honor of his younger brother, Sonny, who followed in Myers's footsteps and enlisted in the Army in 1968. Sonny was sent to Southeast Asia at the height of American involvement in the Vietnam conflict, and was killed in combat on his first day. Like most of Myers's works, it became a staple on school and public library bookshelves. Years later, he said the best letter he ever received from a reader was from a young man who had wanted to enlist in the military because of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. "He was so excited he couldn't wait until he turned 17 to join up," Myers recalled in the interview with Smith. "He read my book and changed his mind."

Scorpions, which also appeared in 1988, recounts the story of Jamal, a middle-schooler who unwisely accepts a gun when an older teen asks him to hold onto it for him. The plot was inspired by a true-life tale: Myers and his sons once played ball in their neighborhood park with another kid, who later disappeared. They later learned he was involved in a shooting. Somewhere in the Darkness, which won the King award in 1993, is a characteristic Myers tale, both in its challenging fictional premise and in the compelling story the author weaves around it. This novel involves Jimmy Little, who lives in Harlem with his foster family. His father, Crab, has just been released from prison, and arrives to take Jimmy on a road trip. On their journey down South, Jimmy begins to realize his father is fatally ill and wants to clear his name of the crime that sent him to prison.

Collector of vintage images

Myers has written historical fiction as well as his contemporary novels for young adults. He has also written poetry and compiled photo albums that feature images of African American families over the generations. Myers collects these historical photos from rare book dealers and antiques stores during his book tours across the United States. One of these works is One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album, which depicts families' journeys, from the slavery era to the migration to northern cities in the early years of the twentieth century. The idea for these books, Myers said, came when he was teaching writing to youngsters in a Jersey City elementary school near his home. As an assignment, he had them bring in images of their grandparents when they were children. "The kids loved the photographs," he explained to Brown. "They wanted to learn why their grandparents would wear those kinds [of] clothes, shoes, what kind of house they lived in."

Myers has worked with his son, Christopher, who illustrated Harlem: A Poem, another Coretta Scott King award-winner. His 1999 novel Monster won that award, as well as the Michael L. Printz Award, another honor from the American Library Association. Monster recounts the terrible chain of events that lands sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon on trial for murder. Steve, who comes from a stable household and had hoped to become a filmmaker, was asked by some tougher kids in his neighborhood to serve as lookout during a store robbery. The owner is killed, and the teens are arrested. Myers spares no detail when describing Steve's fear of being preyed upon by the veteran teen criminals with whom he is housed. Patty Campbell, in a review for Horn Book, compared Myers's latest work to the classics Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and others. She asserted that Myers's "stunning new novel ... joins these landmark books. Looking backward, Monster is the peak achievement of a career that has paralleled the growth of the genre."

Myers has written dozens of books over the years, including biographies of Malcolm X (19251965) and Muhammad Ali (1942). He finally chronicled his own fascinating life story in Bad Boy: A Memoir, which appeared in 2002. He dedicated it to the sixth-grade teacher who found him professional help for his speech difficulty. Myers writes of his teen years in Harlem, and his flirtations with the criminal element, but also details his path to becoming a successful author. His story is all the more remarkable when he reveals that his foster father never learned to reada discovery Myers made only after the man died. "Sometimes my father would have me read something to him," Myers wrote in his autobiography, "telling me it was because of his weak eyes." Many years later, when his father was dying, Myers gave him a book on which he and his son had collaborated, but his father never commented on it. "After his death, I went through his papers and saw the childlike scrawl that he used to fill out forms, and the misunderstandings he had of those forms.... Other correspondence indicated that his business affairs were being supervised by a friend at his job. It was then I realized that he had never commented on any of my books because he couldn't read them"

For More Information

Periodicals

Brown, Jennifer M. "Walter Dean Myers Unites Two Passions." Publishers Weekly (March 22, 1999): p. 45.

Campbell, Patty. "Monster. " Horn Book (January 2000): p. 42.

Corbett, Sue. "Walter Dean Myers Has Been Writing Poignant, Tough Stories for and About At-Risk Kids." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (January 26, 2000): p. K6508.

Gallo, Don. "A Man of Many Ideas: Walter Dean Myers." Writing! (February-March 2004): p. 10.

Higgins, Jim. "Former 'Bad Boy' Taps into Youths' Minds, Struggles." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (May 26, 2002): p. 1.

McElmeel, Sharron L. "A Profile: Walter Dean Myers." Book Report (September-October 2001): p. 42.

Smith, Amanda. "Walter Dean Myers: This Award-Winning Author for Young People Tells It Like It Is." Publishers Weekly (July 20, 1992): p. 217.

"Somewhere in the Darkness. " Publishers Weekly (March 9, 1992): p. 58.

Web Sites

Myers, Walter Dean. "Author Studies Homepage." Scholastic Books. http://www2.scholastic.com/teachers/authorsandbooks/authorstudies/authorhome.jhtml?authorID=67&collateralID=5250&displayName=Biography (accessed on July 15, 2004).

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Myers, Walter Dean

Walter Dean Myers
1937–

Writer

Given his background, Walter Dean Myers seems an unlikely literary success. He was a troubled child living with foster parents in Harlem. It seemed more probable that he would end up a "demographic disaster waiting to happen," according to the Los Angeles Times, than a renowned writer of more than seventy-five critically acclaimed works for children and young adults. Myers is the acclaimed author of Monster, Handbook for Boys, Bad Boy, Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, and Harlem: A Poem, among others. He is the first winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, a National Book Award finalist, and a Coretta Scott King, Boston Globe-Horn, Newbery, and Caldecott honoree. He speaks frankly about his difficult childhood and how he chose to take responsibility for his life and make something of it.

Myers was born in poverty in Martinsburg, West Virginia on August 12, 1937 to a father who had "many children by almost as many mothers," according to the Los Angeles Times. After his mother died, he was handed over at age three by his father to a foster family, the Deans, who loved him dearly. They informally adopted him and raised him in Harlem. His new mother, a half-German, half-Indian woman who was minimally educated herself, taught him to read by reading True Romance magazine to him. Eventually he was able to read magazines and newspapers to her. When Myers' teacher caught him reading comics in class, she tore them up and gave him a pile of classic books from her own collection. "That was the best thing that ever happened to me," Myers told the Times. He also found a sanctuary in the local public library: "Books took me, not so much to foreign lands and fanciful adventures," he is quoted as saying at TeenRead.com, "but to a place within myself that I have been exploring ever since. The public library was my most treasured place. I couldn't believe my luck in discovering that what I enjoyed most—reading—was free."

Feels Alienated by Classic Works

But little of what Myers read reflected his own reality. Growing up in Harlem in the 1950s, Myers listened to the music of Motown and heard Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington when they performed at the Apollo Theater. It was common to see boxer Sugar Ray Robinson driving through town in his huge pink car or to see author Langston Hughes being interviewed on the street. "What Myers read … was largely limited to white authors, frequently British, and often about rich people," according to the Sarasota Herald Tribune. "I began a quiet devaluation of myself," he told the Sarasota Herald Tribune. "Books transmit values, so when a young person goes to school or a young person picks up a book, they should find things of value. But I could not find myself in those books." That changed when he picked up James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues, a story about Harlem and the world in which Myers grew up.

Myers may have loved going to the public library, but he was not a typical bookworm. Along with speech problems, he had a bad attitude and was constantly clashing with his parents, school administrators, and local authorities. "I had this very severe speech difficulty, and I arrived in school ready to conquer the world, but no one could understand a thing I was saying. That was very frustrating for me, and I responded by being angry," Myers wrote at TeenReads.com. His sixth grade teacher, a former Marine, decided to take Myers on. He spent the entire school year encouraging Myers, telling him he was smart, rather than focusing on his bad behavior. It worked. By the time he reached high school, Myers had "decided he was an intellectual," according to the Los Angeles Times. However, no matter how bright he was, college was not on the horizon for the low-income kid from Harlem. Myers dropped out of high school at age seventeen and joined the U.S. Army.

Myers, at 6-foot-2-inches tall with some talent, found himself a star on an army basketball team. When his team lost a finals tournament on which a colonel had heavily bet, the colonel shipped the entire team to the Arctic as punishment. Myers did not see it as punishment, however; he loved the frozen adventure.

Decides to be a Writer

Once out of the army, Myers worked dead-end jobs. "So I decided to try writing. It was cheap, no overhead," Myers told the Los Angeles Times. "You didn't have to have success. I could think of myself as a writer, even a would-be writer, rather than a truck-loader." He decided he would become a Great American Novelist. Instead, he was paid $15 or $20 per article by tabloids such as the National Enquirer. He later wrote fiction and nonfiction for men's magazines. "It was the early 1960s, a dicey time in the country's color consciousness," he stated, according to the Los Angeles Times. But since he was writing, and not meeting his editors face to face, "I was facing absolutely no color line," Myers said. But he was not yet making a living as a writer.

Myers finally found success in 1968, when he won a contest run by the Council on Interracial Books for Children, for the text of a picture book, Where Does the Day Go? It was his first book. From there, he worked as an editor at the Bobbs-Merrill publishing company while continuing to write and achieve recognition, particularly for his teen novels. After 1977 he wrote full-time for a living and did not have another job.

Myers wrote about what he knew. In Hoops (1981), a basketball coach tries to keep a talented teen on the right path. In Fallen Angels (1988), a Harlem teen fights in Vietnam and begins to question both the war itself and why black soldiers draw many of the dangerous assignments. 145th Street Stories (2000) and his memoir Bad Boy (2001) are about his childhood neighborhood and his troubled youth. His Handbook for Boys (2003) can be read as a guidebook about how young men fit into the larger society around them, and Harlem: A Poem (2004) is among his many works that reflect on his childhood home.

Looks to Himself for Inspiration

Myers' writing also reflects his intense interest in history and culture. Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary (1993) is a biography of the late civil rights activist for preteens. For At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England (1999), Myers pored over historical documents and letters and pieced together the true story of an orphaned African girl given to Queen Victoria as a gift.

Myers writes fairy tales, historical novels, and biographies. But his "streetwise, honest, empathetic stories about African American teens facing challenges and making difficult decisions have made him a lion in his field," according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Over the years, he has reclaimed or transformed nearly everything that hurt or touched him into a book." Myers's 1999 novel Monster, in which a teen tells the story of his trial for robbery and murder, was his most commercially successful work, and increased Myers' freedom to write about most anything he wants.

Chronology

1937
Born in Martinsburg, West Virginia on August 12
1954
Drops out of high school and joins Army
1968
Wins Council on Interracial Books for Children Award for Where Does the Day Go?
1970
Takes job as an editor at the Bobbs-Merrill publishing company
1977
Laid off from publishing company; begins to work full-time as a writer
1993
Writes biography Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary
1999
Writes novel Monster
2001
Writes memoir Bad Boy
2003
Writes Handbook for Boys
2004
Writes Harlem: A Poem

Myers lives with his family in Jersey City, New Jersey. He helped establish the Walter Dean Myers Publishing Institute, part of the Langston Hughes Children's Literature Festival, and makes frequent appearances with the National Basketball Association's "Read to Achieve" literacy program.

REFERENCES

Periodicals

"Former 'Bad Boy' Taps into Youths' Minds, Struggles." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 24 May 2002.

"Harlem Writer Myers Repays a Debt."Sarasota Herald Tribune, 21 April 2002.

Mehren, Elizabeth. "Fountain of Stories for Youth; Walter Dean Myers Writes Books for Young People. But Their Realism and Richness Have Adults Reading Them Too."LOS ANGELES TIMES, 15 October 1997.

Online

"Walter Dean Myers." Rutgers School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies. http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/∼kvander/myers.html(Accessed 7 October 2005).

"Walter Dean Myers." TeenReads. http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-myers-walterdean.asp (Accessed 23 March 2005).

"Walter Dean Myers biography." Walter Dean Myers.http://www.walterdeanmyersbooks.com (Accessed 23 March 2005).

                                    Brenna Sanchez

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Myers, Walter Dean

MYERS, Walter Dean

MYERS, Walter Dean. American, b. 1937. Genres: Children's fiction, Young adult fiction, Business/Trade/Industry, Young adult non-fiction. Career: Freelance writer, 1977-. New York State Dept. of Labor, Brooklyn, employment supervisor, 1966-69; Bobbs Merrill Publishers, NYC, senior ed., 1970-77; teacher of creative writing and Black history, NYC, 1974-75. Publications: FICTION FOR CHILDREN: (as Walter M. Myers) Where Does the Day Go?, 1969; The Dragon Takes a Wife, 1972; The Dancers, 1972; Fly, Jimmy, Fly!, 1974; The Story of the Three Kingdoms, 1995; How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, 1996; The Blues of Flats Brown, 2000. YOUNG ADULT FICTION: Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, 1975; Brainstorm, 1977; Mojo and the Russians, 1977; Victory for Jamie, 1977; It Ain't All for Nothin', 1978; The Young Landlords, 1979; The Black Pearl and the Ghost, 1980; The Golden Serpent, 1980; Hoops, 1981; The Legend of Tarik, 1981; Won't Know till I Get There, 1982; The Nicholas Factor, 1983; Tales of a Dead King, 1983; Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, 1984; Motown and Didi: A Love Story, 1984; The Outside Shot, 1984; Adventure in Granada, 1985; The Hidden Shrine, 1985; Duel in the Desert, 1986; Ambush in the Amazon, 1986; Sweet Illusions, 1987; Crystal, 1987; Shadow of the Red Moon, 1987; Fallen Angels, 1988; Scorpions, 1988; Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid, 1988; The Mouse Rap, 1990; Somewhere in the Darkness, 1992; The Righteous Revenge of Artemus Bonner, 1992; Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, 1992; Darnell Rock, Reporting, 1994; The Glory Field, 1994; Slam!, 1996; Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective, 1996; The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, 1999; The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier, 1999; Monster, 1999; 145th Street (short stories), 2000; The Journal of Biddy Owens, the Negro Leagues, 2001; Patrol, 2001; Handbook for Boys, 2002; Three Swords for Granada, 2002; The Dream Bearer, 2003; The Beast, 2003. YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION: The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career, 1975; Social Welfare, 1976; Now Is Your Time!, 1991; A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, 1992; Young Martin's Promise, 1992; Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, 1993; Remember Us Well: An Album of Pictures and Verse, 1993; Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, 1996; One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album, 1996; Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, 1998; At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, 1999; Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, 2000; Bad Boy (memoir), 2001; The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, 2001; A Time to Love: Tales from the Old Testament, 2002. POETRY: The Great Migration, 1993; Brown Angels, 1993; Glorious Angels, 1995; Harlem, 1997; Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love, 1998; blues journey, 2001. Address: 2543 Kennedy Blvd, Jersey City, NJ 07304, U.S.A.

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Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

(Stacie Johnson, Walter M. Myers)

PERSONAL:

Born Walter Milton Myers, August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, WV; son of George Ambrose and Mary Myers; raised from age three by Herbert Julius (a shipping clerk) and Florence (a factory worker) Dean; married (marriage dissolved); married Constance Brendel, June 19, 1973; children: (first marriage) Karen, Michael Dean; (second marriage) Christopher. Education: Attended City College of the City University of New York; Empire State College, B.A., 1984.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Jersey City, NJ. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

New York State Department of Labor, New York, NY, employment supervisor, 1966-70; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc. (publisher), New York, NY, senior trade books editor, 1970-77; full-time writer, beginning 1977. Teacher of creative writing and black history on a part-time basis in New York, NY, 1974-75; worked variously as a post-office clerk, inter-office messenger, and an interviewer at a factory. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954-57.

MEMBER:

PEN, Harlem Writers Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, 1968, for Where Does the Day Go?; Children's Book of the Year, Child Study Association of America (CSAA), 1972, for The Dancers; Notable Book designation, American Library Association (ALA), 1975, and Woodward Park School Annual Book Award, 1976, both for Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff; Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1978, for It Ain't All for Nothin', and 1979, for The Young Landlords; Coretta Scott King Award, 1980, for The Young Landlords; Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1981, and Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1982, both for The Legend of Tarik; runner-up, Edgar Allan Poe Award, and Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1982, both for Hoops; Parents' Choice Award, Parents' Choice Foundation, 1982, for Won't Know till I Get There, 1984, for The Outside Shot, and 1988, for Fallen Angels; New Jersey Institute of Technology Authors Award, 1983, for Tales of a Dead King; Coretta Scott King Award, 1985, for Motown and Didi; Children's Book of the Year, CSAA, 1987, for Adventure in Granada; Parents' Choice Award, 1987, for Crystal; New Jersey Institute of Technology Authors Award and Best Books for Young Adults designation, ALA, 1988, Coretta Scott King Award, 1989, and Children's Book Award, South Carolina Association of School Librarians, 1991, all for Fallen Angels; Notable Book and Best Books for Young Adults designations, ALA, both 1988, both for Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid; Notable Book designation, ALA, 1988, and Newbery Medal Honor Book designation, ALA, 1989, both for Scorpions; Parents' Choice Award, 1990, for The Mouse Rap; Golden Kite Award Honor Book, and Jane Addams Award Honor Book designation, both 1991, and Coretta Scott King Award, and Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book designation, both 1992, all for Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom; Parents' Choice Award, 1992, for The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book, 1992, and Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, and Newbery Medal Honor Book designation, both 1993, all for Somewhere in the Darkness; Jeremiah Ludington Award, Educational Paperback Association, 1993, for "18 Pine St." series; CRABberry Award, 1993, for Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary; Margaret A. Edwards Award, ALA/School Library Journal, 1994, for contributions to young adult literature; Coretta Scott King Award, 1997, for Slam!; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book designation, 1997, for Harlem: A Poem; Michael Printz Award, and Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book designation, both ALA, both 2000, both for Monster; Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, International Reading Association, 2005, for Here in Harlem; May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award, ALA, 2009; several child-selected awards.

WRITINGS:

FICTION; FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.

Brainstorm, photographs by Chuck Freedman, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1977.

Mojo and the Russians, Viking (New York, NY), 1977.

Victory for Jamie, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1977.

It Ain't All for Nothin', Viking (New York, NY), 1978.

The Young Landlords, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.

The Golden Serpent, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Hoops, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1981.

The Legend of Tarik, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.

Won't Know till I Get There, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.

The Nicholas Factor, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.

Tales of a Dead King, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.

Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.

The Outside Shot, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.

Sweet Illusions, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1986.

Crystal, Viking (New York, NY), 1987, reprinted, HarperTrophy (New York, NY), 2001.

Scorpions, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.

Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid, illustrated by Rodney Pate, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.

Fallen Angels, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1988.

The Mouse Rap, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.

Somewhere in the Darkness, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.

Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.

The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

The Glory Field, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

Darnell Rock Reporting, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.

Shadow of the Red Moon, illustrated by son Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.

Sniffy Blue, Ace Crime Detective: The Case of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories, illustrated by David J.A. Sims, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

Slam!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.

The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier, Normandy, France, 1944, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Monster, illustrated by Christopher Myers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

The Blues of Flats Brown, illustrated by Nina Laden, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

145th Street: Short Stories, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

The Journal of Biddy Owens and the Negro Leagues, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Three Swords for Granada, illustrated by John Speirs, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

Handbook for Boys, illustrated by Matthew Bandsuch, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

A Time to Love: Stories from the Old Testament, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

The Beast, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

The Dream Bearer, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Shooter, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2004.

Southern Fried, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother, HarperTempest/Amistad (New York, NY), 2005.

Street Love, HarperTempest/Amistad (New York, NY), 2006.

Harlem Summer, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2007.

What They Found: Love on 145th St. (short stories), Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Game, HarperTeen (New York, NY), 2008.

Sunrise over Fallujah (sequel to Fallen Angels), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2008.

Dope Stick, HarperTeen/Amistad (New York, NY), 2009.

Creator and editor of "18 Pine Street" series of young-adult novels, Bantam, beginning 1992. Work represented in anthologies, including What We Must SEE: Young Black Storytellers, Dodd, 1971, and We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans.

"ARROW" SERIES

Adventure in Granada, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

The Hidden Shrine, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

Duel in the Desert, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

Ambush in the Amazon, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.

JUVENILE NONFICTION

The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1975.

Social Welfare, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1976.

Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, illustrated by Frederick Porter, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Young Martin's Promise (picture book), illustrated by Barbara Higgins Bond, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Turning Points: When Everything Changes, Troll Communications (Matwah, NJ), 1996.

Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, illustrated by Jacob Lawrence, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.

Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Bad Boy: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

USS Constellation: Pride of the American Navy, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

(With William Miles) The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2008.

PICTURE BOOKS

(Under name Walter M. Myers) Where Does the Day Go?, illustrated by Leo Carty, Parents' Magazine Press, 1969.

The Dragon Takes a Wife, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1972.

The Dancers, illustrated by Anne Rockwell, Parents' Magazine Press, 1972.

Fly, Jimmy, Fly!, illustrated by Moneta Barnett, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974.

The Black Pearl and the Ghost; or, One Mystery after Another, illustrated by Robert Quackenbush, Viking (New York, NY), 1980.

Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1984.

The Story of the Three Kingdoms, illustrated by Ashley Bryan, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, illustrated by Synthia Saint James, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.

Harlem: A Poem, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.

Jazz, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.

Amiri and Odette: A Dance for Two, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2009.

POETRY

Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Remember Us Well: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Blues Journey, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

UNDER NAME STACIE JOHNSON

Sort of Sisters, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.

The Party, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.

The Prince, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.

Contributor of articles and fiction to books and to periodicals, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Argosy, Black Creation, Black World, Boy's Life, Ebony, Jr.!, Espionage, Essence, McCall's, National Enquirer, Negro Digest, and Scholastic; also contributor of poetry to university reviews and quarterlies.

ADAPTATIONS:

The Young Landlords was made into a film by Topol Productions. Mojo and the Russians was made into a videorecording by Children's Television International, Great Plains National Instructional Television Library, 1980. Demco Media released videos of Fallen Angels and Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid in 1988, Scorpions in 1990, and The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner in 1996. Darnell Rock Reporting was released on video in 1996. Harlem: A Poem was released as a combination book and audio version in 1997. Scorpions was adapted as a sound recording in 1998.

SIDELIGHTS:

Deemed "a giant among children's and young adult authors" by Frances Bradburn in the Wilson Library Bulletin, Walter Dean Myers ranks among the best-known contemporary American writers for children and teens. An author of African American descent, Myers is credited with helping to redefine the image of blacks in juvenile literature through award-winning books such as The Glory Field, Monster, and Somewhere in the Darkness.

During the 1960s and 1970s African American writers such as Alice Childress, Lucille Clifton, Eloise Greenfield, Virginia Hamilton, and Sharon Bell Mathis sought to provide realistic story lines and well-rounded portrayals of black characters in books for younger readers. As a member of this group, Myers distinguished himself by bringing both humor and poignancy to his work, as well by creating books with special appeal to boys; in addition, he is considered the only prominent male writer of the group to have consistently published books of quality. A versatile and prolific author, Myers has written realistic and historical fiction, mysteries, adventure stories, fantasies, nonfiction, poetry, and picture books. Praised for his contributions to several genres, he is perhaps best known for his books geared for readers in middle school and high school, stories that range from farcical, lighthearted tales for preteens to powerful, moving novels for older adolescents. My- ers stresses the more positive aspects of black urban life in his works; often setting his stories in his boyhood home of Harlem, he is acknowledged for depicting the strength and dignity of his characters without downplaying the harsh realities of their lives.

Although he features both young men and women as protagonists, Myers is noted for his focus on young black males. His themes often include the relationship between fathers and sons as well as the search for identity and self-worth in an environment of poverty, drugs, gangs, and racism. Although his characters confront difficult issues, Myers stresses survival, pride, and hope in his works, which are filled with love and laughter and a strong sense of possibility for the future of their protagonists. Lauded for his understanding of the young, Myers is acclaimed as the creator of believable, sympathetic adolescent characters; he is also praised for creating realistic dialogue, some of which draws on rap music and other aspects of black culture.

Calling Myers "a unique voice," Rudine Sims Bishop wrote in Presenting Walter Dean Myers that the author is significant "because he creates books that appeal to young adults from many cultural groups. They appeal because Myers knows and cares about the things that concern his readers and because he creates characters … readers are happy to spend time with." R.D. Lane noted in the African American Review that the author "celebrates children by weaving narratives of the black juvenile experience in ways that reverse the effects of mediated messages of the black experience in public culture…. Myers's stratagem is revolutionary: the intrinsic value to black youth of his lessons stands priceless, timeless, and class-transcendent." In her entry in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Carmen Subryan concluded that "Myers's books demonstrate that writers can not only challenge the minds of black youths but also emphasize the black experience in a nondidactic way that benefits all readers."

Born Walter Milton Myers in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Myers lost his mother, Mary Green Myers, at age two, during the birth of his younger sister Imogene. Since his father, George Ambrose Myers, was struggling economically, Walter and two of his sisters were informally adopted by family friends Florence and Herbert Dean; Myers has written about surrogate parenting in several of his stories, including Won't Know Till I Get There and Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid.

The Dean family moved to Harlem when Myers was about three years old. He recalled in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS): "I loved Harlem. I lived in an exciting corner of the renowned Black capital and in an exciting era. The people I met there, the things I did, have left a permanent impression on me." When he was four years old Myers was taught to read by his foster mother; his foster father sat the boy on his knee and told him "endless stories." The author later wrote in Children's Books and Their Creators: "Somewhere along the line I discovered that books could be part of a child's world, and by the time I was nine I found myself spending long hours reading in my room. The books began to shape new bouts of imagination."

When not reading, Myers enjoyed playing sports, especially stickball, baseball, and basketball, and sports provide the background for young-adult novels such as Hoops, The Outside Shot, and Slam! At school, he enjoyed classwork but found that a speech impediment caused him some difficulty. His fellow classmates would laugh at him and, as a result, he would fight back; consequently, he was often suspended from school. When Myers was in fifth grade, as he recalled in SAAS, "a marvelous thing happened." Made to sit at the back of the class for fighting, he was reading a comic book during a math lesson when the teacher, Mrs. Conway, caught him. Mrs. Conway, who was known for her meanness, surprised Walter by saying that if he was going to read, he might as well read something decent, and she brought him a selection of children's books; Myers remembered Asbjornsen and Moe's East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a collection of Norwegian folktales, as a turning point in his appreciation of literature. Mrs. Conway also required her students to read aloud in class. In order to avoid some of the words that he had trouble speaking, she suggested that Walter write something for himself to read.

After junior high, Myers attended Stuyvesant High School, a school for boys that stressed academic achievement. Although he struggled somewhat due to the school's focus on science, he met another influential teacher, Bonnie Liebow, who interviewed each of her students and made up individualized reading lists for them. Myers's list included works by such European authors as Emile Zola and Thomas Mann. Liebow also told Myers that he was a gifted writer, inspiring him to consider writing as a career.

Despite this encouragement, as a teen Myers realized that writing "had no practical value for a Black child," as he recalled. "These minor victories did not bolster my ego. Instead, they convinced me that even though I was bright, even though I might have some talent, I was still defined by factors other than my ability." In addition, Myers was depressed by the fact that he would not be able to attend college due to his family's financial status. Consequently, he wrote in SAAS, he began "writing poems about death, despair, and doom" and began "having doubts about everything in my life."

When not writing or working odd jobs, Myers hung out in the streets: "I was steeped in the mystique of the semi-hoodlum," he recalled in SAAS. He acquired a stiletto and acted as a drug courier; he also became a target for one of the local gangs after intervening in a fight between three gang members and a new boy in the neighborhood. Finally, influenced by the war poems of British writer Rupert Brooke, Myers joined the army at age seventeen in order to, as he wrote in SAAS, "hie myself off to some far-off battlefield and get killed. There, where I fell, would be a little piece of Harlem."

In Bad Boy: A Memoir, Myers recounts his childhood, then takes the reader through his adolescence—during which he often skipped school and sometimes made deliveries for drug dealers—and to his beginnings as a writer. Rochman said of this work that "the most beautiful writing is about Mama: how she taught him to read, sharing True Romance magazines." "The author's growing awareness of racism and of his own identity as a black man make up one of the most interesting threads" of Bad Boy, wrote Miranda Doyle in School Library Journal. Myers's "voice and heart are consistently heard and felt throughout," concluded a Horn Book contributor.

Myers's army experience was less than the glorious adventure promised by the poetry he had read; he went to radio-repair school and spent most of his time playing basketball. "I also learned several efficient ways of killing human beings," he later recalled. In addition, as he told Bishop in Presenting Walter Dean Myers, "I learned something about dying. I learned a lot about facilitating the process, of making it abstract." During his military service, Myer also developed the strong antiwar attitude that would later become part of his young-adult novel Fallen Angels, the story of a young black soldier in Vietnam.

After three years in the U.S. Army, Myers returned home to his parents, who had by now moved to Morristown, New Jersey. Then he returned to Harlem, where he took an apartment and began to work at becoming a professional writer. In what he recalled as his "starving artist period," Myers wrote poetry and read books about the Bohemian life by such authors as George Orwell and André Gide; he also lived on two dollars a week from unemployment compensation and lost fifty pounds. While working briefly for the U.S. Post Office, he married Joyce, a woman he later called "wonderful, warm, beautiful, religious, caring."

Even after becoming a father—two of his three children, Karen and Michael, are from his first marriage—Myers continued to try to live a romantic lifestyle. While working odd jobs in a factory and an office, he played bongos with a group of jazz musicians, some of whom were into heroin and cocaine, and wrote jazz-based poetry, some of which was published in Canada. He also began to be published in African American magazines such as the Negro Digest and the Liberator as well as in men's magazines such as Argosy and Cavalier. During this time, his first marriage collapsed.

In 1961, Myers enrolled in a writing class with author Lajos Egri, who told him that he had a special talent. A few years later, he attended City College of the City University of New York as a night student, but dropped out. At a writer's workshop at Columbia University led by novelist John Oliver Killens, he was recommended for a new editorial position at the publishing house Bobbs-Merrill and became an acquisitions editor. In 1968, he won first prize in a contest for black writers sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children, and a year later his picture-book text was published by Parents' Magazine Press as Where Does the Day Go?

Where Does the Day Go? features Steven, a small African American boy whose father takes him and a group of children of various races for an evening walk in the park. When Steven wonders where the day goes, his friends each provide imaginative opinions of their own. Finally, Steven's dad explains that day and night are different, just like people, and that the times of day are caused by the rotation of the earth. "Integration, involvement, and togetherness are all deftly handled," noted Mary Eble in School Library Journal, while Zena Sutherland, Dianne L. Monson, and May Hill Arbuthnot claimed in Children and Books that the story has "other strong values in addition to its exploration of the mystery of night and day." The critics noted that Where Does the Day Go? "explains natural phenomena accurately, and it presents an exemplary father."

After the publication of his first book, Myers changed his name from Walter Milton Myers to "one that would honor my foster parents, Walter Dean Myers." He also remarried, and he and his wife Connie had a son, Christopher, now an artist who has illustrated several of his father's works. In 1972, Myers published The Dragon Takes a Wife, a picture book that some considered controversial. The story features Harry, a lonely dragon who cannot fight, and Mabel May, the African American fairy who helps him. In order to acquire a wife, Harry must defeat a knight in battle. When Mabel May turns into a dragon to show Harry how to fight, Harry falls in love with her, defeats the knight, and wins her hand, not to mention a good job at the post office.

Other picture books by Myers include several in which he teams up with son Christopher Myers. In Jazz, Myers "creates a scintillating paean to jazz," claimed a Publishers Weekly critic. Compared to other authors who struggle to capture the spirit of the music form in text, Booklist reviewer Bill Ott found Jazz "an absolutely airtight melding of words and pictures that is perfectly accessible to a younger audience." Through a series of poems accompanied by brightly colored illustrations, the pair chronicles the evolution of the music form, from fast-paced New Orleans jazz to be-bop, so clearly "readers will find music coming irresistibly into their heads," suggested Roger Sutton in Horn Book.

The Blues of Flats Brown is a children's picture book about a dog that flees to Memphis and has a hit record. The pup's success angers former owner A.J. Grubbs, who follows him on to New York. "Myers's shaggy fantasy has the slow-and-easy pacing of a lazy Southern afternoon," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Myers beautifully conveys the blues' unique roots and the way the music bestows comfort, catharsis, and healing," said Shelle Rosenfeld in Booklist.

In 1975, Myers published his first novel for young adults, Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff. Set in a Harlem neighborhood much like the one in which its author grew up, the story describes a group of young teens who take a positive approach to living in a difficult environment. The story is narrated by eighteen-year-old Stuff, who recalls the year that he was thirteen and formed a sort of anti-gang, the Good People, with his best friends Fast Sam and Cool Clyde plus five other boys and girls from the neighborhood. The Good People have several hilarious adventures, including one where Sam and Clyde—who is dressed as a girl—win a dance contest. However, they also deal with such problems as mistaken arrest and the deaths of one of their fathers and a friend who has turned to drugs. The children survive, both through their inner strength and the fellowship of their friends, who are dependable and respectful of one another. Writing in English Journal, Alleen Pace Nilsen called Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff "a rich, warm story about black kids in which Myers makes the reader feel so close to the characters that ethnic group identification is secondary." In Horn Book, Paul Heins noted that "the humorous and ironic elements of the plot give the book the flavor of a Harlem Tom Sawyer or Penrod."

In 1977, after leaving Bobbs-Merrill, Myers became a full-time writer. It Ain't All for Nothin', a young-adult novel published the next year, is considered the first of his more serious, thought-provoking works. The novel features twelve-year-old Tippy, a motherless Harlem boy who has been living with his loving, principled grandmother since he was a baby. When she goes into a nursing home, Tippy moves in with his father Lonnie, an ex-con who makes his living by stealing and who beats his son viciously. Lonely and afraid, Tippy begins drinking whiskey. When Lonnie and his pals rob a store, he coerces Tippy into participating. Bubba, a member of the group, is shot during the heist; in order to save Bubba and save himself, Tippy calls the police and turns in his father. At the end of the novel, Tippy goes to live with Mr. Roland, a kind man who has befriended him.

It Ain't All for Nothin' was praised by Steven Matthews in School Library Journal as "a first-rate read," and by a critic in Kirkus Reviews as "like Tippy—a winner." Although questioning "how many children are really going to ‘drop a dime’ on their father?," Ashley Jane Pennington concluded in her review for Interracial Books for Children Bulletin that It Ain't All for Nothin' "is a devastating book which needed to be written." Motown and Didi: A Love Story, a highly praised sequel, features two of the peripheral characters from It Ain't All for Nothin' and includes a strong anti-drug message as well as the theme that love can conquer all.

Shooter focuses on the events leading up to and following a school shooting. Many reviewers compared the book to the real-life and well-publicized Columbine school tragedy, which occurred months prior to Shooter's publication. The novel is told through a unique narrative approach: the book consists of police reports, news articles, a journal, and other "real-life" documenta- tion of the event. For its dark subject matter and its unique narration, Shooter has often been compared with Monster. Of Shooter, Lauren Adams wrote in Horn Book that Myers's "exacting look at the many possible players and causes in the events makes for a compelling story." A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the author for his handling of a controversial subject in which "no one is completely innocent and no one is entirely to blame." The reviewer concluded: "Readers will find themselves racing through the pages, then turning back to pore over the details once more."

Although Myers turns to a lighter subject in Game, he still explores serious themes through the first-person perspective of Drew, a seventeen-year-old from Harlem who hopes to earn a college basketball scholarship and play at the professional level. Like several of the author's earlier novels, Game features an African American male from the inner city who reflects on the urban environment around him and questions his place in it. In addition to narrating Drew's struggle to chart his future, Myers includes "tautly choreographed game sequences that … bristle with the electricity of the sport," noted a New York Times Book Review critic. Predicting the book will appeal to readers who enjoyed Monster and Slam, a Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Game offers readers "a sensitive portrait of a likable young man, his family, city and dreams."

The middle-grade novels Scorpions and Fallen Angels are considered among Myers's best. In Scorpions twelve-year-old Jamal lives in Harlem with his mother and younger sister. He is approached to take the place of his older brother Randy, who is in jail for killing a man, as the leader of his gang, the Scorpions. At first, Jamal refuses; however, he is fascinated with the gun that Randy's friend Mack gives him and is searching for a way to help his family raise the money for Randy's appeal. Jamal and his best friend Tito, a sensitive Puerto Rican boy, join the Scorpions, who are dealing cocaine. During a confrontation, Jamal is defended by Tito, who uses the gun Mack had given Jamal to kill to protect his friend. Marcus Crouch wrote in Junior Bookshelf that Myers "writes with great power, capturing the cadences of black New York, and keeps a firm hold on his narrative and his emotions. He is a fine story-teller as well as a social critic and, I suspect, a moralist." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Roger Sutton noted that Myers's "compassion for Tito and Jamal is deep; perhaps the book's seminal achievement is the way it makes us realize how young, in Harlem and elsewhere, twelve years old really is."

Fallen Angels describes the horrors of the Vietnam War from the perspective of Richie Perry, a seventeen-year-old African American who has joined the U.S. Army as a way to make life easier for his mother and younger brother at home in Harlem. During the course of a year, Richie experiences fear and terror as he fights in the war; he burns the bodies of American soldiers because they cannot be carried and—with a rifle at his head—shoots a North Vietnamese soldier in the face; finally, after being wounded twice, he is sent home. Underscoring the novel, which includes rough language and gallows humor, is a strong antiwar message; Myers also addresses such issues as racial discrimination within the service and the conditions faced by the Vietnamese people. Calling Myers "a writer of skill, maturity, and judgment," Ethel L. Heins maintained in Horn Book that, "with its intensity and vividness in depicting a young soldier amid the chaos and the carnage of war, the novel recalls Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage." W. Keith McCoy, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, commented that "everything about this book rings true," while Mary Veeder, writing in Tribune Books, noted that Fallen Angels "may be the best novel for young adults I've read this year."

Myers wrote Fallen Angels as a tribute to his brother Sonny, who was killed on his first day as a soldier in Vietnam; he also based much of the book on his own experience in the U.S. Army. In discussing both Fallen Angels and Scorpions with Kimberly Olson Fakih in Publishers Weekly, Myers called these books "a departure" and "very serious, probing work." He concluded: "Not that the others didn't address serious issues, too, but the new ones were more difficult to write." Also inspired by the war, A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam is a well-received biography of Colonel Fred V. Cherry, an African American Air Force pilot who was held as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for nearly eight years.

In Sunrise over Fallujah, Myers returns to the family depicted in his award-winning Fallen Angels. While the first book spoke about the horrors of the Vietnam War, Sunrise over Fallujah focuses on the Second Gulf War in Iraq. Enlisting after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Robin, the nephew of Richie from Fallen Angels, narrates his experiences in the army through a series of letters he sends home during his time in Iraq. Initially assigned to a Civil Affairs unit working to gain the cooperation of Iraqi citizens, Robin struggles to comprehend the collateral bloodshed occurring as the conflict progresses as well as deal with the constant threat to his life from Iraqis fighting against the presence of American troops in their country. By experiencing firsthand the horrors of war similar to those his uncle endured, the young soldier finally understands why Uncle Richie kept silent about his experiences in the jungles of Southeast Asia a generation earlier. Writing in School Library Journal, Diane P. Tuccillo thought the author avoids editorializing about the war and instead offers an "expert portrayal of a soldier's feelings and perspectives … allow[ing] the circumstances to speak for themselves." Several reviewers also commended Myers for his efforts to write about the war, as few novels for teens exist on the subject. In light of this lack of material, a Kirkus Reviews writer deemed Sunrise over Fallujah "an important volume, covering much ground and offering much insight," while a Publishers Weekly critic suggested that Myers has written "the novel that will allow American teens to grapple intelligently and thoughtfully with the war in Iraq."

In addition to his fiction, Myers has written several highly praised informational books for children and young people in which he characteristically outlines the fight for freedom by people of color; he has also written biographies of such figures as Toussaint L'Ouverture, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X. In Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom, Myers recounts the history of black Americans through both overviews and profiles of individuals. "What happens," wrote a critic in Kirkus Reviews, "when a gifted novelist chooses to write the story of his people? In this case, the result is engrossing history with a strong unifying theme, the narrative enriched with accounts of outstanding lives." Michael Dirda, writing in the Washington Post Book World, asserted that Myers "writes with the vividness of a novelist, the balance of a historian, and the passion of an advocate. He tells a familiar story and shocks us with it all over again." Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Kellie Flynn noted that Now Is Your Time! "is alive and vital—with breathing biographical sketches and historic interpretations like rabbit punches."

With Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, Myers tells the dramatic story of the captive Africans who mutinied against their captors on the slave ship Amistad in the late 1830s. The book recounts the hellish journey on the ship and the forced landing in Connecticut as well as the landmark trial and the struggle of the West Africans to return home. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman stated that "the narrative is exciting, not only the account of the uprising but also the tension of the court arguments about whether the captives were property and what their rights were in a country that banned the slave trade but allowed slavery." Gerry Larson added in a review for School Library Journal that, "with characteristic scholarship, clarity, insight, and compassion, Myers presents readers with the facts and the moral and historical significance of the Amistad episode."

A longtime collector of historical photographs and documents depicting the lives and culture of African Americans, Myers has used his own art to illustrate several of his informational books. The photos and letters from the author's collection have also inspired several of his works, including volumes of original poetry on black children and mothers and the biography At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England. Published in 1999, this work reconstructs the life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a child of royal African descent who became a goddaughter of Queen Victoria as well as a British celebrity. Saved from a sacrificial rite in Dahomey by English sea captain Frederick E. Forbes, orphaned Sarah—named after her rescuer and his ship—was brought to England as a gift for Queen Victoria from the Dahomian king who slaughtered her family. Victoria provided the means for Sarah—nicknamed Sally—to be educated as a young woman of privilege in a missionary school in Sierra Leone. Sally, who often returned to England to visit her benefactor, eventually married a West African businessman and named her firstborn child Victoria. Eventually returning with her husband to Africa, she taught in missionary schools until she died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-six.

Working from a packet of letters he discovered in a London bookstore, Myers tells Sally's story, which he embellishes with quotes from Queen Victoria's diary, newspapers, and other memoirs of the time. A critic in Kirkus Reviews commented: "This vividly researched biography will enthrall readers, and ranks among Myers's best writing." Calling At Her Majesty's Request a "fascinating biography" and a "moving and very humane portrait of a princess," a reviewer in Publishers Weekly concluded that Myers "portrays a young woman who never truly belongs."

Myers's second book about Malcolm X, Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, focuses on the stages of Malcolm's life and contains Leonard Jenkins's artwork, "full-color montage illustrations, in acrylic, pastel, and spray paint … like mural art, with larger-than-life individual portraits set against the crowded streets and the swirl of politics," wrote Booklist contributor Rochman, who noted that nearly every page contains a quote from speeches or writings. Myers chronicles Malcolm's childhood, his time in the Charlestown State Prison, his conversion to Islam, leadership of the Black Muslims until his break with Black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad, and his pilgrimage to Mecca prior to his assassination in 1965.

In The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Myers documents the life of the boxer born Cassius Clay, moving from Ali's childhood in segregated St. Louis to his Olympic win in 1960 and his success as a world-class athlete. Myers then relates the athlete's commitment as a Black Muslim and his political activism as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Myers also reports on Ali's major fights against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. Horn Book contributor Jack Forman felt the book "is more a portrait of Ali's character and cultural impact than a narrative of his life." "This is finally a story about a black man of tremendous courage," wrote Bill Ott in Booklist, "the kind of universal story that needs a writer as talented as Myers to retell it for every generation." Khafre K. Abif added in Black Issues Book Review that in The Greatest Myers "inspires a new generation of fans by exposing the hazards Ali faced in boxing, the rise of a champion, and now his battle against Parkinson's disease."

Myers's nonfiction title USS Constellation relates the entire story of the famous ship, from construction to war victories to encounters with slave ships to crew training. The book is complemented by first-person accounts, along with illustrations and charts. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, praised USS Constellation as a "well-researched" volume, calling it a "unique addition to American history collections." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer praised Myers book as a "meticulously researched, fast-flowing chronicle," and applauded USS Constellation for offering "a larger view of the shaping of America." Betty Carter, writing in Horn Book, noted that the first-person accounts "lend authenticity while personalizing events."

In Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Myers presents over fifty poems that explore the streets of Harlem through the experiences of dozens of characters. He "treats readers to a tour of Harlem's past and present," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor, by covering a wide variety of settings, including a church, hair salons, and restaurants. Accompanying the poems are period photographs of Harlem, offering readers a visual context to the poems, which vary in style from free verse to conversational. In Booklist Carolyn Phelan dubbed Here in Harlem "a colorful and warmly personal portrayal of Harlem" and predicted that "this unusual book will be long remembered."

"Children and adults," wrote Myers in SAAS, "must have role models with which they can identify"; therefore in his writing he has attempted to "deliver images upon which [they] could build and expand their own worlds." In an interview with Roger Sutton for School Library Journal, Myers noted that writing about the African American experience is fraught with complexity and difficulties. "Very often people want more from books than a story," the author explained; "they want books to represent them well. This is where I get the flak."

Commenting on the question of writing primarily for a black audience, Myers stated: "As a black person you are always representing the race…. So what you have to do is try to write it as well as you can and hope that if you write the story well enough, people won't be offended." Myers sees an element of racism in the notion that black authors must write about "black subjects" for a primarily black audience. Likewise, he views the controversy surrounding the question of whether whites should write about the black experience as "a false issue." He stated: "I think basically you need to write what you believe in."

Myers wrote in SAAS that he feels the need to show young blacks "the possibilities that exist for them that were never revealed to me as a youngster; possibilities that did not even exist for me then." He continued: "As a Black writer I want to talk about my people…. I want to tell Black children about their humanity and about their history and how to grease their legs so the ash won't show and how to braid their hair so it's easy to comb on frosty winter mornings. The books come. They pour from me at a great rate…. There is always one more story to tell, one more person whose life needs to be held up to the sun."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Bishop, Rudine Sims, Presenting Walter Dean Myers, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1991.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, pp. 199-202.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 143-156.

PERIODICALS

African American Review, spring, 1988, R.H. Lane, "Keepin It Real: Walter Dean Myers and the Promise of African-American Children's Literature," p. 125.

Black Issues Book Review, May, 2001, Khafre K. Abif, review of The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, p. 80.

Booklist, February 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, "Some Versions of Amistad," p. 1003; February 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 1103; March 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 1242; January 1, 2001, Bill Ott, review of The Greatest, p. 952; May 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Bad Boy: A Memoir, p. 1673; July, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of USS Constellation, p. 1841; November 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, p. 480; February 1, 2006, Jennifer Hubert, review of The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, p. 62; September 1, 2006, Bill Ott, review of Jazz, p. 127; October 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Street Love, p. 52; February 1, 2007, Michael Cart, review of Harlem Summer, p. 56; July 1, 2007, Hazel Rochman, review of What They Found: Love on 145th Street, p. 61; February 1, 2008, Gillian Engberg, review of Game, p. 51; February 15, 2008, Jennifer Mattson, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 76.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1988, review of Scorpions, p. 235.

English Journal, March, 1976, Alleen Pace Nilsen, "Love and the Teenage Reader," pp. 90-92.

Horn Book, August, 1975, Ethel L. Heins, review of Fallen Angels, pp. 503-504; July-August, 1988, Paul Heins, review of Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, pp. 388-389; May, 2000, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 336; January, 2000, Jack Forman, review of The Greatest, p. 115; July, 2001, review of Bad Boy, p. 473; May-June, 2004, Lauren Adams, review of Shooter, p. 335; July-August, 2004, Betty Carter, review of USS Constellation, p. 469; November-December, 2006, Roger Sutton, review of Jazz, p. 735, and Claire E. Gross, review of Street Love, p. 722; May-June, 2007, Roger Sutton, review of Harlem Summer, p. 286; May-June, 2008, Betty Carter, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 324.

Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 10, number 4, 1979, Ashley Jane Pennington, review of It Ain't All for Nothin', p. 18.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1990, Marcus Crouch, review of Scorpions, pp. 190-191.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1972, review of The Dragon Takes a Wife, p. 256; October 15, 1978, review of It Ain't All for Nothin', p. 1143; October 1, 1991, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 1537; December 15, 1998, review of At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, p. 1802; November 15, 2005, review of The Harlem Hell-fighters, p. 1235; December 15, 2007, review of Game; April 1, 2008, review of Sunrise over Fallujah.

Kliatt, July, 2005, KaaVonia Hinton, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 14; March, 2007, Paula Rohrlick, review of Harlem Summer, p. 17; January, 2008, Paula Rohrlick, review of Game, p. 11; May, 2008, Paula Rohrlick, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 15.

New York Times Book Review, April 19, 1972, Nancy Griffin, review of The Dragon Takes a Wife, p. 8; October 21, 2001, Kermit Frazier, review of Bad Boy, p. 31; May 11, 2008, review of Game and Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 26.

Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1988, "Walter Dean Myers," p. 117; February 8, 1999, review of At Her Majesty's Request, p. 215; January 24, 2000, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 311; March 22, 2004, review of Shooter, p. 87; June 28, 2004, review of USS Constellation, p. 52; November 15, 2004, review of Here in Harlem, p. 61; September 19, 2005, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 68; August 7, 2006, review of Jazz, p. 57; March 26, 2007, review of Harlem Summer, p. 94; April 21, 2008, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 59.

School Librarian, August, 1990, Allison Hurst, review of Fallen Angels, pp. 118-119.

School Library Journal, April 15, 1970, Mary Eble, review of Where Does the Day Go?, p. 111; October, 1978, Steven Matthews, review of It Ain't All for Nothin', p. 158; May, 1998, Gerry Larson, review of Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, p. 158; March, 2000, Karen James, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 210; May, 2001, Miranda Doyle, review of Bad Boy, p. 169; December, 2001, Kathleen Baxter, review of The Greatest, p. 39; April, 2005, Nina Lindsay, review of Here in Harlem, p. 57; August, 2005, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 132; March, 2007, Hillias J. Martin, review of Harlem Summer, p. 216; August, 2007, Chris Shoemaker, review of What They Found: Love on 145th Street, p. 122; April, 2008, Diane P. Tuccillo, review of Sunrise over Fallujah, p. 146; February, 2008, Richard Luzer, review of Game, p. 122.

Teaching and Learning Literature, September-October, 1998, Ellen A. Greever, "Making Connections in the Life and Works of Walter Dean Myers," pp. 42-54.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 13, 1988, Mary Veeder, "Some Versions of Fallen Angels," p. 6.

USA Today, April 24, 2008, Bob Minzesheimer, "The Somber Realities of War Cross Generations," interview with Myers, p. 7D.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1988, W. Keith McCoy, review of Fallen Angels, p. 133; February, 1992, Kellie Flynn, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 398.

Washington Post Book World, March 8, 1992, Michael Dirda, review of Now Is Your Time!, p. 11.

Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1993, Frances Bradburn, review of The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, p. 88.

ONLINE

National Public Radio Web site,http://www.npr.org/ (August 19, 2008), Juan Williams, "Walter Dean Myers: A ‘Bad Boy’ Makes Good."

Walter Dean Myers Home Page,http://www.walterdeanmyers.net (October 15, 2008).

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Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

(Walter M. Myers)

PERSONAL: Born Walter Milton Myers, August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, WV; son of George Ambrose and Mary (Green) Myers; raised by Herbert Julius (a shipping clerk) and Florence (a factory worker) Dean; married second wife, Constance Brendel, June 19, 1973; children: (first marriage) Karen, Michael Dean; (second marriage) Christopher. Education: Attended State College of the City University of New York; Empire State College, earned B.A.

ADDRESSES: Home—2543 Kennedy Blvd., Jersey City, NJ 07304. Agent—c/o Author Mail, HarperCollins Children's Books, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: New York State Department of Labor, Brooklyn, NY, employment supervisor, 1966–69; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc. (publisher), New York, NY, senior trade book editor, 1970–77; writer, 1977–. Instructor in creative writing and black history, 1974–75. Military service: U.S. Army, 1954–57.

MEMBER: PEN, Harlem Writers Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS: Council on Interracial Books for Children Award, 1968, for Where Does the Day Go?; Book of the Year designations, Child Study Association of America, 1972, for The Dancers, and 1987, for Adventure in Granada; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children's Books list, 1975, for Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, 1978, for It Ain't All for Nothin', 1979, for The Young Landlords, 1981, for Legend of Tarik, 1982, for Hoops, 1988, for Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid and Scorpions, and 1993, for Somewhere in the Darkness; book award from Woodward Park School, 1976, for Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff; ALA Best Books for Young Adults list, 1978, for It Ain't All for Nothin', 1979, for The Young Landlords, 1981, for The Legend of Tarik, 1982, for Hoops, 1988, for Fallen Angels and Scorpion, 1992, for Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom, 1993, for Somewhere in the Darkness, and 1998, for Harlem; Coretta Scott King awards, 1980, for The Young Landlords, 1985, for Motown and Didi: A Love Story; 1989, for Fallen Angels, 1992, for Now is Your Time!, 1993, for Somewhere in the Darkness, 1994, for Malcolm X, 1997, for Slam!, and 1998, for Harlem; New Jersey State Council for the Arts fellowship, 1981; Notable Children's Trade Book in Social Studies citation, National Council for Social Studies and the Children's Book Council, 1982, for The Legend of Tarik; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1982; Parents' Choice Foundation awards, 1982, for Won't Know till I Get There, 1984, for The Outside Shot, and 1988, for Fallen Angels; author's award, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1983, for Tales of a Dead King; MacDowell fellowship, 1988; Newbery Honor Book designations, 1989, for Scorpions, and 1993, for Somewhere in the Darkness; Boston Globe/Horn Book award, 1992, for Somewhere in the Darkness; ALAN award, 1994; Margaret A. Edwards Award, ALA Young Adult Library Services Association, 1994, for Hoops, Motown and Didi, Fallen Angels, and Scorpion; Caldecott Honor Book, 1998, for Harlem; first annual Virginia Hamilton Literary Award, 1999; first Michael L. Printz Award, 2000, for Monster; Boston Globe-Horn Book Award nominee in picture book category, 2003, for blues journey.

WRITINGS:

JUVENILE FICTION

(Under name Walter M. Myers) Where Does the Day Go?, illustrated by Leo Carty, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1969.

The Dragon Takes a Wife, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1972, illustrated by Fiona French, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.

The Dancers, illustrated by Anne Rockwell, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1972.

Fly, Jimmy, Fly!, illustrated by Moneta Barnett, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974.

The Story of the Three Kingdoms, illustrated by Ashley Bryan, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, illustrated by Synthia Saint James, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

The Blues of Flats Brown, illustrated by Nina Laden, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1975.

Brainstorm, photographs by Chuck Freedman, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1977.

Mojo and the Russians, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1977.

Victory for Jamie, illustrated by Norm Walker, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1977.

It Ain't All for Nothin', Viking Press (New York, NY), 1978.

The Young Landlords, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1979.

The Black Pearl and the Ghost; or, One Mystery after Another, illustrated by Robert Quackenbush, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1980.

The Golden Serpent, illustrated by Alice Provensen and Martin Provensen, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Hoops, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1981.

The Legend of Tarik, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Won't Know till I Get There, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1982.

The Nicholas Factor, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Tales of a Dead King, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.

Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1984.

Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1984.

The Outside Shot, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1984.

Adventure in Granada ("Arrow" series), Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1985.

The Hidden Shrine ("Arrow" series), Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1985.

Duel in the Desert ("Arrow" series), Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1986.

Ambush in the Amazon ("Arrow" series), Penguin (New York, NY), 1986.

Sweet Illusions, Teachers & Writers Collaborative (New York, NY), 1987.

Crystal, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1987, reprinted, 2002.

Shadow of the Red Moon, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1987.

Fallen Angels, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1988.

Scorpions, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1988.

Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid, illustrated by Rodney Pate, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1988.

The Mouse Rap, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.

Somewhere in the Darkness, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.

The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1992.

Darnell Rock Reporting, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1994.

The Glory Field, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

Slam!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

Smiffy Blue: Ace Crime Detective: The Case of the Missing Ruby and Other Stories, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy ("My Name Is America" series), Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier ("My Name Is America" series), Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Monster, illustrated by Christopher Myers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

145th Street: Short Stories, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2000.

The Journal of Biddy Owens, the Negro Leagues ("My Name Is America" series), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Patrol, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Handbook for Boys, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Three Swords for Granada, illustrated by John Speirs, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

The Dream Bearer, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Shooter, Amistad (New York, NY), 2004.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Amistad (New York, NY), 2005.

Street Love, Amistad (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to short-story anthologies, including The Color of Absence: Twelve Stories about Loss, edited by James Howe, Simon & Schuster, 2001.

YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION

The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1975.

Social Welfare, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1976.

Now Is Your Time!: The African American Struggle for Freedom, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, illustrated by Frederick Porter, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Young Martin's Promise, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1992.

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

Remember Us Well: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.

One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1996.

Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Bad Boy: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

A Time to Love: Tales from the Old Testament, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.

I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Amistad (New York, NY), 2003.

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

USS Constellation, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

(With William Miles) The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

Jazz, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.

POETRY

The Great Migration: An American Story, paintings by Jacob Lawrence, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Harlem: A Poem, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.

Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

blues journey, illustrated by Christopher Myers, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.

Voices from Harlem, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to anthologies, including What We Must SEE: Young Black Storytellers, edited by Orde Coombs, Dodd, 1971, and We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans, edited by Sonia Sanchez, Bantam, 1973. Contributor of articles and fiction to periodicals, including Black Creation, Black World, McCall's, Espionage, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Essence, Ebony Jr.!, and Boy's Life.

ADAPTATIONS: The Young Landlords was filmed by Topol Productions. Books adapted as audio recordings include Slam!, Recorded Books, 2000; Bad Boy: A Memoir, Harper Children's Audio, 2001; and Monster, Recorded Books, 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Walter Dean Myers is considered among the premier authors of fiction for young adults, and his books have won dozens of awards, including the prestigious Coretta Scott King Award for multiple books. As Carmen Subryan noted in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Whether he is writing about the ghettos of New York, the remote countries of Africa, or social institutions, Myers captures the essence of the developing experiences of youth."

While Myers is perhaps best known for his novels that explore the lives of young Harlem blacks, he is equally adept at producing modern fairy tales, ghost stories, and adventure sagas. Subryan found a common theme throughout Myers's far-ranging works. "He is concerned with the development of youths," she wrote, "and his message is always the same: young people must face the reality of growing up and must persevere, knowing that they can succeed despite any odds they face…. This positive message enables youths to discover what is important in life and to reject influences which could destroy them."

In Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Myers described his priorities as an author. He tries, he said, to provide good literature for black children, "literature that includes them and the way they live" and that "celebrates their life and their person. It upholds and gives special place to their humanity." He elaborated on this point in an essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS): "I realized how few resources are available for Black youngsters to open the world to them. I feel the need to show them the possibilities that exist for them that were never revealed to me as a youngster; possibilities that did not even exist for me then."

One possibility Myers never foresaw as a youth was that of supporting himself as a writer. He was born into an impoverished family in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and at age three was adopted by Herbert and Florence Dean, who settled in New York City's Harlem district. Myers had a speech impediment, making it difficult for him to communicate, and at the suggestion of a teacher he began writing down his thoughts in the form of poems and short stories. Although he won awards for his work, his parents did not encourage his literary talents, although his foster father and grandfather were storytellers and his barely literate mother read to him until he was able to read back to her. "From my foster parents, the Deans, I received the love that was ultimately to strengthen me, even when I had forgotten its source," Myers was quoted as saying on the Scholastic Web site. "I was from a family of laborers," Myers remembered in his autobiographical essay, "and the idea of writing stories or essays was far removed from their experience. Writing had no practical value for a Black child. These minor victories [and prizes] did not bolster my ego. Instead, they convinced me that even though I was bright, even though I might have some talent, I was still defined by factors other than my ability." The dawning realization that his possibilities were limited by race and economic status embittered Myers as a teen. "A youngster is not trained to want to be a gasoline station attendant or a clerk in some obscure office," he stated. "We are taught to want to be lawyers and doctors and accountants—these professions that are given value. When the compromise comes, as it does early in Harlem to many children, it comes hard."

Myers admitted he was not ready to accept that compromise. Through high school and a three-year enlistment in the U.S. Army, he read avidly and wrote short stories. After his discharge from the service, he worked in a variety of positions, including mail clerk at the post office, interoffice messenger, and interviewer in a factory. None of these tasks pleased him, and when he began to publish poetry, stories, and articles in magazines, he started to consider a writing profession. "When I entered a contest for picture book writers," he claimed, "it was more because I wanted to write anything than because I wanted to write a picture book."

Myers won the contest, sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children, for his text of Where Does the Day Go? In that story, a group of children from several ethnic backgrounds discuss their ideas about night and day with a sensitive and wise black father during a long walk. Inspired by the success of his first attempt to write for young people, Myers turned his attention to producing more picture books. Between 1972 and 1975 he published The Dancers, The Dragon Takes a Wife, and Fly, Jimmy, Fly! Other releases have included The Golden Serpent, a fable set in India, and an animal adventure, Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird.

Myers accepted an editorial position with the Bobbs-Merrill publishing company in 1970 and worked there until 1977. His seven-year tenure there taught him "the book business from another viewpoint," as he noted in his autobiographical essay. "Publishing is a business," he wrote. "It is not a cultural institution…. It is talked about as if it were a large cultural organization with several branches. One hears pronouncements like 'anything worthwhile will eventually be published.' Nonsense, of course. Books are published for many reasons, the chief of which is profit." In retrospect, however, Myers felt that he benefited from his experiences at Bobbs-Merrill, even though he was laid off during a restructuring program. "After the initial disillusionment about the artistic aspects of the job, I realized how foolish I had been in not learning, as a writer, more about the business aspects of my craft," he concluded. Armed with the pragmatic knowledge of how the publishing industry works, Myers was thereafter able to support himself by his writing alone.

By the time he left Bobbs-Merrill, Myers had already established a reputation as an able author of fiction geared for African American children, a reputation based largely upon his highly successful novels for teens such as Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff and Mojo and the Russians. Both tales feature, in Subryan's words, adventures depicting "the learning experiences of most youths growing up in a big city where negative influences abound." Central to the stories is the concept of close friendships, portrayed as a positive, nurturing influence. Subryan wrote, "Because of the bonding which occurs among the members of the group, the reader realizes that each individual's potential for survival has increased." Myers followed the two upbeat novels with a serious one, It Ain't All for Nothin', that Subryan felt "reflects much of the pain and anguish of ghetto life." The account of a boy caught in a web of parental abuse, conflicting values, and solitary self-assessment, It Ain't All for Nothin' "pretties up nothing; not the language, not the circumstances, not the despair," observed Jane Pennington in the Interracial Books for Children Bulletin. The story has a positive resolution, however, based on the care and support the central character receives from fellow community members.

Myers strives to present characters for whom urban life is an uplifting experience despite the potentially dangerous influences. In his first Coretta Scott King Award-winner, The Young Landlords, several teens learn responsibility when they are given a ghetto apartment building to manage. Lonnie Jackson, the protagonist of Hoops, profits from the example of an older friend who has become involved with gamblers. Concerned with stereotyping of a sexual as well as a racial sort, Myers creates plausible female characters and features platonic friendships between the sexes in his works. "The love in Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff is not between any one couple," wrote Alleen Pace Nilsen in English Journal. "Instead it is a sort of a general feeling of good will and concern that exists among a group of inner city kids." Nilsen, among others, also noted that Myers's fiction can appeal to readers of any race. She concluded by saying that he "makes the reader feel so close to the characters that ethnic group identification is secondary." Subryan expressed a similar opinion: "By appealing to the consciousness of young adults, Myers is touching perhaps the most important element of our society. Myers's books demonstrate that writers can not only challenge the minds of black youths but also emphasize the black experience in a nonracist way that benefits all young readers."

With Scorpions, Myers tells the story of Jamal, a seventh grader whose life is forever changed when he accepts a gun from an older teen. For this provocative story Myers received the Newbery Honor Book award in 1989. In Fallen Angels, a Harlem teenager volunteers for service in the Vietnam War. Mel Watkins in the New York Times Book Review wrote, "Fallen Angels is a candid young adult novel that engages the Vietnam experience squarely. It deals with violence and death as well as compassion and love, with deception and hypocrisy as well as honesty and virtue. It is a tale that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, touching and, on occasion, humorous." Jim Naughton, reviewing Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid in the Washington Post Book World, called Myers "one of the best writers of children's and young adult fiction in the country and Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid shows why" in relating the schemes of two recently adopted orphans to find a home for their friend, left behind in the orphanage.

In Now Is Your Time! The African-American Struggle for Freedom, a Washington Post Book World contributor found that Myers "writes with the vividness of a novelist, the balance of an historian and the passion of an advocate. He tells a familiar story and shocks us with it all over again." Focusing on the black experience in America, Myers relates tales of Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, Frederick Douglass, businessman James Forten, rebels Nat Turner and John Brown, journalist Ida B. Wells, inventor Lewis Latimer, and sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick, and even the Dandridges of Virginia, the "owners" of Myers's great-grandmother. The Washington Post Book World reviewer called Now Is Your Time! a "thrilling portrait gallery, expertly delineated…. Quite a story, quite a book."

In The Glory Field, Myers chronicles five generations of the Lewis family, including years of slavery in the eighteenth century, participation in the U.S. Civil War, years of economic hardship and struggle to maintain control of the family's land, and finally the family's confrontation of the problems that faced many black families in twentieth-century American society. "The story that began with ancestors in leg irons eventually rounds itself out in Harlem," noted Suzanne Curley in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "with a look at the conflict experienced by a contemporary middle-class black teenager who must decide how much of himself he can extend to help a crack-addicted, homeless cousin." Critics have noted the value of Myers's saga, although some have faulted Myers for attempting too broad a scope, given the limited length of his novel. "Maybe what Walter Dean Myers has in The Glory Field," wrote Kenneth C. Davis in the New York Times Book Review, "is the seed for several separate novels, or a longer book that would allow more time to know all of the Lewises."

Myers's Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary traces the major events of Malcolm's life in the context of the broader history of the civil rights movement in America. Reviewers praised Myers's depiction of a complex public personality through the use of balanced commentary and language that is both engaging and accessible to young readers. With Brown Angels, An Album of Pictures and Verse, Myers offers selections from his collection of antique photographs of African-American children, accompanied by poems for young readers. Reviewers have emphasized the positive, and occasionally sentimental, tone of the book, which some have contrasted with the more grim subject matter of some of Myers's other publications. Commentators praised the sensitivity and beauty of the photographs presented in the book, often stressing the value of images in giving black children a sense of their history. "If Brown Angels is just a sampling of the rich treasure Myers has uncovered," stated Michael Patrick Hearn in Washington Post Book World, "then he should be locked in the attic until he has produced more volumes." Myers did respond with a second volume of pictures accompanied by poems, titled Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children. While a reviewer for Publishers Weekly questioned the "high-flown" tone of Myers's verse, Kathleen Whalin of School Library Journal praised the volume as "a glorious feast for the eye and ear."

Slam! is the story of a young basketball player who must adapt to life in a mostly white magnet school. Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom is a study of the Haitian activist who led a rebellion against the French planters. Harlem: A Poem is a tribute to the music, promise, and dreams of Harlem, in a book illustrated by Myers's son Christopher. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the artwork in Harlem "both stark and lyrical…. This is by no means an easy book—most of its allusions, if not the poems's significance itself, will need to be explained to children—but its artistic integrity is unmistakable."

Myers, who lost his own mother when he was two, fills Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love with photographs of mothers, grandmothers, and children, accompanied by ten of his poems, which Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper said "will touch a chord both with the children who listen and the mother who reads to them." One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album is a collection of photos gathered from archives and family albums, documenting the experience of blacks as they became free and resettled across America. Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom is Myers's factual account of the capture of slaves, the voyage to Cuba where they were sold, and the mutiny led by Sengbe as it sailed from Cuba, then landed in Connecticut, as well as the court trials and struggle to return to West Africa.

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England is a biography of a young West African princess who is rescued from death by sacrifice by Frederick E. Forbes, a British captain and opponent of slavery. Now named Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the girl returns to England, where she meets Queen Victoria, who takes an interest in her and provides for her education and welfare. Sarah's story is set within the context of the culture and times of England and reflects the unrest in the United States that leads to the Civil War. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book a "moving and very human portrait of a princess."

Myers has contributed several volumes to the "My Name Is America" series. The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy is a fictional account of a young black man on the Chisholm Trail in 1871, who becomes a cattle driver, faces up to rustlers and stampedes, and meets historical characters. Booklist contributor John Peters called it an "informative, expert peek behind the cowboy mythos." The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier takes a young college student out of the dorm and into D-Day and beyond, and was called "an emotional read" by Randy Meyer in Booklist. The Journal of Biddy Owens, the Negro Leagues, set in 1948, is a fictional journal of a boy who does odd jobs and sometimes plays right field for the Birmingham Black Barons. School Library Journal reviewer Shawn Brommer wrote that "readers are introduced not only to the last great year of the Negro Leagues, but also to the institutional racism and blatant bigotry that existed in mid-20th-century America." Booklist writer Carolyn Phelan felt that Myers's writing "is infused with a love of baseball that is never sappy."

The protagonist of Monster is Steve Harmon, a sixteen-year-old accused of felony murder for acting as a lookout during a robbery in which a murder is committed. The novel contains amateur filmmaker Steve's notes in the form of diary entries and a film script, accompanied by black-and-white photographs. A Horn Book contributor wrote that Myers "adeptly allows each character to speak for him or herself, leaving readers to judge for themselves the truthfulness of the defendants, witnesses, lawyers, and, most compellingly, Steve himself." Patty Campbell, also writing in Horn Book, compared Monster to Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, and The Chocolate War, and said that Myers's "stunning new novel … joins these landmark books. Looking backward, Monster is the peak achievement of a career that has paralleled the growth of the genre."

A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that with 145th Street: Short Stories, Myers "creates an overall effect of sitting on the front stoop swapping stories of the neighborhood." The dominant voices are teens, but there are cross-generational stories with a strong sense of history. "Myers has a great natural style," noted a Horn Book reviewer, "and is completely at home in a Harlem depicted without adulation but with great affection."

The Blues of Flats Brown is a children's picture book about a dog who flees to Memphis and has a hit record, angering his former owner, the mean A.J. Grubbs, who follows him on to New York. "Myers's shaggy fantasy has the slow-and-easy pacing of a lazy Southern afternoon," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "Myers beautifully conveys the blues' unique roots and the way the music bestows comfort, catharsis, and healing," said Shelle Rosenfeld in Booklist.

Myers's second book about Malcolm X, Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, focuses on the stages of Malcolm's life and contains Leonard Jenkins's artwork, "full-color montage illustrations, in acrylic, pastel, and spray paint … like mural art, with larger-than-life individual portraits set against the crowded streets and the swirl of politics," wrote Rochman, who noted that nearly every page contains a quote from speeches or writings. "They make us hear his voice." Myers chronicles Malcolm's childhood, time in the Charlestown State Prison, conversion to Islam, leadership of the Black Muslims, break with Elijah Muhammad, and his pilgrimage to Mecca prior to his assassination in 1965.

In The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, Myers first documents the life of Cassius Clay, from his childhood in segregated St. Louis, to his Olympic win in 1960, to his life as a professional boxer. Myers then relates Clay's commitment as a Black Muslim and his political activism as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. Myers also reports on Ali's major fights against Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. Horn Book contributor Jack Forman felt the book "is more portrait of Ali's character and cultural impact than a narrative of his life." "This is finally a story about a black man of tremendous courage," wrote Bill Ott in Booklist, "the kind of universal story that needs a writer as talented as Myers to retell it for every generation." Khafre K. Abif added in Black Issues Book Review that Myers "inspires a new generation of fans by exposing the hazards Ali faced in boxing, the rise of a champion, and now his battle against Parkinson's disease."

In Bad Boy: A Memoir, Myers begins with an account of his childhood, then takes the reader through his adolescence—during which he often skipped school and sometimes made deliveries for drug dealers—and to his beginnings as a writer. Rochman said, "The most beautiful writing is about Mama: how she taught him to read, sharing True Romance magazines." "The author's growing awareness of racism and of his own identity as a black man make up one of the most interesting threads," wrote Miranda Doyle in School Library Journal. "The author's voice and heart are consistently heard and felt throughout," concluded a Horn Book contributor.

USS Constellation relates the entire story of the title's ship, from construction to war victories to encounters with slave ships to crew training. The book is complemented by first-person accounts, along with illustrations and charts. Carolyn Phelan of Booklist praised this "well-researched" volume, adding that it is a "unique addition to American history collections." In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer praised this "meticulously researched, fast-flowing chronicle." The reviewer applauded the book for offering "a larger view of the shaping of America." Betty Carter of Horn Book, however, found that although the first-person accounts "lend authenticity while personalizing events," overall the book is "lackluster."

In 2006, Myers coauthored the nonfiction work The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage with Bill Miles. The book focuses on the military histories of the United States and Europe that led to the Great War and the formation of the 369th infantry. That regiment, nicknamed the "Harlem Hellfighters," was composed entirely of African American men. A Kirkus Reviews contributor found the book to be "marred by uneven storytelling and inadequate documentation." However, a critic for Publishers Weekly called the authors' research "impeccable" and pointed out that the book is "a rich history."

The novel Shooter focuses on the events leading up to and following a school shooting. Reviewers noted that the similarities to the real-life Columbine tragedy surely reveal Myers's inspiration for the story. Shooter is told through a unique narrative approach; the book consists of police reports, news articles, a journal, and other "real-life" documentation of the event. For its dark subject matter and its unique narration, Shooter is often compared with Monster by critics and followers of Myers's work. Of Shooter, Lauren Adams of Horn Book wrote that Myers's "exacting look at the many possible players and causes in the events makes for a compelling story." A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Myers's handling of this touchy subject: "Here, no one is completely innocent and no one is entirely to blame." The reviewer concluded, "Readers will find themselves racing through the pages, then turning back to pore over the details once more."

In Myers's next young adult book, Autobiography of My Dead Brother, fifteen-year-old Jesse and his best friend Rise are members of long-standing African American social club called the Counts. Things begin to change when Rise slips into a world of drugs and violence and the club reaches gang status. Jesse clings to his artistic talent in order to sustain himself. "Teens … will be on edge while … Jesse decides if he will allow his environment and peers to dictate the type of man he will become," commented KaaVonia Hinton in Kliatt. Francisca Goldsmith, writing for School Library Journal, wrote that the novel "paints a vivid and genuine portrait of life that will have a palpable effect on its readers."

"Children and adults," wrote Myers in SAAS, "must have role models with which they can identify"; therefore he attempted to "deliver images upon which [they] could build and expand their own worlds." Noting that in his own life he has "acquired the strengths to turn away from disaster," Myers commented: "As a Black writer, I want to talk about my people." In an interview with Roger Sutton in School Library Journal, Myers conceded, however, that writing the African-American experience is fraught with complexity and difficulties. "Very often people want more from books than a story," the author explained, "they want books to represent them well. This is where I get the flak." Commenting on the question of writing primarily for a black audience, Myers stated, "I understand that as a black person you are always representing the race, so to speak…. So what you have to do is try to write it as well as you can and hope that if you write the story well enough, people won't be offended." Myers perceived an element of racism in the notion that black authors must write about "black subjects" for a primarily black audience. Likewise, he viewed the controversy surrounding the question of whether whites should write about the black experience as "a false issue." He commented, "I think basically you need to write what you believe in."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Children's Literature Review, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 8, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 35, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Myers, Walter Dean, Bad Boy: A Memoir, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Patrick-Wexler, Walter Dean Myers, Raintree Steck-Vaughan (Austin, TX), 1996.

Rush, Theressa G., editor, Black American Writers: Past and Present, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1975.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.

PERIODICALS

African-American Review, spring, 1998, R.D. Lane, "'Keepin' It Real': Walter Dean Myers and the Promise of African-American Children's Literature," p. 125.

Black Issues Book Review, November, 1999, review of Won't Know till I Get There, p. 75; May, 2001, Khafre K. Abif, review of The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, p. 80.

Booklist, October 1, 1992, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, p. 321; November 15, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, p. 588; September 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children, p. 79; November 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Shadow of the Red Moon, p. 548; April 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, p. 1373; August, 1996, Jackie Gropman, review of One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album, p. 186; September 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Tous-saint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom, p. 123; November 15, 1996, Bill Ott, review of Slam!, p. 579; February 15, 1997, Michael Cart, review of Harlem: A Poem, p. 1021; February 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom, p. 1003, Ilene Cooper, review of Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love, p. 1006; February 15, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of One More River to Cross, p. 1012, Hazel Rochman, review of Amistad, p. 1068, John Peters, review of The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy, p. 1070; April 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England, p. 1405; May 1, 1999, Debbie Carton, review of Monster, p. 1587; June 1, 1999, Randy Meyer, review of The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier, p. 1830; December 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of 145th Street: Short Stories, p. 778; February 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, "The Booklist Interview," p. 1101, and review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 1103; March 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 1242, Stephanie Zvirin, review of At Her Majesty's Request, p. 1249; January 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, "The Printz Award Revisited," p. 932, Bill Ott, review of The Greatest, p. 952; February 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Journal of Biddy Owens, the Negro Leagues, p. 1149, Hazel Rochman, review of 145th Street, p. 1149; April 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Scorpions, p. 1549; May 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Monster, p. 1611, Hazel Rochman, review of Bad Boy: A Memoir, p. 1673; January 1, 2002, review of The Greatest, p. 766; July, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of USS Constellation, p. 841.

Childhood Education, winter, 2001, Marissa McGlone, review of The Journal of Biddy Owens, p. 112.

Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 1992, Heather Vogel Frederick, reviews of Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom, and Somewhere in the Darkness, p. 10; February 5, 1993, E. K. Laing, review of Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, p. 11; December 17, 1993, Karen Williams, review of Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse, p. 12; November 4, 1994, Karen Williams, review of The Glory Field, p. 10; May 29, 1997, Karen Williams, review of Harlem, p. 1.

English Journal, December, 1993, Alleen Pace Nilsen, review of Somewhere in the Darkness, p. 74.

Horn Book, November, 1992, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Mop, Moondance, and the Nagasaki Knights, p. 739; March, 1993, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner, p. 209; September, 1993, Gail Pettiford Willett, review of Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, p. 626; January, 1994, Lois F. Anderson, review of Brown Angels, p. 82, Mary M. Burns, review of The Great Migration: An American Story, p. 88; March, 1995, Ellen Fader, review of Darnell Rock Reporting, pp. 194, 200, Peter D. Eieruta, review of The Glory Field, p. 200; July, 1996, Ellen Fader, review of How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, p. 452; January, 1999, Marilyn Bousquin, review of At Her Majesty's Request, p. 82; May, 1999, review of Monster, p. 337; November, 1999, Patty Campbell, "The Sand in the Oyster Radical Monster," p. 769; January, 2000, review of Monster, p. 42; March, 2000, review of 145th Street, p. 198; May, 2000, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 336; January, 2001, Jack Forman, review of The Greatest, p. 115; July, 2001, review of Bad Boy, p. 473; May/June, 2004, Lauren Adams, review of Shooter, p. 335; July/August, 2004, Betty Carter, review of USS Constellation, p. 469.

Interracial Books for Children Bulletin, Volume 10, Number 4, 1979; Volume 10, Number 6, 1979.

Kirkus, November 15, 2005, review of The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, p. 1235.

Kliatt, July, 2005, KaaVonia Hinton, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 14.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 1, 1995, p. 10; October 15, 1997, Elizabeth Mehren, "Fountain of Stories for Youth; Walter Dean Myers Writes Books for Young People. But Their Realism and Richness Have Adults Reading Them Too," p. E1.

New York Times Book Review, April 9, 1972; May 4, 1975; January 6, 1980, Patricia Lee Gauch, review of The Young Landlords, p. 20; November 9, 1980, review of The Young Landlords, p. 41; July 12, 1981; June 13, 1982, Diane Gersoni Edelman, review of Won't Know till I Get There, p. 26; April 1987, p. 21; September 13, 1987, Jeanne Betancourt, review of Crystal, p. 48; January 22, 1989, Mel Watkins, review of Fallen Angels, p. 29; May 19, 1990, David Kelly, review of The Mouse Rap, p. 44; February 16, 1992, p. 26; November 13, 1994, p. 42; July 20, 1997, Rosemary L. Bray, review of Harlem, p. 22; December 5, 1999, review of Monster, p. 100; October 21, 2001, Kermit Frazier, review of Bad Boy, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, July 4, 1994, review of Darnell Rock Reporting, p. 65; September 5, 1994, review of The Glory Field, p. 112; May 8, 1995, review of The Story of the Three Kingdoms, p. 296; September 11, 1995, review of Glorious Angels, p. 85; February 19, 1996, review of How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, p. 215; November 4, 1996, review of Toussaint L'Ouverture, p. 76; November 25, 1996, review of Slam!, p. 76; January 13, 1997, review of Harlem, p. 76; February 8, 1999, review of At Her Majesty's Request, p. 215; March 22, 1999, Jennifer M. Brown, "Walter Dean Myers Unites Two Passions," p. 45; April 5, 1999, review of Monster, p. 242; January 24, 2000, reviews of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 311, and 145th Street, p. 312; April 10, 2000, review of Angel to Angel, p. 101; February 5, 2001, "Books," p. 90; May 14, 2001, review of Monster, p. 85; March 22, 2004, review of Shooter, p. 87; June 28, 2004, review of USS Constellation, p. 52; January 9, 2006, review of The Harlem Hellfighters, p. 55.

School Library Journal, May, 1993, Jean H. Zimmerman, review of Young Martin's Promise, p. 100; June, 1993, David A. Linsey, review of A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam, p. 120; June, 1994, Roger Sutton, "Threads in Our Cultural Fabric: A Conversation with Walter Dean Myers," p. 24; September, 1994, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of Darnell Rock Reporting, p. 220; November, 1994, Carol Jones Collins, review of The Glory Field, p. 121; March, 1995, Cheri Estes, review of The Dragon Takes a Wife, p. 185; July, 1995, Susan Scheps, review of The Story of the Three Kingdoms, p. 67; September, 1995, Kathleen Whalin, review of Glorious Angels, p. 196; December, 1995, Tim Rausch, review of Shadow of the Red Moon, p. 106; January, 1996, Lynn K. Vanca, review of Darnell Rock Reporting, p. 65; May, 1996, Marianne Saccardi, review of How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, p. 96; November, 1996, Melissa Hudak, review of Toussaint L'Ouverture, p. 116, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of Slam!, p. 123; February, 1997, Melissa Hudak, review of Harlem, p. 121; May, 1998, Gerry Larson, review of Amistad, p. 158; January, 1999, Cindy Darling Codell, review of At Her Majesty's Request, p. 149; April, 1999, Gerry Larson, review of The Journal of Joshua Loper, p. 140; July, 1999, Coop Renner, re-view of The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins, p. 98; February, 2000, Eunice Weech, review of Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly, p. 114; March, 2000, Karen James, review of The Blues of Flats Brown, p. 210; April, 2000, Edward Sullivan, review of 145th Street, p. 140; January, 2001, Michael McCollough, review of The Greatest, p. 152; April, 2001, Shawn Brommer, review of The Journal of Biddy Owens, p. 146; May, 2001, Miranda Doyle, review of Bad Boy, p. 169; July 9, 2001, review of Bad Boy, p. 21; December, 2001, Kathleen Baxter, review of The Greatest, p. 39; April, 2005, review of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, p. S56; August, 2005, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Autobiography of My Dead Brother, p. 132.

Tribune Books (Chicago), February 26, 1989, p. 8; November 15, 1992, p. 9; September 12, 1993, p. 6; December 10, 1995, p. 5.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 2005, Rebecca Hogue Wojahn, review of Here in Harlem, p. 14.

Washington Post Book World, July 9, 1989, p. 10; March 8, 1992, p. 11; July 3, 1994, p. 14; May 13, 2001, Karen MacPherson, "Living to Tell," p. 3.

ONLINE

Scholastic Web site, http://teacher.scholastic.com/ (September 26, 2001).

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Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

Walter Dean Myers 1937-

(Born Walter Milton Myers; has also published as Walter M. Myers.) American novelist, poet, and author of works for children and young adults.

For additional information on Myers's career, see Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 1.

INTRODUCTION

Myers is included among premier American authors of fiction for young adults and his books have won dozens of awards, including several Coretta Scott King awards and two Newbery Honor Book citations. Using realism and urban vernacular to reach underrepresented adolescent readers, Myers not only recreates many of the difficult scenarios confronting modern youth—including teen pregnancy, gangs, drug use, sexual relationships, crime, and school violence—but also examines at length the ties of family and friendship in black communities. While Myers is perhaps best known for his novels that explore the lives of young Harlem blacks, he is equally adept at producing modern fairy tales, ghost stories, and adventure sagas. In addition, he has developed a reputation as a skilled author of histories for juvenile audiences, penning biographies of such notable figures as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Myers was born into an impoverished family in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in 1937. When he was two years old, his mother died in childbirth. His father subsequently struggled as a single parent during the Great Depression, until Herbert and Florence Dean, friends of Myers's parents, offered to care for Walter and two of his seven siblings. The Deans, a hard-working couple with children of their own, moved the family to the Harlem district of New York City and found blue-collar jobs to support the children. Myers's foster parents treated him kindly; his new mother enjoyed hearing him read aloud, and his new father delighted in telling him scary stories, and sometimes acting them out as well. Myers's elementary school was integrated, and he grew up with Irish and Jewish friends. He faced some difficulties in childhood, however. He was plagued by a speech impediment, and other youngsters teased him about it. Speaking in front of a class was particularly difficult, until one of his teachers suggested that he recite something that he wrote himself—and which avoided the words he found difficult to pronounce. As a result, Myers began writing poetry. Recognizing his literary talent, his teachers placed him in college preparatory classes. He won several awards for his essays and poetry, but recalls feeling frustrated as his family made light of his academic achievements and encouraged him to accept that his opportunities were limited by race and economic status. Although he was accepted at Stuyvesent High School, a prestigious magnet school within the New York City public school system, he dropped out when he realized that his family could not afford to pay for college. He subsequently joined the army at the age of seventeen. Throughout his three-year enlistment, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, he read avidly and continued writing. After his discharge from the service, he worked in a variety of positions, including postal clerk, interoffice messenger, and interviewer in a factory, and began submitting poetry and short sto- ries to various magazines. He also attended a writing class led by author Lajos Egri, who encouraged Myers to become a professional writer.

Myers's writing career advanced significantly after he entered a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. His entry won, and in 1969 his first book, Where Does the Day Go?, was released under his birth name, Walter M. Myers. From then on he published under the name Walter Dean Myers, in honor of his adoptive parents. After attending a writer's workshop at Columbia University taught by John Oliver Killens, Myers secured a job as an acquisitions editor at Bobbs-Merrill Publishing. While working at Bobbs-Merrill, he continued to periodically publish picture books until his agent suggested that Myers's writing might be better suited for the young adult market. Myers passed along one of his short stories to an editor at Viking, who said he enjoyed "the first chapter" and requested a chance to see the rest of the manuscript. The story, fleshed out into a full-length novel, became Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff (1975), which displays all of the characteristics that would later become hallmarks of Myers's prose style—wit, street language, and strong African American leads. During this period, Myers married his second wife, Constance Brendel, with whom he had a son, Christopher. Myers later collaborated with Christopher, a noted children's book illustrator, on several titles, including Harlem (1997), A Time to Love (2002), and Autobiography of My Dead Brother (2005), and Tribute (2008). In 1977 Myers left Bobbs-Merrill and became a full-time writer. In the early 1980s, he went back to school and graduated with a B.A. from Empire State College.

MAJOR WORKS

Myers's familiarity with the lives of inner-city children has provided him with keen insight into the lives of his readers. While his books confront the myriad difficulties presented to young urban African Americans, Myers is unique in his ability to portray his protagonists as fully realized persons. His emphasis on realism provides an innate draw for reluctant readers, yet at the same time his writings contain a moral subtext in which Myers attempts to offer instruction and alternative decision-making possibilities. His heroes speak with a genuineness, using curses, slang, and rough terminology, while his narratives strive to connect choice and action with personal and moral responsibility, addressing broader themes including broken families, gambling, imprisonment, gangs, homelessness, youth violence, and drug use in specific terms, without shying away from their unpleasant realities. But even while dealing with adverse situations and subject matter, Myers maintains a level of sophistication in his writing, filling his stories with humor and love. His characters have support systems of friends, extended family, and community who provide counsel and a larger sense of purpose. For example, in Hoops (1981), teenager Lonnie Jackson is a Harlem high school basketball star, preparing for the citywide Tournament of Champions. His coach, Cal, is a former pro-basketball player, who lost everything after getting involved in a points-shaving scandal. After Lonnie discovers that several big-time gamblers are betting on the tournament, Cal counsels Lonnie to avoid the mistakes he once made himself. In Motown and Didi (1984), two teenaged protagonists are able to overcome a confrontation with the neighborhood drug dealer with one another's help, ultimately finding a measure of their dreams through the power of their love for each other.

While a number of Myers's young adult novels are set in Harlem, several also reflect his military experience, generally narrated by characters who reveal the African American perspective of serving in the armed forces. Perhaps Myers's most famous and widely read novel, Fallen Angels (1988) tells the tale of seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, who chooses the Army over college in 1967 in order to provide financially for his mother and brother back in Harlem. Sent to fight in the closing days of the Vietnam War, Richie confronts racism, the immorality of war, and the value of friendship under the worst possible conditions. Fallen Angels describes Richie's tour of duty in graphic detail, highlighting the horrors of war and the effect that such violence has on young soldiers, particularly in terms of psychological trauma and drug addiction. Though Myers's young adult novels remain his most popular works to date, the author has expanded his repertoire by authoring several works of biography and history for juvenile audiences, including A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam (1992), Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary (1993), Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom (1996), and I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (2004). As in his fiction, Myers stresses the impact of cause and effect on the lives of individuals, citing historical examples of the hardships faced as a result of one's personal convictions.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Myers has been consistently lauded for his realistic portrayal of inner-city life in his young adult novels. Widely regarded as a talented storyteller, he is also uniquely skilled at creating plausible and multidimensional characters, many of whom defy the traditional notion that black youth suffer from low self-esteem. On the contrary, Myers's protagonists are celebrated for their fortitude; their ability to hang onto their moral integrity even in the midst of violence, danger, or the temptation of money or prestige; their willingness to reach for higher levels of personal awareness and understanding; and their determination to not be defeated by the negative influences surrounding them. Several commentators stress that Myers's talent for characterization allows his readers to identify with the individual and his situation first, while putting race and ethnicity second; thus, although Myers's stories revolve around inner-city African Americans, they appeal to readers of all races and class. Despite the nearly universal positive reception of Myers's works by teachers and critics, many parent associations have taken issue with the author's graphic use of imagery and language, debating whether such realistic depictions are appropriate for young audiences. This has led some to call for the removal of several of Myers's texts, particularly Fallen Angels, from school and children's libraries. Others have labeled such attempts blatant censorship. Because of these actions, in 2003, Myers was ranked eighth overall on the American Library Association's list of threatened novelists, joining such other authors as Robert Cormier, Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, and Katherine Patterson, all of whom have been noted for their broadly realistic narratives.

PRINCIPAL WORKS

Where Does the Day Go? [as Walter M. Myers; illustrated by Leo Carty] (picture book) 1969

The Dancers [illustrated by Anne Rockwell] (picture book) 1972

The Dragon Takes a Wife [illustrated by Ann Grifalconi] (picture book) 1972; revised edition, illustrated by Fiona French, 1995

Fly, Jimmy, Fly! [illustrated by Moneta Barnett] (picture book) 1974

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff (young adult novel) 1975

The World of Work: A Guide to Choosing a Career (young adult nonfiction) 1975

Brainstorm (young adult novel) 1977

Mojo and the Russians (young adult novel) 1977

It Ain't All for Nothin' (young adult novel) 1978

The Young Landlords (young adult novel) 1979

Hoops (young adult novel) 1981

The Legend of Tarik (young adult novel) 1981

Won't Know till I Get There (young adult novel) 1982

The Nicholas Factor (young adult novel) 1983

Tales of a Dead King (young adult novel) 1983

Motown and Didi: A Love Story (young adult novel) 1984

Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird: An Original Tale [illustrated by Leslie Morrill] (juvenile fiction) 1984

The Outside Shot (young adult novel) 1984

Adventure in Granada (young adult novel) 1985

Ambush in the Amazon (young adult novel) 1986

Crystal (young adult novel) 1987

Shadow of the Red Moon (young adult novel) 1987

Sweet Illusions (young adult novel) 1987

Fallen Angels (young adult novel) 1988

Scorpions (young adult novel) 1988

The Mouse Rap (young adult novel) 1990

Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom (young adult nonfiction) 1991

A Place Called Heartbreak: A Story of Vietnam [illustrated by Frederick Porter] (young adult nonfiction) 1992

Somewhere in the Darkness (young adult novel) 1992

Young Martin's Promise (young adult nonfiction) 1992

The Great Migration: An American Story [paintings by Jacob Lawrence] (poetry) 1993

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary (young adult nonfiction) 1993

Remember Us Well: An Album of Pictures and Verse (young adult nonfiction) 1993

Young Martin's Promise [illustrated by Barbara Higgins Bond] (juvenile biography) 1993

The Glory Field (young adult novel) 1994

Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children (poetry) 1995

The Story of the Three Kingdoms [illustrated by Ashley Bryan] (juvenile fiction) 1995

How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World [illustrated by Synthia Saint James] (picture book) 1996

One More River to Cross: An African-American Photograph Album (young adult nonfiction) 1996

Slam! (young adult novel) 1996

Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom (young adult nonfiction) 1996

Harlem [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (poetry) 1997

Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom (young adult nonfiction) 1998

Angel to Angel: A Mother's Gift of Love (poetry) 1998

At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England (young adult biography) 1999

The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy (young adult fiction) 1999

The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins: A World War II Soldier (young adult fiction) 1999

Monster [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (young adult novel) 1999

145th Street: Short Stories (young adult short stories) 2000

The Blues of Flats Brown [illustrated by Nina Laden] (picture book) 2000

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly [illustrated by Leonard Jenkins] (young adult biography) 2000

Bad Boy: A Memoir (young adult memoir) 2001

blues journey [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (poetry) 2001

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali (young adult biography) 2001

The Journal of Biddy Owens, the Negro Leagues (young adult fiction) 2001

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam [illustrated by Ann Grifalconi] (young adult novel) 2001

Three Swords for Granada [illustrated by John Speirs] (young adult novel) 2002

A Time to Love: Tales from the Old Testament [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (young adult nonfiction) 2002

The Beast (young adult novel) 2003

Blues Journey [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (picture book) 2003

The Dream Bearer (young adult novel) 2003

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (young adult nonfiction) 2004

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices (poetry) 2004

I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [illustrated by Leonard Jenkins] (young adult biography) 2004

Shooter (young adult novel) 2004

USS Constellation: Pride of the American Navy (juvenile nonfiction) 2004

Voices from Harlem (poetry) 2004

Autobiography of My Dead Brother [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (young adult novel) 2005

The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage [with William Miles] (young adult nonfiction) 2006

Jazz [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (nonfiction picture book) 2006

Street Love (young adult novel) 2006

Harlem Summer (young adult novel) 2007

What They Found: Love on 145th Street (young adult short stories) 2007

Game (young adult novel) 2008

Sunrise over Fallujah (young adult novel) 2008

Tribute [illustrated by Christopher Myers] (children's poetry) 2008

CRITICISM

Beth Murray (essay date 2002)

SOURCE: Murray, Beth. "Defending Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers: Framing—Not Taming—Controversy." In Censored Books II: Critical Viewpoints, 1985-2000, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, pp. 167-72. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Murray points out that although some readers may take offense at the raw language, racial tensions, and violent subject matter of Fallen Angels, the multilayered novel merits reading since it addresses not only the coming-of-age of its protagonist, but also such universal issues as war, peace, grief, comradeship, death, oppression, and patriotism.]

The plot of Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers, is not extraordinary in its skeletal form: a young army soldier from Harlem flies to Vietnam, encounters challenges, builds alliances, sustains injuries, loses comrades, and ultimately returns home; plane to plane. It's a war story, after all. However, Walter Dean Myers's artistic choices in creating this particular story as one soldier's vivid narrative of feelings, thoughts, and observations fleshes out the tale with immediacy and the inevitable controversy that seems to shadow immediacy. In choosing to write a Vietnam War story at all, Walter Dean Myers strode knowingly toward controversy. In choosing to tell the story through Richard Perry, a soldier on the front lines, Myers stood squarely in the complex immediacy of controversy. This is not a "war book" aiming only to clarify military strategy and events, though it does so to some extent. Readers spend a great deal of time inside the mind of Richard Perry, looking out through his eyes, listening through his ears—feeling his feelings. Perspective and depth lean upon each other.

Perry and his comrades refer to their lives and families in the states as being "back in the world." This phrase underscores the enormity of Myers's task as a writer: transporting readers to a different world, in place and time. Today's teen readers categorize a Vietnam War novel as a work of historical fiction. Richard Perry guides the historical journey. Though Perry narrates in the first person, the story relies heavily upon dialogue among multiple characters with varying and often opposing perspectives. The story plays as a movie: episodic, with flashbacks, interior monologues, and a vast cast of characters.

However, the very same narrative element that brings immediacy also brings protection. Myers is careful to cushion the read within Perry's perspective of a pensive young man taking care, questioning, quietly defending, stretching to understand, and learning to live with the emotional paradoxes of war and of life. The most controversial elements are often Perry's observations, not his own actions or words. Perry's perceptions and preconceptions emerge through these observations, on behalf of the reticent reader. In time, the war problematizes many of Perry's prejudgments. As Perry's categorization of his world grows more complex, the reader must wonder past stereotypes as well.

Teaching Fallen Angels (or sharing it with teens) invites exploration of censorship issues on multiple levels. In this book, there is something to challenge anyone's thinking. Of course, some readers construe challenges as opportunities to be offended. This book will "offend" almost anyone seeking a reason to be offended. First, it is a war story set largely in Vietnam. Those opposed to that particular conflict or violence in books for young people might oppose this book, despite its acclaimed accuracy. Second, it takes a close look at a multiraced platoon and personifies the "battle within the battle" faced by soldiers of color. Those opposed to plain talk about sometimes divisive racial tension in books for young people might oppose this book. Those opposed to any questioning of the military might oppose this book. Third, this book relies upon an ensemble of characters to spin its story. Most of these characters are soldiers on the front lines of a war. They speak as any range of soldiers might: some formally, some informally, some derogatorily, and some religiously. Characters utter racial slurs, sexual innuendo, homophobic comments, and "cuss" words between their playful banter and professions of solemn support. Those who oppose "offensive" language in books for young people might oppose this book. Those who oppose open prayer might oppose this book. One could choose to view such elements as controversial enough to keep the book available on the shelf, marginally significant enough to entrust it to the hands of a few who could mediate it themselves, or important enough to share it at the center of a broad classroom inquiry into the construction of perspectives and perceptions. Myers lays the groundwork to support such brave inquiry.

In teaching a controversial book, we often anticipate—sometimes tensely—reactions in young readers: the flush of giggles over the allusion to the human anatomy in chapter 10, or the exchanged glances and raised eyebrows as one character blurts out "hell" or "fuck" in the midst of a fiery tirade. Profanity and racial slurs arrest attention as they hope to stereotype, intimate, taunt, and dehumanize. We wait to see if the controversial moment lures or alienates readers. Myers doesn't make us wait in Fallen Angels. By page three, the "enemy" Vietnamese are dehumanized and objectified as "Congs." By page 6, the sergeant taunts soldiers with language that would make most people blush. By page 7 the same sergeant has stereotyped and estranged the entire gay population. By page 12, there is a triangle of racial tension involving a Vietnamese cleaning woman, an African American soldier, and a White soldier filled with derogatory labels and knee-jerk bravado, brinking on violence.

So why bother with this book at all? The story is broader and deeper than its necessarily coarse language and imagery. The timeless tensions it explores merit close study. The instructional challenge then becomes gauging comfort levels with explicitness and creating contexts where everything can be interrogated, including discomfort. Myers did not write this book to place readers at ease. The reader is challenged to unpack the battles within battles, the histories and motivations. These tensions are not new nor are they unique to the Vietnam War. They are patterns in human history. Myers tries to help readers find their place in history through Perry's struggles. It is both a war story and a coming-of-age story.

Sometimes the coming-of-age story supersedes the war story. This book is part of a larger mission on Myers's part to share voices formerly unheard and inspire readers formerly unmirrored in literature for young people on their rites of passage. Scorpions (1988) and Monster (1999) are examples of two other titles working toward that career-long mission. Perry is searching, as are many young people who would be drawn to this text. He just happens to be a soldier. The immediacy of Perry's first-person view pushes the book, through war, toward more universal struggles. Thus the text is doubly rich as the poignant, complex lessons Perry and Peewee, Perry's newfound comrade, and the others learn as they come of age are inextricably bound up with the complex lessons of the Vietnam War. The lines between boyhood and manhood are as blurred as the borders between war and peace. The parallel exploration of personal and global treacherous, unsettled terrain sets this story above other adolescent novels in which the journey is not nearly so plural.

Hostile actions are vital to the authenticity of this tale. However, Myers focuses less on how people die and more on the emotional aftermath, as in the case of Jenkins's death.

"You know him?"

"No," I said, "I just met him at the replacement company."

"Sometimes it goes like that," Monaco said. He started to say something else then shrugged it off, and left.

I wanted to say more to him. I wanted to say that the only dead person I had seen before had been my grandmother…. But Jenkins was different. Jenkins had been walking with me and talking with me only hours before. Seeing him lying there like that, his mouth and eyes open, had grabbed something inside my chest and twisted it hard.

          (43)

When the platoon commanding officer dies, the aftermath is again more central than the physical demise. Perry has aged over the pages between the deaths. His perspective broadens to collective rather than individual grief.

Shock. Pain. Nobody wanted to look at anybody else. Nobody wanted to talk. There was nothing to say. Lieutenant Carroll's death was close. It hung around our shoulders and filled the spaces between us. Lieutenant Carroll had sat with us, had been afraid with us, had worried about us. Now he was dead.

          (120)

As Perry wrote the tragic letter to Mrs. Carroll, Myers broadened the range of perspectives yet again: "I know that it is not much comfort to you that your husband died bravely, or honorably, but he did. All of the guys in the squad who served under him are grateful for his leadership and for having known him"(131).

Other deaths followed, including the loss of comrade and enemy lives—though the line between is increasingly blurred, a hallmark of war, particularly the Vietnamese conflict. Myers wasted not one death as statistic or set dressing. Each was an opportunity to consider another perspective, or deepen the understanding of a familiar one.

Unlike textbook accounts and television coverage of war, which most often focus on acts of aggression, well-written trade books focus on the results of aggression—the uprooted and ruined lives, the suffering from pain and sadness, and the waste of lives and energy, and resources. If the violence in these stories can convince young people that they must find peaceful ways to settle their differences, then it is justified.

          (Tomlinson, 45)

Hostile words are also vital for authenticity. No character in this story is simply good or evil, rather an emerging negotiation of perspectives. Take Peewee, for instance, the fast-talking little guy from Chicago whose conversations often turn to verbal boxing matches. Finding a spic-and-span sentence uttered by this character is nearly impossible. However, he is deeper than a foul-mouthed runt. Early in the book, we learn a great deal about Peewee "back in the world" in a few of his own words.

[T]his is the first place I ever been in my life where I got what everybody else got … anything anybody got in the army, I got. You got a gun. I got a gun. You got boots, I got boots. You eat this lousy-ass chip beef on toast, guess what I eat?"

          (15)

He is a central player in most name-calling volleys. Perry often runs interference for Peewee when he gets too deep with someone too large. In the should-Monaco-marry-the-girl-back-home discussion, Peewee meets our expectations of smart-aleck superficiality by asking: "Is she pregnant?" and "What's she look like?" Then he surprises us as the first romantic in the crowd to say: "I vote for the marriage." When Perry breaks down after a near-death brush with a Vietcong soldier, it's Peewee who comforts him.

Similarly, Peewee internalizes the struggle faced by the young children in their war-torn country. Wanting to help in some way, he starts making a doll with items he finds in the immediate area. As he completes the doll, the platoon watches the smiling woman hand her child—for whom the doll was intended—to an American soldier. The child had been mined. The soldier, the child, and the child's family die instantly. When others check in on Peewee later, clearly shaken and withdrawn, the exterior emerges again.

"Hey Peewee," I said, "it's okay to feel bad about what's going on over here, man. It's really okay."

"Me? Feel bad?" Peewee turned over in his bunk and pulled his sheet up around his shoulders. "Never happen."

The words—profane, profound, and mundane—are all part of a larger, more complex context.

The initial categories of censorship concern (war, racial tension, coarse language) pervade the entire book; however, just as Perry and his platoon evolve, so do the categories. War becomes more complicated than "kickin' butt" and being American. Patriotism emerges along a continuum, interpreted variably among characters and situations. Racial lines blur as soldiers lean on each other for platoon survival (though the strongest link is shared between Perry and Peewee, two African Americans). Coarse language begins to sound commonplace for its frequency. The words between carry the memorable meanings. These potentially contentious elements, considered together, mirror the journey of the Fallen Angels cast. All are vital to its compelling telling.

This is a valuable book for capable and interested young readers to experience individually. Most teachers and librarians find comfort in an individual approach, given the "lively" language and stark subject matter. However, this book screams for conversation and invites exploration beyond its bindings. What was life for those "back in the world?" What about the Vietnamese perspective? What do veterans, politicians, and protesters think about the event retrospectively? What challenges do we still face? What poetry grew out of this era? What songs? What patterns from this era persist and recur today? What is oppression and who were the oppressors in the Vietnam conflict? What types of oppression does the military fight against? What types of oppression does it support and reward? How do veterans return home? How does a war-torn country adapt to "peace"? Who is this book for? Whom might it offend? Why? How might some story events be described through the eyes of another character, real or imagined, within or beyond Fallen Angels ?

Imposing this text on young people would do them and the story a disservice. The layers, levels, and perspectives demand committed exploration. The reader needs to be the explorer. Using the text as a vehicle for critical examination of a hotly contested historical period considered from a variety of perspectives would offer all involved a learning experience. The art becomes harnessing the controversy that swirls around this text, framing and naming the subtle levels of controversy, not taming them.

Works Cited

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.

———. Fallen Angels. New York: Scholastic, 1988.

———. Scorpions. New York: Harper Trophy, 1988.

Tomlinson, Carl. (1995). "Justifying Violence in Children's Literature." In Battling Dragons: Issues and Controversy in Children's Literature, ed. Susan Lehr. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1995.

Walter Dean Myers with Olubunmi Ishola (interview date January 2007)

SOURCE: Myers, Walter Dean, and Olubunmi Ishola. "An Interview with Walter Dean Myers." World Literature Today 81, no. 3 (May-June 2007): 63-5.

[In the following interview, conducted in January 2007, Myers discusses such topics as the inspiration for Harlem Summer; his interest in jazz; his collaborative efforts with his son, illustrator Christopher Myers; and his work as a poet.]

[Ishola]: Your new book,Harlem Summer, is about a young African American boy, Mark Purvis. Mark is in a jazz band with some of his friends and becomes involved with jazz musicians and jazz poets throughout the course of the novel. Your books are known for providing a compelling perspective on hard-hitting issues faced by at-risk youth. You also seek to portray the beauty of the African American experience, requiring young adults to question their values and decisions. What message do you feel jazz has to offer at-risk youth, especially those in the African American community? What do you want young adults to question and think about as they readHarlem Summer ?

[Myers]: All art involves the interplay of discipline and creativity. In Harlem Summer, my young protagonist comes to realize that what he sees as a casual activity, the jazz explosion of 1920s Harlem, actually represents a seriousness and work that is belied by the joy of performance. As he sees the characters from the Harlem Renaissance pass through the office of The Crisis, he begins to understand that there are young people in the world very much like him but who have adopted a seriousness and maturity that he hasn't seen previously. I would like young people to realize that the different levels of life are self-generated and not dependent on race or economic status.

InHarlem Summer, many historical figures are brought to life: Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jessie Fauset, Fats Waller, Queenie, Bumpy Johnson, and others are all connected through sixteen-year-old Mark Purvis. I know that, while growing up in Harlem, you also rubbed shoulders with many such figures. Is this book, in some way, autobiographical?

The idea of Harlem Summer came from stories I heard at home in Harlem. My dad worked occasionally for the notorious gangster Dutch Schultz. Schultz had, beside his numbers business and other illegal enterprises, several legitimate companies. One of them was a moving company located a few blocks from where I lived and down the street from Fats Waller. My father worked on Schultz's moving vans. My parents attended rent parties in which Fats played and regaled his audience with his humor and songs.

How much research did you undertake in re-creating these characters? Was your goal to depict their personalities as historically accurate as possible, or did you take creative liberties?

I did quite a bit of research in putting this story together. I have the major black newspaper of the day, the Amsterdam News, on microfilm and could follow what was going on in the black world on a weekly basis through that paper. I also have all of the issues of The Crisis, the magazine at which my hero worked, so I knew what was being published in 1925 and by whom. I also consulted the biography of Langston Hughes, who came to my church to read and sell his books, as well as a number of books on the Harlem Renaissance.

Besides young-adult novels, you've written a great deal of poetry.Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, Harlem, andBlues Journey are all compelling pieces that invoke a musical feeling with their words. Similarly, jazz poetry demonstrates jazz-like rhythms, tone color, or the feel of improvisation through literary style. How would you define jazz poetry? Would you call yourself a jazz poet?

Jazz poetry tries to emulate some of the complex rhythms of jazz and uses a musical vocabulary. I don't consider myself a jazz poet, but rather a poet whose works reflect his cultural heritage. Since my heritage is both African American and European, my poetry varies accordingly and is also affected by what I'm reading at the time.

What do you feel is vital about the dialogue jazz provides between the artist and audience?

Jazz is meant to be physically interactive. The musician wants his listener to respond to the music by feeling the rhythm and at least wanting to move with it. Many old-time jazz musicians considered their performances to be most successful when people got up and started dancing.

To follow up the previous question, you've collaborated with your son, Christopher Myers, onJazz andBlues Journey, two books that seek to express music in words and pictures. How is that collaboration between words and art, and the dialogue it creates, similar to the dialogue between artist and audience? How does it differ?

Most picture books are done with the writer and artist far away from each other. In these instances, it's the editor bringing the work together into one creative endeavor. This is good, but when I work with my son, Chris, we feed off each other. I'll present a text and then Chris will respond to that text with his art. He doesn't just want to illustrate my words but to contribute his own vision to the overall piece. When I see what he's done, the nuances he brings to the work, I'll often change the text to add accents to his images. Sometimes, as we discuss ideas that we might like to work on in the future (a constant conversation) I will try to build a vocabulary around his visual concepts or try to change the rhythm of my text to contrast with his style.

You've called jazz "America's gift to the world"; it is probably one of the few things that can be considered an integral part of American culture. However, jazz lacks some of the popular appeal that other styles of music have. Why do you think this is so?

Music in the United States has been heavily influenced by changing media as well as production costs. The big bands of the 1940s and 1950s were too expensive by the mid-1960s. The rise of the rap artists can be attributed largely to inexpensive production costs. Getting performers into a studio or on a set for a day and producing a video that doesn't have to have high production values is relatively risk free. Getting professional classical or jazz musicians into a performance where production values are very demanding is very expensive and therefore risky.

Of the different styles of jazz—ragtime, big band, bebop, modal, cool, fusion, free, etc.—which is your favorite? Who are some of your favorite jazz artists?

I first attended jazz performances during the Count Basie and Duke Ellington period, so the big band era remains a favorite. I've always loved Louis Armstrong and the pianists of the renaissance period—Fats Waller and James P. Johnson were great. I'm most recently influenced by some of the fusion stuff from the Miles Davis-Keith Jarrett hard-rock period of the 1970s. I like the challenges the music presents, and I see myself as fusing writing styles.

Is there a recent book that has captured your interest?

I'm currently reading The Psychology of Action, by Peter Gollwitzer and John Bargh, which discusses how people make decisions to act as opposed to internal decisions of preference. I believe that not enough attention is being paid to the differences between preferences and actions as it applies to inner-city kids. I'm also reading Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War, edited by Andrew Carroll, a fascinating and uplifting book.

What outside the realm of literature has drawn your attention of late?

I'm more and more interested in the ways young people develop their values and the difficulties that so many inner-city kids face when forced to make adult decisions at an early age.

What current writing projects do you have underway or have planned for the near future?

I am in the middle of a book on the war in Iraq, which is filling my head and soul with its challenges. I'm also planning a book on African American dance with the same format as Jazz.

FURTHER READING

Criticism

Lane, R. D. "‘Keepin' It Real’: Walter Dean Myers and the Promise of African-American Children's Literature." African American Review 32, no. 1 (spring 1998): 125-38.

An in-depth examination of Myers's influence in the field of literature aimed at black youth, focusing specifically on the novel Somewhere in the Darkness, which demonstrates the author's skill at depicting realistic and authentic black male characters who defy mainstream notions of what constitutes black masculinity.

Vellucci, Dennis. "Man to Man: Portraits of the Male Adolescent in the Novels of Walter Dean Myers." In African-American Voices in Young Adult Literature: Tradition, Transition, Transformation, edited by Karen Patricia Smith, pp. 193-223. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

Calls Myers's young male protagonists "remarkable," citing their capacity to remain morally upright despite their hostile and dangerous environments, and recognizing the vital role played by other males—fathers, brothers, surrogate fathers—who offer support and guidance to the adolescent boys.

Additional coverage of Myers's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 4, 23; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 6, 8, 11; Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 1:3; Black Writers, Ed. 2; Children's Literature Review, Vols. 4, 16, 35, 110; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 33-36R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 20, 42, 67, 108; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 35; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 33; DISCovering Authors Modules, Eds. MULT, NOV; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 5; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults Supplement, Ed. 1; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 2; Major 21st-Century Writers (eBook), ed. 2005; Something about the Author, Vols. 41, 71, 109, 157; Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 2; Something about the Author—Brief Entry, Vol. 27; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; and Writers for Young Adults.

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Myers, Walter Dean 1937–

Walter Dean Myers
1937–

INTRODUCTION
PRINCIPAL WORKS
AUTHOR COMMENTARY
GENERAL COMMENTARY
TITLE COMMENTARY
FURTHER READING

(Born Walter Milton Myers; has also published as Walter M. Myers) American poet, memoirist, biographer, historian, and author of picture books, juvenile nonfiction, and young adult novels.

The following entry presents an overview of Myers's career through 2005. For further information on his life and works, see CLR, Volumes 4, 16, and 35.

INTRODUCTION

A five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and a two-time winner of the Newbery Honor Book Award, Myers is one of the most prolific and versatile authors of contemporary young adult novels. Myers's fiction and nonfiction frequently utilizes realism and urban vernacular to reach underrepresented adolescent readers, making him a unique voice in children's literature. In addition to the frank dialogue of his characters, Myers's fiction recreates many of the difficult scenarios confronting modern children, including teen pregnancy, gangs, and school shootings. This combination of mature situations and language has resulted in several of Myers's works making the American Library Association/Office for Intellectual Freedom's annual list of most challenged books for young readers in the United States. Though he is best known for his young adult novels, Myers has also developed a reputation as a skilled author of histories for juvenile audiences, penning biographies of such notable figures as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Myers was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on August 12, 1937, to George Ambrose and Mary Myers. While giving birth to his sister, Imogene, Myers's mother died; Walter was two years old at the time. His father struggled with the sudden responsibility of being a single parent during America's Great Depression, and subsequently, Herbert and Florence Dean—friends of Myers's parents—offered to care for Walter and two of his seven siblings. Moving their foster children to Harlem, New York, the Deans made ideal parental figures for Myers, though he was never formally adopted by the couple. Myers soon began attending an integrated school in New York City where he excelled as a student. He suffered from a speech impediment and found solace in books. Given his speech problems, one of Myers's teachers suggested that he write his own material that avoided the words he found difficult to pronounce. As a result, Myers began writing poetry and, recognizing his literary talent, his teachers placed him into college preparatory classes. Ultimately, he was accepted at Stuyvesent High School, a prestigious magnet school within the New York City public school system. Myers wrote in the magazine Voices from the Middle in 2001, "[when] I learned that my family could not afford to send me to college, I abruptly left high school. On the morning of my seventeenth birthday, I joined the Army where I discovered a far harsher world than I thought possible." While Myers's experience as a solider during the Vietnam War was difficult, it would later become the inspiration for several of his young adult novels, including Fallen Angels (1988). Myers was discharged from the Army after three years of service and began submitting poetry and short stories to various magazines. He also attended a writing class led by author Lajos Egri, who encouraged Myers to become a professional writer.

Myers's writing career advanced significantly after he entered a contest sponsored by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. Myers's entry won and, in 1969, his first book, Where Does the Day Go?, a picture book treatise on the nature of night and day between a black father and his interracial children, was released under his birth name, Walter M. Myers. For his two subsequent picture books, The Dragon Takes a Wife (1972) and The Dancers (1972), he changed his pen name to Walter Dean Myers, in honor of his adoptive parents. After attending a writer's workshop at Columbia University taught by John Oliver Killens, Myers secured a job as an acquisitions editor at Bobbs-Merrill Publishing. While working at Bobbs-Merrill, he continued to periodically publish picture books until his agent suggested that Myers's writing might be better suited for the young adult market. Passing along one of his short stories to an editor at Viking, the editor claimed to have enjoyed "the first chapter" and requested a chance to see the rest of the manuscript. The story, fleshed out into a full-length novel, became Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff (1975), which displayed all of the characteristics that would later become hallmarks of Myers's prose style—wit, street language, and strong African American leads. During this period, Myers married his second wife, Constance Brendel, with whom he had a son, Christopher. Myers would later collaborate with Christopher, who became a noted children's book illustrator, on several titles such as Monster (1999) and Blues Journey (2003). In 1977 Myers left Bobbs-Merrill and became a full-time writer. In the early 1980s, Myers went back to school and graduated with a B.A. from Empire State College.

MAJOR WORKS

Myers's familiarity with the lives of inner-city children has given him keen insight into the lives of his target readers. While his books confront the myriad difficulties presented to young urban African Americans, Myers is unique in his ability to portray his protagonists in full three-dimensional terms. And yet, while this emphasis on realism provides an innate draw for, as Myers terms them, reluctant or "uninspired" readers, the author's works have a moral subtext in which Myers attempts to offer instruction and alternative decision-making possibilities. His heroes speak with a frank genuineness, using the curses, slang, and rough terms of endearment native to the inner-city. His novels strive to connect choice and action with personal and moral responsibility in the mind of the reader, addressing broader themes of gangs, school shootings, homelessness, youth violence, drug use, and teen pregnancy in specific terms, without shying away from their often unpleasant realities. But even amidst such suffering, Myers's prose maintains a level of sophistication, filling his stories with humor and love. His characters have support systems of friends, extended family, and community who provide council and a larger sense of purpose. For example, in Hoops (1981), teenaged Lonnie Jackson is a Harlem high-school basketball star, preparing for the city-wide Tournament of Champions. His coach, Cal, is a former pro-basketball player, who lost everything after getting involved in a points-shaving scandal. After Lonnie discovers that several big-time gamblers are betting on the Tournament, Cal counsels Lonnie to avoid the mistakes he once made himself. In Motown and Didi: A Love Story (1984), the two titular teenaged protagonists are able to overcome a confrontation with the neighborhood drug dealer with one another's help, ultimately finding a measure of their dreams through the power of their love for each other.

Despite his penchant for happy endings, Myers routinely tests the characters of his young adult novels, demonstrating to juvenile readers that every action has a resulting effect. Newbery Honor selection Scorpions (1988) offers an example of the far-reaching consequences of rash decisions, set against the backdrop of the Harlem of Myers's youth. When twelve-year-old Jamal's older brother lands in jail for murder, Jamal finds himself pressured to fill the vacant role in his brother's old gang, the Scorpions. Initially resistant, Jamal finds himself enticed by the lure of the gang lifestyle, as well as by the pressing financial needs of his family. Despite their relative youth, Jamal and his best friend Tito finally decide to join the Scorpions. Unfortunately, during a scuffle, Tito is forced to defend Jamal with a gun, and the implications are devastating for Tito, both legally and emotionally. Throughout Scorpions, Myers's text loses neither its grounding nor moral grip. Jamal joins the gang ostensibly to make enough money for his brother's legal appeals, yet ironically, in the midst of his good intentions, Jamal is willing to engage in illegal activities. Above all, Myers is quick to remind Scorpions' readers that, after joining the gang, Jamal and Tito can never regain their former innocence. In the similarly-themed Monster, Myers introduces sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon, who may have been the lookout for a robbery that ends in the death of a Harlem drugstore owner. The inner workings of Steve's psyche are conveyed to readers through stark journal entries about prison life as well as through Myers's innovative presentation of the trial as a screenplay—which is how the aspiring filmmaker Steve masks the ongoing trial in his anxious yet bored mind. At times, Myers characterizes Steve as a victim in the wrong place at the wrong time, but as the story progresses, the author suggests that Steve is perhaps not as innocent as he once seemed. Myers's 2004 young adult novel Shooter expands on the legacy of Scorpions and Monster, using unconventional literary techniques—such as fictional interview transcripts—in the story of the aftermath of a high school shooting.

While a number of Myers's young adult novels are set in Harlem, several also reflect his military experience, generally narrated by characters whom reveal the African American perspective of serving in the Armed Forces. Perhaps Myers's most famous and widely read novel, Fallen Angels, tells the tale of seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, who chooses the Army over college in 1967, because his military pay will be vital to his mother and brother back in Harlem. After excelling on the Army basketball team, Richie injures his knee, which he discovers will excuse him from combat duty. However, due to a clerical error, Richie is sent to fight in the closing days of the Vietnam War. As Richie confronts racism, the morality of war, and the value of friendship under the worst possible conditions, he matures as a human being, eventually returning home after being wounded in action. Fallen Angels describes Richie's tour of duty in graphic detail, highlighting the horrific futility of war and the effect that such violence has on young soldiers, particularly in terms of psychological trauma and drug addiction. In The Beast (2003), Myers further explores the destructive power of narcotic abuse. After Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon returns to his hometown Harlem while on vacation from a Connecticut boarding school, he discovers that his girlfriend Gabi has become addicted to heroin (nicknamed "the beast") as a means to escape the horrors of her mother's terminal cancer and impoverished surroundings. Though Myers's young adult novels remain his most popular works to date, the author has begun expanding his repertoire by authoring several works of biography and history for juvenile audiences. He has released two biographies of noted African American activist Malcolm X, Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary (1993) and Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly (2000), and a biography of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., I've Seen the Promised Land (2004). As in his fiction, Myers's nonfiction works stress the impact of cause and effect on the lives of individuals, citing historical examples of the hardships faced by Malcolm X and King due to their unwavering political convictions.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Myers has been consistently lauded for his realistic portrayal of inner-city life throughout his young adult novels. R. D. Lane has noted that, "The work of celebrated African-American children's novelist Walter Dean Myers opposes the rising trend of incongruous representations; Myers celebrates children by weaving narratives of the black juvenile experience in ways that reverse the effects of mediated messages of the black experience in public culture." Myers has particularly drawn attention for his emphasis on the need for personal responsibility within any debate surrounding the direction of the African American community. Dennis Vellucci has hypothesized that, "What makes Myers's characters remarkable however, is the degree to which they are able to maintain a significant measure of personal and moral integrity in environments that are relentlessly inimical to such integrity." While discussing The Beast, Roger Sutton has commented that the novel's "meditative but steady narration allows Myers his larger themes of identity and community while staying attentive to the needs of the story." Despite the nearly universal positive reception of Myers's works by teachers and critics, many parent associations have taken issue with the author's graphic use of imagery and language, debating whether such realistic depictions are appropriate for young audiences. This has led some to call for the removal of several of Myers's texts, particularly Fallen Angels, from school and children's libraries. Many have labeled such attempts as blatant censorship and, as recently as 2003, Myers was ranked eighth overall on the American Library Association's list of threatened novelists, joining such other authors as Robert Cormier, Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, and Katherine Patterson, all of whom have been noted for the breadth of realism inherent to their narratives.

AWARDS

Throughout his career, Myers has won numerous awards and accolades, including the Council on Interracial Books for Children Award in 1968 for Where Does the Day Go? He received the Coretta Scott King Award for The Young Landlords (1979), Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Fallen Angels, Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom (1991), and Slam! (1996), while Somewhere in the Darkness (1992), Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary, and Harlem (1997) were named Coretta Scott King Honor Books. Scorpions and Somewhere in the Darkness both received the Newbery Honor Book Award, and Harlem was named a Caldecott Honor Book. Myers has also won the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Somewhere in the Darkness and Blues Journey; the 1994 ALA Young Adult Library Services Association Award; the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in 1994; and the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award for "literary excellence in young adult literature" for Monster. Myers has also been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and a MacDowell Fellowship.

PRINCIPAL WORKS

Selected Works

Where Does the Day Go? [as Walter M. Myers; illustrations by Leo Carty] (picture book) 1969

The Dancers [illustrations by Anne Rockwell] (picture book) 1972

The Dragon Takes a Wife [illustrations by Ann Grifalconi] (picture book) 1972; revised edition, illustrations by Fiona French, 1995

Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff (young adult novel) 1975

Mojo and the Russians (young adult novel) 1977

It Ain't All for Nothin' (young adult novel) 1978

The Young Landlords (young adult novel) 1979

Hoops (young adult novel) 1981

The Legend of Tarik (young adult novel) 1981

Won't Know Till I Get There (young adult novel) 1982

The Nicholas Factor (young adult novel) 1983

Motown and Didi: A Love Story (young adult novel) 1984

The Outside Shot (young adult novel) 1984

Adventure in Granada (young adult novel) 1985

Ambush in the Amazon (young adult novel) 1986

Crystal (young adult novel) 1987

Sweet Illusions (young adult novel) 1987

Fallen Angels (young adult novel) 1988

Scorpions (young adult novel) 1988

Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom (juvenile nonfiction) 1991

Somewhere in the Darkness (young adult novel) 1992

Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary (young adult history) 1993

Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children (poetry) 1995

Shadow of the Red Moon [illustrations by Christopher Myers] (young adult novel) 1995

How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World [illustrations by Synthia Saint James] (picture book) 1996

Slam! (young adult novel) 1996

Harlem [illustrations by Christopher Myers] (poetry) 1997

Monster [illustrations by Christopher Myers] (young adult novel) 1999

Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly [illustrations by Leonard Jenkins] (young adult biography) 2000

Bad Boy: A Memoir (young adult memoir) 2001

Greatest: Muhammad Ali (young adult history) 2001

The Beast (young adult novel) 2003

Blues Journey [illustrations by Christopher Myers] (picture book) 2003

Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole [illustrations by Christopher Myers] (young adult history) 2004

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices (poetry) 2004

I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [illustrations by Leonard Jenkins] (young adult biography) 2004

Shooter (young adult novel) 2004

USS Constellation: Pride of the American Navy (juvenile nonfiction) 2004

AUTHOR COMMENTARY

[Text Not Available]

[Text Not Available]

[Text Not Available]

GENERAL COMMENTARY

Dennis Vellucci (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Vellucci, Dennis. "Man to Man: Portraits of the Male Adolescent in the Novels of Walter Dean Myers." In African-American Voices in Young Adult Literature: Tradition, Transition, Transformation, edited by Karen Patricia Smith, pp. 193-223. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

[In the following essay, Vellucci examines the nature of male relationships in six works of young adult fiction by Myers, arguing that the author is "the most prominent and successful of black male writers catering to the young adult market."]

In the twenty-four years since the publication of Walter Dean Myers's first book, Where Does the Day Go?, Myers has proven himself to be as versatile a writer as he has been prolific, with some thirty-two titles to his credit. His work includes picture books; adventure stories for children and young adults; gritty, realistic young adult novels that depict the concerns of and pressures on adolescents in an urban setting; and non-fiction about the African-American experience in America, most recently Now Is Your Time: The African-American Struggle for Freedom (1991) and Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary (1993). The subjects of his young adult novels include war (Fallen Angels ), teen pregnancy (Sweet Illusions ), and gangs (Scorpions ). In her book-length study of Myers for the Twayne United States Authors series, Rudine Sims Bishop has identified Myers as "the only black male currently and consistently publishing young adult novels"1 and cites him as one of the few writers who seeks to redress "the serious lack of books about African-American children and their life experience."2

Certainly the most prominent and successful of black male writers catering to the young adult market, Myers writes most often from the perspective of young black males, a group that is frequently labeled as being "at risk," victimized by broken families and single-parent households, inadequate, inflexible, unresponsive systems of education, lack of economic opportunity, and the prejudice, both overt and subtle, that seems so deeply ingrained a part of American life, so intricately woven into its fabric. Myers has occasionally ventured into the perspective of young black women—in Crystal (1987), the eponymous heroine is a sixteen-year-old who finds herself in a modeling career—but clearly Crystal's situation is extraordinary. Myers's male protagonists, by contrast, come from ordinary though all too often daunting and potentially debilitating circumstances. Theirs is not the world of high-powered careers like Crystal's, but the world of Harlem's streets, gang fights and drug dealers, or, in the case of Richie Perry of Fallen Angels, the jungles of Vietnam. The struggles these characters face are more universal than Crystal's struggle; they are representative of their generation, their race, their culture. Psychologists and sociologists report:

The statistics show a clear disadvantage to being born black and male in America: Black males have higher rates than white males on mental disorders, unemployment, poverty, injuries, accidents … homicide and suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, imprisonment and criminality; they have poorer incomes, life expectancy, access to health care, and education.3

National statistics suggest that more than six times as many black males between the ages of fourteen and twenty-five are likely to be victims of homicide than white men the same age.4

What makes Myers's characters remarkable, however, is the degree to which they are able to maintain a significant measure of personal and moral integrity in environments that are relentlessly inimical to such integrity. In six of Myers's novels written between 1981 and 1992—Hoops (1981), The Outside Shot (1984), Motown and Didi (1984), Scorpions (1988), Fallen Angels (1988), and Somewhere in the Darkness (1992)—protagonists ranging in age from twelve to twenty-two are faced with crises that challenge their decency at every turn, that threaten to thwart their personal development and moral growth. Yet each of them manages—though sometimes just barely—to retain an innate sensitivity that sets him apart and to avoid or reject the gang membership, violent behavior, and illegal activity that sociologist Ronald L. Taylor sees as a manifestation of "the culture of disengagement" that characterizes segments of black inner city youth, a consequence of "disintegrating community institutions."5 Through his response to the obstacles that confront him, each of Myers's characters discovers truths about himself, and each approaches greater maturity. While it may be hyperbolic to say that in every case these characters transcend the limitations of their environment, neither are they defeated by them. Myers is both optimist and realist;6 his protagonists may not always triumph, but they do survive. Conflict in Myers's serious young adult novels is never easily resolved, but it at least results in the self-knowledge and self-awareness that are the foundations of strength and resiliency.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MALE BONDING

The endurance of spirit in Myers's work is often the result of a meaningful and significant relationship the protagonist has with another male character, sometimes older, sometimes younger, sometimes a peer. It is this "male bonding" that becomes the most constant and reliable source of the protagonist's strength and that elicits what is most noble in his character. Bishop has observed in Myers's earliest young adult novels, Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff (1975), Mojo and the Russians (1977), as well as in Won't Know Till I Get There (1982), the common motif of

boys trying to understand their relationships with their fathers, all of whom have achieved some measure of success after overcoming odds [and who] are determined to see that their boys are well brought up and make something of themselves.7

Fathers in Crystal and It Ain't All for Nothing (1978) are depicted sympathetically.8 But in the later novels featuring adolescent male protagonists, fathers are virtually an extinct species. (Statistically, more black children grow up in households without a father than grow up in households with a father.)9 Motown's father is dead; the fathers of Lonnie Jackson (Hoops ; The Outside Shot ) and Richie Perry (Fallen Angels ) deserted their families when their sons were young. When absent fathers do reappear, as they do briefly for Jamal Hicks in Scorpions and, more centrally to the plot, for Jimmy Little in Somewhere in the Darkness, they are distant, vaguely menacing figures who evoke not admiration or even much respect from their sons, but well-warranted resentment. If it is true that a son can see in his father a reflection of the man he is to become and discover himself in his father's image, Myers's characters must seek their identity elsewhere.

This element in Myers's work, paradoxically, both links it with and, at the same time, distinguishes it from, classic African-American novels of male adolescent initiation. Fourteen-year-old John Grimes in James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain is oppressed by his self-righteous stepfather, Gabriel, whom he regards as a hypocrite, abusive and unloving. In Richard Wright's Black Boy, the father is "always a stranger … always somehow remote and alien,"10 and the uncles who replace Richard's father once Richard's father leaves and his mother becomes too ill to care for him, are cruel to Richard, contemptuous of his ambition, and leave him feeling so isolated from his family that he must flee them, their church, and their south in order to attain a sense of identity and self-worth.

The natural father of Ralph Ellison's nameless young narrator in Invisible Man is barely mentioned, but the many father figures the narrator encounters on his odyssey, both black (Bledsoe, Lucius Brockway, Ras) and white (Mr. Norton, Brother Jack) are inevitably patronizing, duplicitous, self-serving. With every bond he forms resulting in failure and betrayal, Ellison's narrator is rendered "invisible" and driven underground into isolation and seclusion. What David L. Dudley has written of African-American men's autobiography—that "black men tend to view themselves as isolated characters striving to make their way in life"11—is no less true of the depiction of manhood in much African-American fiction. While Myers's characters, too, are denied the bonds of father-son kinship, and suffer, as a result, from a kind of rootlessness, Myers breaks with typical representations of African-American male adolescence by giving most of his characters some positive male figure in their lives from whom they can learn or gain a significant measure of self-esteem.

In an essay on Ernest Gaines, Frank W. Shelton has suggested that, perhaps as a consequence of "the paralysis inherited by the black man from slavery," male characters in African-American literature have been unable to forge any kind of meaningful bonds because they are often portrayed as "lacking commitment … a willingness to give of self to another and assume responsibility for another. Black males, even supposedly enlightened ones, seem unable to achieve full maturity."12 Myers's male characters overcome this inability and the hopelessness it portends precisely through the personal commitment, the giving of self, that they willingly undertake. Dudley maintains that intergenerational bonding is typical of literature by black women, while intergenerational conflict is typical of work by black men,13 but despite the failure of natural fathers, this is not the case in Myers's work; Myers may be seen as something of a trailblazer in his portrayal of nurturing and supportive relationships among black men. Indeed, one of the most significant kinds of male bonding that occurs in Myers's serious young adult novels is what Rudine Sims Bishop has identified as "surrogate parenting."14 In Hoops, Coach Cal Jones acts as a surrogate father for young Lonnie Jackson, exasperating Lonnie sometimes, disappointing him at other times, but ultimately giving Lonnie a sense of self-worth that his friends in the novel lack. In Motown and Didi, a mildly eccentric character known as "The Professor," by trade a bookseller with a shop on Lenox Avenue, offers Motown direction and advice, opening Motown's inner world not just through the reading material he supplies for Motown but through the ideology of racial pride that he imparts.

A second type of male bonding transpires when the fatherless adolescent becomes himself a father figure, a role model and surrogate parent to someone
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younger and from this relationship derives meaning and purpose. What keeps Richie Perry emotionally whole in Vietnam is the recurring thought of his younger brother Kenny at home. Richie knows that he is a source of pride and inspiration to Kenny, and he takes seriously the responsibilities that come with being an older brother in a home without a father. In The Outside Shot, Lonnie Jackson (the same character in Hoops, but now transported from Harlem to the Indiana campus of Montclare College) derives as much fulfillment from his work at the university hospital with an autistic boy, Eddie, as Eddie himself clearly derives. Eddie's increasing self-confidence throughout the novel reflects Lonnie's ability to adapt to his new environment.

The third type of bonding occurs when, in the absence of an older male to offer guidance or a younger male for whom he can serve as role model, the protagonist, beset by pressure and confronted by hostil-ity, seeks comfort from a contemporary whose friendship becomes his most vital support under the circumstances. In Scorpions, twelve-year-old Jamal Hicks has no one to turn to when he is urged to assume his imprisoned older brother's role in a local gang except to Tito, a faithful and concerned friend who shares Jamal's suffering and confusion and who ultimately compromises his own values for Jamal. In Fallen Angels, Richie Perry develops the kind of friendship that is a staple of war novels with Peewee Gates, a wise cracking child of the slums of Chicago whose humor and insight help to sustain Richie.

These man-to-man relationships—father-to-son, brother-to-brother, friend-to-friend—relationships that are so much at the heart of the male adolescent experience, lie at the heart of the six novels under consideration here. This is not to suggest, of course, that women do not play an equally important role in the experience of male adolescents. But in these novels, all told from a young man's perspective, women function either as girlfriend or mother. Didi introduces Motown to romance; Mary-Ann in Hoops and Sherry in The Outside Shot provide love interests for Lonnie Jackson. They are, to some degree, positive influences, but they also bring to Motown and Lonnie uncertainty and conflict; especially in the early stages of the relationship, they make the protagonist self-conscious and cause him to question his self-worth. These relationships do not always bring out the best in the protagonists; Didi, in fact, seeking revenge upon a drug dealer whom she holds responsible for her brother's death, compels Motown to uncharacteristic violence and nearly ruins his future. Mothers, particularly in Hoops and Scorpions, but to a lesser degree in Fallen Angels as well, may be self-sacrificing and well-intentioned, but they are ultimately ineffectual as they attempt to instill values or to keep their family together. Myers has written, "I have always felt that young black people must have role models with which they can identify";15 it seems natural that the men in these novels identify with men.

THE INFLUENCE OF LITERARY NATURALISM

Myers has cited Emile Zola as one of the classic novelists whose works inspired him.16 In his bleak, vivid descriptions of ghetto life, the literary naturalism that Zola pioneered in late nineteenth century France is apparent. As Zola wrote in uncompromising terms about the French underclass, making the downtrodden and impoverished his heroes, portraying their surroundings as squalid and oppressive, inevitably shaping and conditioning the individual, binding him, enclosing him, always challenging his dignity, so too does Myers, a century later, write of the individual in modern urban America. Setting is rendered graphically in Myers's novels and it serves as a vehicle of social criticism. Motown observes sardonically the pictures the city has painted on the galvanized tin that covers the missing windows of abandoned buildings in an attempt to make the buildings seem occupied and inhabitable, and he is wary of the "winos and junkies" who, he knows, "might burn up [his] bedding or leave their wastes on it in anger"17 if they do not find the few dollars he has stashed away in the vacant building where he makes his furtive residence. In Somewhere in the Darkness, fifteen-year-old Jimmy makes as much noise as he can climbing the stairs inside his tenement so as not to surprise junkies who may be hidden under the stair-well shooting up or dealing drugs. Scorpions begins with young Jamal observing an addict having no end of difficulty maintaining an upright posture by a lamppost, and he carefully avoids the video parlor that he knows doubles as a crack house. In his review of Scorpions, Robert E. Unsworth hints of the influence of literary naturalism on Myers when he comments on "the black child about to be sucked inevitably into the world of gang violence," and on "the smell of the streets where Jamal and Tito can be innocents no longer."18 The environment, sinister and threatening, cannot easily be overcome.

INSTITUTIONAL AND INDIVIDUAL RESPONSES TO THE PROBLEM OF STANDARDS

"What you need in the community," Myers once said in an interview, "are people to set standards."19 The communities portrayed in his novels are bereft of standards because the traditional institutions—family, school, police—have abdicated their responsibility. Families are broken and rarely exist intact. Police are cynical and indifferent; in Motown and Didi, their dismissal of Didi's request that they arrest her brother's drug contact and her brother as well makes Didi feel "almost dirty, ashamed of herself," and disillusioned in her expectation that "the law would protect her."20 The Professor skeptically wonders why, if child addicts can locate drug pushers, the police cannot, but the police remain apathetic. Even in Myers's earlier novels he has been critical of the police; in both Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff and in The Young Landlords (1979), the police regard black teenagers with suspicion and treat them with "unnecessary roughness."21 In these later novels, the police are not overtly antagonistic towards Myers's young charac-ters, but they are not cooperative either; they neither insure the safety of these young people, nor do they set and enforce community standards.

School officials are even worse—insensitive, manipulative, duplicitous. In Somewhere in the Darkness, the principal, on the day of a standardized reading test, invents trumped up infractions that he claims merit disciplinary action simply as a pretext to keep students he knows will do poorly out of class, while he allows Jimmy, who has been truant, back to class because he knows Jimmy will score well. Jimmy is a dreamer; when he tells the school psychologist of his fantasies filled with imaginary heroes who fight dragons and rescue those in trouble, sharing a deep and private part of himself, he is chided for being too old to be dreaming of imaginary creatures. Only Richie Perry of Fallen Angels can recall an affirming academic experience: a high school English teacher, Mrs. Liebow, encouraged his ultimately unfulfilled ambition "to go to college and write like James Baldwin,"22 and taught him a lesson that not only serves him well in Vietnam but that serves all of Myers's adolescent protagonists well—the lesson that "what separates heroes from humans [is] the not giving in."23 But never for Myers's other characters does school offer the structure and support needed especially in the inner city. In Scorpions, Myers derides all school authority. Mrs. Roberts, the school nurse, misdiagnoses Jamal's constant state of distraction and inattention as hyperactivity and attempts to drug him into submission, and the principal borders on villainous caricature, smug in his assumption that Jamal's mother cares as little about Jamal's education as Jamal himself seems to, predicting with contemptuous certainty that, sooner or later, Jamal will do something to merit expulsion.

MOTOWN AND DIDI AND HOOPS

It is not surprising that with the failure of family, law, and the educational system to promote values, characters turn to other sources for example and direction—Motown in Motown and Didi and Lonnie in Hoops to older men in their community. The Professor, Oliver Harris, frankly expresses his affection for Motown to Didi after Didi has exhorted Motown to kill a local drug dealer:

I don't want to see that boy hurt. I love him as if he was my own son. No, I love him more. I love him the way an old man loves his only son. When I am gone, all that will be left of me are the few books that I've given away and a few wild thoughts that I have planted in that young man's mind.24

Some of those "wild thoughts" include a sense of racial pride and an identification with what the Professor refers to as "the tribe." To the Professor, the young men swaggering down Harlem's streets are "not just youngbloods but warriors walking along the edges of their tribal lands, exalting their manhood."25 Yet he laments the lack of respect these young "warriors" have for themselves or for one another and attributes it to their ignorance of their shared history, their shared heritage. He grieves that young black men feel compelled to prove their manhood "fighting and killing their own," rather than "in the stock market, on the job, in politics,"26 as he claims white men do. Motown, the Professor believes, can be saved; though whenever Motown leaves his bookshop, the Professor worries that he is "failing the boy somehow,"27 he finds in Motown a receptivity to the values he advocates.

Orphaned when his parents were killed in a fire, Motown, reared in foster homes, has formed no strong or lasting attachments and has remained very much the loner. Now, at seventeen, he lives, except for his visits to the Professor, in relative solitude. Occasionally selling his blood to make nine dollars from the blood bank, Motown eschews messenger jobs as being too dangerous; unable to find the kind of job the Professor urges him to get—one from which he will learn something—Motown reads the books the Professor gives him and gets by on very little. Yet, despite the deprivations Motown suffers, he never loses his conviction that "he is made for better things."28 He first encounters Didi when she is being attacked by her brother's partners after her futile appeal to the police. An unwilling hero who knows his best chances for survival lie in minding his own business and staying out of other people's trouble, Motown nevertheless comes to Didi's defense and disperses her assailants. Later, he saves Didi's brother in two ways: first, he throws the dope Tony is about to take down an incinerator, an act that suggests he has taken the Professor's philosophy to heart and has internalized the value the Professor has sought to pass on to him—namely, that each member of the tribe is responsible for the welfare of the others. This action also saves Tony from detectives waiting to make a drug bust.

When Didi comes to the empty room Motown inhabits to thank him, Motown is shy and embarrassed. Defensive and self-conscious about his humble dwelling, he senses Didi's disapproval and wishes he had left his books out, visible so that Didi might have seen what makes him different from the other men his age in the neighborhood, men who have not had the advantage of the Professor as their mentor. Later, when his relationship with Didi blossoms, Motown solicits the Professor's approval and introduces her to him much as a young man would introduce his girl-friend to his parents. (A similar scene occurs in Hoops when Lonnie Jackson introduces Mary-Ann to his coach, Cal.) That Motown, for all his independence and self-sufficiency, craves a father is illustrated in a daydream he has, a flight of imagination unusual for the generally practical, down-to-earth Motown:

Perhaps he would be walking down … Lenox Avenue, and he'd see a tall man, black as Motown, no, blacker still, as black as the ebony statues that stood on the shelves in the back of the Professor's shop … guarding the knowledge of Africa that sprawled about them…. "I've been looking for you all these years…. I am your father and you are my son."29

The chain of association in Motown's fantasy of father with the Professor's shop with blackness with Africa implies that the Professor offers him both a personal identity and a cultural awareness, a connectedness to a people Motown might never otherwise have felt.

It is Motown's sensitivity that makes his acquiescence to Didi's request for vengeance at the end of the novel surprising and, perhaps, not entirely credible. A reluctant hero early in the novel, he is a reluctant avenger at the end. Level-headed and not by nature quick to violence, Motown first recommends to Didi that they go to the police, but Didi's earlier experience causes her to dismiss the suggestion. She challenges Motown to prove himself by killing Touchy Jenkins, and, reaching for a steak knife, threatens to do it herself. Still resistant, and against his better judgement, Motown nevertheless accedes to her persistence, and, in violation of his own character and values, purchases a weapon even as he "tries not to think about killing … or about what would happen after he had."30 Throughout the novel, Motown realizes the importance of maintaining strength. He subjects himself to a rigorous physical workout each night in his room because he believes, "You couldn't be weak in this world and let people know it."31 Yet his moral strength wavers, momentarily, but with potentially disastrous consequences; he has not yet acquired what Myers has called "the strength to turn away from disaster."32 The Professor, apprised of what has happened, convinces Didi that Motown should not "throw his life away after what is already gone,"33 and intervenes just in time to save Motown, if not from death or injury, certainly from arrest and imprisonment. Motown, who has acted as savior to Didi and to Tony, is in turn saved by the person who has functioned as father for him throughout.

An analogous relationship exists between Lonnie Jackson and Cal Jones in Hoops. Lonnie, two years younger than Motown, lacks Motown's maturity and his innate nobility of character. Lonnie is the kind of teenager who takes advantage of a liquor store hold-up to squirrel away a case of Johnny Walker that he hopes to sell at five dollars a bottle. His volatile temper erupts when Cal shows up in the locker room after Lonnie concludes Cal has swindled team members of the money they gave him for team uniforms. Lonnie pulls a .32 pistol from his locker, and though Myers handles the scene comically—Lonnie winds up giving himself a superficial wound that, when washed out with whiskey, "hurt as much as the shot did"34—it establishes Lonnie as impetuous and irresponsible. Lonnie lacks Motown's self-awareness; when he loses a basketball game, he rationalizes that had he "been playing the sucker seriously," Lonnie "would have wiped him off the court."35 In contrast to Motown's respect for Didi, Lonnie, at least in the early part of the novel, is contemptuous of women. He sleeps with Mary-Ann but flees from her declarations of love, and he boasts that he "can't see getting next to a broad but one way."36 Unlike Motown, Lonnie has no daydream of his real father ever re-appearing, but he recalls vividly the night his father left, and it is obvious that much of Lonnie's attitude—his distrust, his temper, the emotional distance he puts between himself and others—is rooted in this painful recollection:

It was me laying on my bed in my room, listening to my mother and father in the kitchen. She was begging and crying, and I was laying there, holding my breath, waiting for his answer. When he said he couldn't, when he had left and the door was closed and the only sound was Mama's crying in the kitchen, I started hitting the wall with my fist. I hit it and hit it until I couldn't feel the pain anymore.37

As an adolescent, Lonnie is still metaphorically "hitting the wall," striking out as his only means of survival.

Lonnie's skill on the basketball court and his relationship with his coach, a relationship that progresses from suspicion and resentment, to pity and respect, to affection and gratitude, help Lonnie mature until he eventually accepts an athletic scholarship and goes on to play for Montclare College, a story that Myers continues in the sequel to Hoops, The Outside Shot. Cal hones Lonnie's athletic talent but, more important, he re-sensitizes Lonnie. By confiding in Lonnie and sharing his own tragic experience, Cal enables Lonnie to "feel the pain" of another person's suffering. Cal, Lonnie discovers, had once played professional basketball but was banished from the NBA for his complicity in a gambling scheme after he had shaved points from a game. Cal's life is a series of regrets. Denied his career and insufficiently skilled to establish himself in another profession, he is briefly supported by his wife. Finally able to find a job, he works for less than a week when he returns home one day to find fire engines at his apartment building. His infant son, Jeffrey, whom Cal had left in the care of a baby sitter, perishes in the blaze, and soon, his wife leaves him. Cal has descended to the level of neighborhood "character" who drinks too much wine and who is known for his eccentricity.

In noting the father-son relationship between Cal and Lonnie, Rudine Sims Bishop has observed that "Lonnie represents a second chance for [Cal]."38 Lonnie is the means by which Cal, himself estranged from his father, can re-enter the world of basketball, relive vicariously his former glory, regain his self-respect, and atone for the mistakes of his past. Lonnie is both a younger version of Cal and an older version of Jeffrey, the adolescent son Jeffrey did not live to become, the child Cal needs to replace. And Lonnie needs a substitute for his father. It is no wonder, then, that he and Cal are well-suited. Above all else, Cal's goal is to keep Lonnie honest so that Lonnie does not fall into the same traps that ruined Cal's life and career. He warns Lonnie against the false hopes fed to young athletes by college recruiters and teaches Lonnie to be wary of supporters who seem too altruistic. Initially resentful of Cal for being "always on [his] case,"39 Lonnie comes to appreciate the transformation that Cal affects in him, and his self-esteem grows; he begins to "feel good" that his game "is a little deeper than a lot of other guys' games."40 When Lonnie invites Mary-Ann to meet Cal, she is at first disdainful and calls Cal a wino. Lonnie feigns indifference and protests that Cal isn't his father, but Mary-Ann can see how sensitive Lonnie has become about Cal, and her apology does little to assuage the offense Lonnie takes on Cal's behalf. Later, Lonnie defends Cal against the suggestion made by O'Donnel, the arrogant, self-important promoter of the tournament in which Lonnie's team is to play, that, because of his tarnished reputation, Cal step down as coach. Lonnie's compassion for Cal becomes his acknowledgement of the role Cal has played in his adolescence.

In her Booklist review of Hoops, Stephanie Zvirin commented that the story "evolves a sharply etched picture of Harlem, where sex and violence emerge naturally as part of the setting."41 During the course of the novel, welfare recipients routinely have their checks stolen from their mailboxes, teenage girls are brutalized by their boyfriends, Cal is blackmailed, bullied, and beaten. One character, against her will, is injected with heroine until she almost dies of an overdose; another is stabbed to death. Again, the environment is hostile, grim, fraught with peril, but Lonnie's athletic gift is his means of escape. In an interview, Myers once said, "It's an absolute lie that a child can get out of the ghetto through sports,"42 yet this is precisely what happens to Lonnie Jackson. Myers ends this novel making clear the metaphor of Lonnie's basketball game for Lonnie's life; his protagonist knows that he "can't win all the time," but that if he can "keep [his] game together … at least [he'll] have a chance."43 This insight, this confidence, and the opportunity Lonnie has to make a new life for himself far from the ghetto, are all parts of Cal's legacy to him.

SCORPIONS

Motown and Lonnie are blessed to have the Professor and Cal, respectively, helping them to define their place in the world. Twelve-year-old Jamal Hicks of Scorpions has no such figure. The role models he might have had—his father, Jevon, and his seventeen-year-old brother, Randy—have each, in a different way, failed him. Jamal is bitter that Randy has caused his mother so much grief and has remained so completely unrepentant about it. He recalls Randy's insouciance as a jury finds Randy guilty of killing the owner of a delicatessen in a robbery, and thinks to himself, "You weren't supposed to be looking cool when you made your mother cry."44 He expresses the hope that Randy never get out of jail and is sure that, were Randy to be released, it would not be long before he courted trouble again. When his mother learns how Jamal feels, she cries again and evokes in her son so much guilt that he feels coerced to find a part-time job to earn money for Randy's appeal. Jamal knows he has little in common with his brother; where Randy is brash and defiant, Jamal is sensitive and reserved. Before going to jail, Randy advises Jamal about being "man of the house," and he urges Jamal to "take care of business" in the gang.45 But Jamal is reluctant to undertake the gang leadership that Randy's friends, especially Mack, try to impose upon him—it is simply not in his nature—though he is tempted by the promise of money for Randy's appeal, a prospect that he regards with ambivalence, but one that his mother prays for. His father, Jevon, links Jamal's responsibility for financing an appeal to Jamal's becoming a man and leaves Jamal little choice but to betray his own best instincts.

Manhood appears to Jamal to be an unreachable goal because he is always made to feel "small inside and weak."46 A furniture salesman who berates his mother, a patronizing school principal who has already written Jamal off as a lost cause, teachers who humiliate him for mistakes he makes in class or for homework he has not done, classmates whom Jamal perceives as tougher than he and who taunt him and mock him—all these trigger Jamal's impression of himself as powerless and helpless. His father, an infrequent visitor, also makes him feel this way by half-joking, half-threatening, "You don't want me to have to take my belt off and straighten you out." Jamal's eyes "sting with tears" not just at his father's arrogance and his lack of respect for Jamal, but also because his father is rarely present "to talk to him or help him or anything."47 And he feels small and weak when he learns that Randy has been stabbed in a prison fight.

Jamal, like Motown, knows it is important for him to be strong—it is a lesson he learns from his mother—but, also like Motown, he has not yet acquired "the strength to turn away from disaster." When he tries on his brother's Scorpions jacket, he finds it "a little too big for him, but not by much."48 For Jamal to grow into his brother's jacket, to follow the bad example Randy has set for him, would represent a tragic diminution of his character, but in the absence of the kind of father figure Motown and Lonnie have, Jamal's moral decline seems inevitable.

It begins when Mack gives him a gun. To Jamal, the gun has a life of its own; he fears it will discharge of its own volition, and he considers throwing the thing away as his best friend Tito advises him, but he cannot. The gun, he believes, confers upon him the strength and the maturity that he lacks and that he knows are essential for his survival. The gun will compel people to respect him. This aspect of Scorpions seems indebted to Richard Wright's classic story of adolescent initiation, "Almos' a Man," in which seventeen-year-old Dave Glover acquires a gun to prove his manhood and accidentally kills a mule belonging to a local landowner. His desperate attempts to cover up his crime provide amusement for the townspeople, but immeasurable embarrassment and humiliation for Dave. Sentenced to work for the land-owner to remunerate him for the dead animal, and faced with his parents' wrath at home, Dave flees his small town, but takes the gun, which he tells his parents he has thrown away, with him. Dave learns nothing from his misadventure; he leaves still clinging to the gun as an emblem of his manhood despite the considerable havoc it has wrought and the chagrin it has brought him.

For Jamal, in Harlem, the stakes are higher than a dead mule. Again disregarding Tito's advice, Jamal brings the gun to school where he intends to intimidate Dwayne, the class bully who has regularly taunted Jamal and who has challenged him to a fight. An essentially harmless schoolboy dispute thus escalates into a potentially fatal confrontation; even Jamal, as he rationalizes that, "It wasn't right, Dwayne laughing at people,"49 seems aware that his solution to the conflict is disproportionate to Dwayne's offense.

Dwayne is frightened by the gun; at first he doubts it is real, but once he cowers as Jamal had hoped, Jamal takes advantage, kicking the trembling Dwayne "once, twice, harder, harder."50 But this violation of his own character does nothing to ameliorate Jamal's sense of himself as small and weak. Now he worries that Dwayne will notify authorities and that he himself will be dispatched to a youth home. Too frightened to keep the gun, but too insecure to throw it away, Jamal prevails upon Tito to hide it for him.

Without any older male to trust or confide in, Jamal comes to rely on Tito whose good and sensible counsel he has hitherto ignored. It is Jamal's friendship with Tito, a physically weak boy who suffers from asthma, but a morally strong boy who has willingly embraced the values of the religious grandmother who has raised him, that offers Jamal the possibility of redemption. Tito envisions himself as a savior; he contemplates being a fireman so that he can "save people,"51 and he attempts to keep Jamal from the lure of the Scorpions. When Jamal remains unmoved, Tito suggests that perhaps, together, they can "get [the Scorpions] to do some good things, too."52 Ultimately, Tito saves Jamal's life, but at great personal sacrifice: Tito fires Jamal's gun, killing a gang member as he is about to stab Jamal.

All Tito can do is cry. To Jamal's grateful, "You saved my life," Tito can only respond, "I didn't want to shoot nobody."53 Tito suggests that perhaps, the next day, he can visit Jamal and they "can read comic books or something,"54 but he knows that, for him, the trappings of childhood have lost their relevance and that his innocence has been spent. Chastened, Jamal realizes that Tito "had been wounded in a place [Jamal] couldn't see,"55 but there is nothing he can sacrifice to save Tito from his psychic and spiritual wound as Tito has saved him from probable death upon the point of a knife. Tito becomes a recluse and soon leaves with his grieving and distraught grandmother for Puerto Rico, his friendship with Jamal a bittersweet memory.

The bond that exists between Tito and Jamal is a genuine one; his friendship with Tito is the most meaningful and nurturing relationship Jamal has. Without Tito, Jamal might have been sucked into the world of the Scorpions with less hesitation and fewer misgivings; without Tito, Jamal would have become another statistic, another victim of gang violence. But perhaps because Tito is Jamal's peer, his contemporary, only a child himself, he cannot have upon Jamal, despite his good intentions, his gentleness, and a wisdom that belies his youth, quite the redemptive effect that the Professor has upon Motown or Cal Jones has upon Lonnie. Scorpions, like Motown and Didi, ends in gunfire that saves the protagonist and destroys the villain; in both cases, the agent of the villain's death is in no danger of being prosecuted. Yet, the resolution of Scorpions is hardly a happy one; the moral ambiguity of taking a life to save a life, of resorting to violence even in the service of a just cause, of conforming to the hostility of the environment rather than challenging it or attempting to transcend it, is rendered in all of its complexity.

SOMEWHERE IN THE DARKNESS

Rudine Sims Bishop has suggested that Scorpions reflects an increasing darkness in Myers's vision.56Somewhere in the Darkness, Myers's most recent serious young adult novel represents, in some ways, a darker vision still. Here, the young protagonist, Jimmy Little, does have a father present, a father who suddenly appears on Jimmy's doorstep after nine years in prison to take Jimmy away from Mama Jean, the woman who has raised him and who has been to Jimmy "all that he needed, companion and friend, mother and father,"57 so that he might travel around the country with Jimmy in an attempt to prove to his son his innocence of the murder for which he was convicted. Escaped from the prison hospital and dying of a kidney ailment, Crab Little hopes to convince a son who does not know him that while he may have been a thief, he has never been a killer.

Jimmy, like Motown and Lonnie and Jamal, has a distinct and innate sensitivity; he also seems to have been less corrupted or damaged by the neighborhood in which he has grown up than do any of the aforementioned characters. He routinely defends Mr. Johnson, the block's resident inebriate, from the taunts and projectiles of schoolboys younger than he. He is devoted to Mama Jean who has cared for Jimmy since his mother died many years before, and though he is an indifferent student who has trouble getting himself to school every morning, he often finds himself motivated by his knowledge of how hurt and disappointed Mama Jean would be if he did not go.

When asked about his father by a school psychologist, Jimmy lies that his father works as a mechanic on city buses; in general, his father does not occupy his thoughts and he has only a vague understanding of the robbery attempt that led to his father's murder conviction. Uncomfortable and uncertain at Crab's sudden arrival, Jimmy is taciturn; he denies having ever wondered about his father, but now his curiosity is aroused. He imagines standing beside Crab in front of a mirror, not just to verify this stranger's identity, but to see himself reflected in the man who calls himself his father. Jimmy is surprised to find himself wondering how much Crab thought about him in prison, and before long, his initial fear and distrust of Crab turn into a need for Crab's approval. He offers Crab the fifty dollars Mama Jean had given him in case of emergency, and he nurses Crab when Crab's illness attacks, finding the times that Crab is weakest the easiest times to be with him. Eventually, he tries, without much success, to assuage Crab's anger and disappointment when Rydell Dupuis, the man that Crab tracks to Memphis hoping that Rydell will tell the truth about the robbery and "make things right"58 between Crab and Jimmy, not only refuses to acknowledge Crab's innocence, but notifies the police, who soon catch up with Crab.

In Cleveland, Jimmy meets Frank, the son of an old friend of Crab's, whose ambition is to enter the Golden Gloves. As Crab and Jimmy watch Frank workout in a local gym, Jimmy feels weak, inadequate, and he wonders if Crab wants him to be more like Frank. Jimmy takes some comfort learning that Frank is a year older than he is, but he is daunted by Frank's swagger and confidence, by the way Frank has of "looking at [Jimmy], sizing him up,"59 by the bravado Frank puts into the workout, "grunting as he threw punches,"60 all, apparently, to extract awe and fear from Jimmy. Later, Frank verbally intimidates Jimmy, who responds simply by looking into Frank's eyes, not backing down, but not accepting the challenge either, and the moment passes. Jimmy does not tell Crab about the incident until much later; sensing that Crab associates manhood with toughness, he is afraid it will make him seem weak to Crab, unable to defend himself. When Jimmy does eventually relate his encounter with Frank to Crab, Crab offers to teach Jimmy to fight—"You got to want to hurt somebody before they hurt you," Crab cautions—and Jimmy agrees, "figuring that was what Crab wanted to hear."61 But Jimmy has no enthusiasm for the proposition; he is simply trying to fulfill Crab's expectations of what a son should be. In an article examining male adolescence in young adult literature, Allan A. Cuseo and Barbara Williams Kerns have written, "All too often the pubescent male receives conflicting messages—be sensitive/be macho—and feels as if he is floundering in a sea of confusion."62 This characterizes precisely Jimmy Little's dilemma in Somewhere in the Darkness : the message to be macho comes from Crab and the milieu into which Crab introduces Jimmy; the urge to be sensitive comes from what is best and deepest within himself.

Crab's motive in forcing Jimmy on this journey with him is dubious. Ostensibly, he wants to repair a severed relationship; he does not want "a kid that hated [him] because [he] killed somebody."63 And he hopes that Jimmy's respect will bring him self-respect. But Crab has a score to settle with Dupuis, and he suspects that the police who might be after him will be less suspicious of a man traveling with a boy who is obviously his son than they would be of a man traveling alone. Further, Jimmy's presence gives the ailing Crab the strength to confront Dupuis, his former partner in crime. A conjure man that Crab consults for his back pain marvels at Crab's strength and wonders at its source. Clearly, Crab derives strength from having his son with him.

During the course of their journey, Jimmy begins to feel affection for Crab, albeit tempered and qualified. Early in the book, Jimmy says to Crab, "I don't love you";64 later, he says, "I don't hate you,"65 hinting at some progress, however limited, in their relationship. But ultimately, the values that Jimmy has apparently gained from Mama Jean lead him to reject Crab, regardless of how genuine Crab's need for Jimmy's respect might be. Jimmy is appalled when Crab rents a car with a stolen credit card, for example. Crab's world is crime, and it seems more natural for him to break the law than to obey it. His philosophy—"It don't matter how I get what I need"66—is one that Jimmy cannot accept, and he frankly questions his father. Not having killed someone, Jimmy explains, does not make Crab innocent if Crab still attempted robbery. Crab's fond recollection of his own father encouraging Crab to drink to prove his manhood shows Jimmy just how shallow Crab's concepts of fatherhood and manhood are. Jimmy searches for someone he loves in Crab, but all he can see is Crab's "darkness,"67 and when Crab touches his shoulder, Jimmy jerks it away. Jimmy recoils from Crab both physically and emotionally; their odyssey finally results in the "terrible" shared knowledge that "Crab did not indeed know how to be a father."68 Crab is the embodiment of the stereotype that sociologist Ronald L. Taylor believes has come to represent the public image of the black male: the symbolically emasculated man, who, has failed to reach "full emotional maturity," and, consequently, "tends to be a poor … father."69

Unlike many of Myers's other protagonists, Jimmy functions well enough without a role model; he feels safer on the Harlem streets that are familiar to him and that he has learned to negotiate than he feels on the road with Crab. His father's unannounced appearance and virtual abduction of Jimmy bring conflict, but they also result in Jimmy's greater maturity and self-assurance. The novel ends with a long, poignant passage wherein Jimmy imagines someday having a son of his own:

It seemed so far off, like something that could never happen but somehow would…. He would tell him all the secrets he knew, looking right into his eyes and telling him nothing but the truth so that every time they were together they would know about each other. There would be a connection, he thought, something that would be there even when they weren't together. He would know just how he was like his son, and how they were different, and where their souls touched, and where they didn't. He knew that if he ever had a son he would have to do it … all the time, because sooner or later, there wouldn't be enough days left to fit the meaning in.70

Perhaps Jimmy's difficult and unhappy experience with Crab, then, has a beneficial effect on him after all. If Jimmy is representative, the next generation of fathers will not be fated to repeat the mistakes of past generations, and the cycle of broken families, of distant or anonymous fathers, of sons left too young to their own resources might be broken. Jimmy has learned the importance of the father-son bond through its absence in his own life; his reflections at the end of the book promise that, sensitive and responsible, he will one day be for someone an exemplary guide.

FALLEN ANGELS

Many of Myers's adolescent heroes—Motown, Jamal, Jimmy Little—share a similar sensibility; they seek to reconcile gentleness with strength and try, with varying degrees of success, to endure without compromising their humanity. Put any of these characters in Vietnam and the result will be a hero very much like Richie Perry, the narrator of Myers's most adult "young adult" novel, Fallen Angels. Richie joins the army at seventeen; his story is told retrospectively as he is leaving Vietnam some years later, having been wounded twice, an adolescent no longer. At home, Richie had felt "the loneliness … of not belonging to the life that teemed around [him]."71 A good student, but weary of not having even clothes enough for high school, Richie decides not to go on to City College, but to enlist instead. At first, Richie is unafraid. Rumors of imminent peace, persistent but ultimately false, lull Richie into the belief that a truce will soon be signed. Army life for Richie consists of little more than "standing around waiting for something to happen."72 Richie has no strong political conviction, no impassioned belief in the rightness of America's involvement in Vietnam. He describes himself as "not gung-ho or anything, but ready to do [his] part."73 Asked by a television news crew why he is fighting, Richie, like his comrades, speaks in the language of patriotic cliché—"I said that we either defended our country abroad or that we would be forced to fight in the streets of America"—that he has likely given little serious thought to, but that he is pleased to observe, "everybody seemed to like."74

Soon, of course, the experience of combat touches Richie and leads him to an honest, if disturbing appraisal of himself. Richie is confused at his response to the death of the first soldier in his unit to fall, Jenkins. "I didn't know what to feel," he reflects; as much as he regrets and grieves Jenkins's death, Richie admits to "a small voice inside" relieved that it was a friend and not himself who had been killed.75 He is more affected by the death of Lieutenant Carroll, whom Richie praises in a letter to Carroll's wife as "a gentle man."76 In battle, Richie is sickened by "the sight of all the bodies lying around, the smell of blood and puke and urine";77 he remains haunted by vivid images of slaughter. Above all, he is frightened. As he awaits the choppers that will lift him high above the battle, he "trembles in fear" and "runs in near panic."78 Richie had thought of himself as "a middle of the road kind of guy, not too brave, but not too scared either,"79 but war teaches him that his knowledge of himself is incomplete. As skirmish erupts after skirmish, the war becomes for Richie "hours of boredom, seconds of terror."80

Richie also does not think of himself as a killer; he is, he believes, an emissary on a mission of peace. "We, the Americans were the good guys," Richie says. "Otherwise, it didn't make the kind of sense I wanted it to make."81 It is natural that Richie's first kill forces him to re-evaluate himself. Gazing at photographs on the wall of what he thinks is an empty hut after a Viet Cong attack, Richie turns to see the muzzle of a gun pointed at his chest. But his would-be assailant cannot get the gun to work. Momentarily paralyzed, immobile, Richie finally stirs himself to empty the clip of an M-16 into his enemy's face. Myers's description, meant to convey Jimmy's horror, is especially graphic:

There was no face. Just an angry mass of red flesh where the face had been. Part of an eyeball dangled from one side of the head. At the top there were masses of different colored flesh. The white parts were the worst. There was a tooth, a bit of skull.82

By the time of Richie's second kill, he has become a different person. Richie recognizes in the face of a teenager he is about to kill his own fear, his own weariness, but he pulls the trigger anyway and then simply sits on the ground to rest without remorse. There is little description, little emotional investment in the act; Richie has learned to distance himself. The title of the book is a reference to innocent young men who fall in battle, but Richie is a "fallen angel," too—battle has begun to numb him spiritually, emotionally, and it is as much of an effort for him to maintain his humanity in his environment as it is for Motown and Jamal in theirs. Two relationships help Richie to endure; one with his younger brother Kenny who is rarely far from Richie's thoughts, and the other with the soldier who becomes his best friend in Vietnam, Peewee Gates.

Richie is the kind of older brother Jamal Hicks might have wished Randy to be—solicitous, thoughtful, someone to look up to. "It was good having Kenny need me," Richie admits. "I had been a sort of father to him … and I know he missed me."83 Richie wants to impress Kenny with his contribution to the war effort; he wants to inspire in Kenny some of the toughness that he knows Kenny will need growing up in Harlem but that he worries Kenny lacks. Yet when Richie, who in his unit has earned a reputation and even attracted the favorable attention of his superiors as an eloquent writer of letters, tries to write Kenny of the "good job" Richie had done killing, the words won't come.84 Instead, he writes to Kenny of the rumors of peace, he sends Kenny souvenirs, including the medal he is awarded after being wounded, and he carries with him the last thing Kenny says to him as Kenny drifts off to sleep the night before Richie leaves—"When you get to Vietnam, I hope you guys win."85 It is clear that Richie is a positive influence in Kenny's life, but it is equally true that Kenny gives much to Richie in return, "something to hold on to," as Richie says.86 Kenny gives Richie the blessing of knowing that Richie is needed, admired and loved. With a father who has left and a mother who, it is insinuated, has had problems with alcohol, Richie and Kenny are mutually dependent, even when one of them is on the other side of the world.

Other soldiers in Richie's unit who come from more traditional backgrounds and who have fathers to write home to, find, like Jimmy Little, that their father more often creates conflict than provides support. Jenkins is bullied by his father, a former colonel whose "game plan"87 for his son was for Jenkins to join the infantry and then go on to officers' training school. Jenkins is the first casualty. Lobel, a movie fanatic who copes with the horror of war by pretending he is an actor in a film, joined the army so that his father "would stop thinking [Lobel] was a faggot";88 now, his father has grown sympathetic to the anti-war movement and criticizes his son's involvement in the military. Even Carroll, whose relationship with his father is close, tells his men twice how proud his father is of Carroll's being an officer "like [Carroll] didn't know what to make of it."89 Not even for Myers's minor characters is the father/son relationship a constructive one. Kenny thus seems all the more fortunate in his relationship with Richie.

Richie's friendship with Peewee Gates also sustains him in Vietnam. Peewee is a colorful figure who often functions as the agent of comic relief, but it is also Peewee whose hand Richie holds on their way back home. At first glance, Peewee appears superficial—his three ambitions in life are to drink wine from a corked bottle, to make love to a foreign woman, and to smoke a cigar—but it is he who makes the connection between the violence of Vietnam and the dangers of urban America most apparent, and thus he serves as spokesman for Myers's social criticism. Peewee sees the military as the great equalizer. He facetiously claims to like the army because he has the same uniform, the same equipment, the same food and accommodations as the other soldiers have; for the first time in his life, no one has more or less than he does. He half-humorously suggests that "them suckers from the projects"90 would be ruthless and efficient killers in Vietnam. When Monaco, a fellow soldier, expresses a variation on the "war is hell" cliché, Peewee retorts that the dangers of Vietnam are not dissimilar to those in Chicago. Richie, too, acknowledges a link between Vietnam and Harlem. At the sight of a dead soldier, he recalls an incident on Manhattan Avenue in which a gang member about the soldier's age lay dead, and in soldiers who are excited by the anticipation of battle, Richie recognizes "a kid on 119th Street"91 with similar bloodlust.

Flying home, Richie finds that his mind keeps returning to Vietnam as he attempts to assess the effect of his experience. Whatever the physical injuries he has suffered, whatever the psychological scars yet to be healed, whatever the unpleasant truths he has confronted about his own character, Richie comes out of Vietnam with a sense of belonging. The loneliness he had known as an adolescent in Harlem, the perception of not being connected to the life outside him, is replaced by the camaraderie forged by men at war. He understands that Peewee, along with the other men in his squad, has taught him—more than anything in his experience before Vietnam with the exception of Kenny ever had—about love. "I had never been in love before," Richie muses as he thinks about his comrades-in-arms. "I hoped this was what it was like."92 It is brotherhood that has sustained him. His final prayer is for "God to care for them, to keep them whole,"93 as they have kept him whole through conditions that might otherwise have broken him.

RISK, SUCCESS, AND THE MAKING OF A HERO

The tree lined, tranquil campus of Montclare College in Indiana obviously does not hold for Lonnie Jackson the hazards that Vietnam holds for Richie Perry, but it does offer a different kind of risk, and it is as foreign a place, as far removed from Harlem to Lonnie as Southeast Asia is to Richie. "Montclare is not the world I knew," Lonnie confides, "and I felt it wasn't the world I belonged to either. But I knew it was a world that had something in it that I wanted."94 For many of Lonnie's friends back home, college was a dream that they never really expected to realize. Through basketball, Lonnie does and opportunity, an escape from the milieu he has known all his life, and personal fulfillment. On a basketball court, Lonnie can "feel full of power," as if "some crazy kind of magic was happening to [him]."95 Ironically, Lonnie jeopardizes his athletic and academic career by nearly falling into the same trap that snared his mentor from Hoops, Cal Jones. A local gambler known as "Fat Man" takes a liking to Lonnie because he sees in Lonnie a naive youth who might easily be manipulated. Lonnie is instinctively suspicious of Fat Man; yet, his association with him subjects Lonnie to suspension from the game and investigation by college athletic officials. Eventually, Lonnie is vindicated and, his innocence affirmed, he is restored to his place on the team. Through his ordeal, Lonnie finds empathy and support from his roommate, Colin, the son of an Indiana farmer, whose poverty surprises Lonnie because Colin is white and because Lonnie had always associated the ownership of property with financial security. "Back in Harlem, we used to see this as the perfect kind of life,"96 Lonnie says on a visit to Colin's farm. Poverty and basketball create such a bond between these two that the issue of race never emerges.

The relationship that gives Lonnie the taste of being a hero, though, and the one that, in some ways, is analogous to Richie's with Kenny, is the one he forms with young Eddie Brignole, an autistic child with whom Lonnie, somewhat improbably, makes almost instant contact where trained therapists have failed, and whose mother, considered overbearing and overprotective by hospital staff, is easily won over by Lonnie despite some initial grumbling. Eddie responds to Lonnie's relaxed, self-deprecating manner; he becomes responsive and completely at ease with Lonnie, who offers to continue working with Eddie even after Eddie's father pulls Eddie out of the hospital program for which Lonnie works. Like many of Myers's other characters, Eddie, a child of divorced parents, is easily intimidated by his father's visits. Carl Brignole, a one time football player for Tulane, is a thoughtless, but not a malicious bully. Lonnie describes him as "the kind of guy who shook your hand like the harder they squeezed, the more of a man it made them."97 His domineering personality has sent his only child retreating into a shell, withdrawing into a private world. Lonnie coaxes Eddie out, and, in the process of becoming a role model to a boy desperately in need of one, learns of gifts he has beyond athletics. Lonnie, who has a surrogate father in Hoops, becomes a surrogate father—or, perhaps more accurately, big brother—in The Outside Shot. Like Richie Perry, he is sustained in a world that is unfamiliar to him by the admiration of a boy and by the empathy of a contemporary.

FEMALE INFLUENCES ON MALE CHARACTERS

Lonnie also develops a relationship in The Outside Shot with Sherry, a serious, independent, self-assured young woman at Montclare on a track scholarship. But women rarely occupy central roles in the novels Myers has written from male points of view—even Motown and Didi has been regarded by critics to be "more Motown's story than Didi's"98—because they are not central to the experience of these characters, another deprivation that is a function of the environment. (Jimmy Little of Somewhere in the Darkness doesn't think very much about girls, though he is fifteen, and Richie Perry, who reveals so much of his life before Vietnam in Fallen Angels, never even suggests any kind of previous involvement in a romantic relationship.) Lonnie tries to understand why he is so uncertain around Sherry, why so many of their early encounters end in misunderstanding, and he concludes, "I wasn't used to dealing with girls outside a man-woman thing. I didn't know how to just hang out and rap or do casual things."99 His girlfriend in Hoops observes that Lonnie resists emotional intimacy; even as he lies in bed with Mary-Ann, Lonnie cannot bring himself to tell her that he loves her because he is unsure of his capacity for love. What his relationships with Cal in Hoops and with Eddie in The Outside Shot show Lonnie is that he is, indeed, capable of forming an emotional attachment, just as Motown learns first from the Professor and then from Didi, and as Richie Perry learns through Kenny and Peewee.

Like many adolescent males, Myers's characters are especially uncommunicative with their mothers. When Lonnie calls his mother from campus, he cannot tell her that he misses her or that he misses home because "that kind of thing was still hard for [him] to say,"100 and because he does not want to worry her. The mother is to be protected; she is to be spared anxiety. This is the basis of Jamal's anger at his brother Randy in Scorpions. This is why Jimmy does not call Mama Jean while he is on the road with Crab, even though he thinks of her often and would like to contact her. This is why Richie Perry destroys the letter he writes to his mother after Jenkins's death; he is afraid it will upset her. And Richie's mother is equally uncommunicative; she writes to Peewee to say that she loves Richie, but she cannot express that love to Richie himself.

CONCLUSION

It seems, then, that Myers's male adolescent protagonists learn to be most fully themselves through their associations with other men. These are the relationships that disclose to them the strengths and weaknesses of their character, that nurture their emotional growth and development, that teach them of responsibility—in short, that transform these boys into men. Lonnie Jackson of Hoops and Motown of Motown and Didi find surrogate fathers to offer them advice, protection, and the wisdom of their experience, but even in as strained a father-son relationship as that between Jimmy Little and Crab in Somewhere in the Darkness, Jimmy discovers much that is honorable about himself. His odyssey transforms him; Crab's negative example and his dependence upon Jimmy confer upon his son a maturity, a depth of understanding and responsibility, that the did not have before his journey began. Lonnie in The Outside Shot and Richie Perry in Fallen Angels, both sons of fathers who have deserted their families and both emigres from the ghetto that has been their only home, discover that their adjustment to new, and in very different ways, challenging surroundings is eased by peer relationships that are especially reassuring as they face hostile circumstances, and by the responsibility they accept to younger boys who look to them as role models and sources of inspiration. Jamal Hicks of Scorpions seeks solace and support in a peer relationship as well, and though he places too great a burden on Tito for the friendship to endure, his experience teaches him about loyalty and sacrifice and disabuses him of the false notion that respect can be earned and manhood proven with a gun.

In a recent interview, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said, "Learning to be black in this society … happens through the tutelage of one's parents and relatives, through the examples of one's friends, and, particularly in adolescence, through the written examples provided by people of color…."101 While there is much in Myers's serious young adult novels to appeal to all male adolescents regardless of race—male bonding is an essential part of the male adolescent experience—it is clear that Myers's work has particular appeal and can serve a distinct purpose for young black males, city bred, streetwise, challenged by poverty, racism, and sometimes circumstance to hold fast to values and maintain a sense of self worth. In Myers's characters they see their own concerns explored and struggles resolved, and recognize the value of the kinds of relationships Myers portrays as the means by which they might grow strong and survive.

Notes

1. Rudine Sims Bishop, Presenting Walter Dean Myers, Twayne's United States Authors Series (Boston, MA: G. K. Hall and Co., 1990), 24.

2. Ibid., 16.

3. "Rescuing the Black Male," The Futurist 26 (September-October 1992): 50.

4. Carrell Peterson Horton and Jessie Carney Smith, eds., Statistical Record of Black America (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1990), 653.

5. Ronald L. Taylor, "Black Youth in America: The Endangered Generation," Youth and Society 22 (September 1990): 8.

6. Bishop, 45.

7. Ibid., 34.

8. Ibid., 50.

9. Horton and Smith, 263.

10. Richard Wright, Black Boy (New York: Perennial Library, 1989), 42.

11. David L. Dudley, My Father's Shadow: Intergenerational Conflict in African American Men's Autobiography (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), 5.

12. Frank W. Shelton, "In My Father's House: Ernest Gaines after Jane Pittman," Southern Review 17 (April 1981): 344.

13. Dudley, 5.

14. Bishop, 49.

15. Adele Sarkissian, ed., "Walter Dean Myers," in Something about the Author, vol. 2 (Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1986), 147.

16. Ibid., 148.

17. Walter Dean Myers, Motown and Didi (New York: Viking, 1984; Dell, 1987), 4.

18. Robert E. Unsworth, review of Scorpions, by Walter Dean Myers, in School Library Journal 35 (September 1988): 35.

19. Walter Dean Myers, interview by Amanda Smith, in Publishers Weekly 239 (20 July 1992): 217.

20. Myers, Motown and Didi, 33.

21. Bishop, 29.

22. Walter Dean Myers, Fallen Angels (New York: Scholastic, 1988), 15.

23. Ibid., 36.

24. Walter Dean Myers, Motown and Didi, 142.

25. Ibid., 5.

26. Ibid., 122.

27. Ibid., 55.

28. Ibid., 36.

29. Ibid., 84.

30. Ibid., 162.

31. Ibid., 31.

32. Sarkissian, 155.

33. Myers, Motown and Didi, 167.

34. Walter Dean Myers, Hoops (New York: Delacorte, 1981; Dell, 1983), 34.

35. Ibid., 20.

36. Ibid., 55.

37. Ibid., 158.

38. Bishop, 58.

39. Myers, Hoops, 28.

40. Ibid., 43.

41. Stephanie Zvirin, review of Hoops, by Walter Dean Myers, in Booklist 78 (15 September 1981): 98.

42. Walter Dean Myers, interview by Stephanie Zvirin, in Booklist 86 (15 February 1990): 1153.

43. Myers, Hoops, 183.

44. Walter Dean Myers, Scorpions (New York: Harper, 1988; Harper Keypoint, 1990), 39.

45. Ibid., 38.

46. Ibid., 22.

47. Ibid., 93.

48. Ibid., 74.

49. Ibid., 101.

50. Ibid., 107.

51. Ibid., 86.

52. Ibid., 78.

53. Ibid., 196.

54. Ibid., 201.

55. Ibid., 209.

56. Bishop, 46.

57. Walter Dean Myers, Somewhere in the Darkness (New York: Scholastic, 1992), 74.

58. Ibid., 152.

59. Ibid., 64.

60. Ibid., 67.

61. Ibid., 90.

62. Allan A. Cuseo and Barbara Williams Kerns, "Growing up Male," VOYA 7 (October 1984): 155.

63. Myers, Somewhere in the Darkness, 98.

64. Ibid., 52.

65. Ibid., 98.

66. Ibid., 99.

67. Ibid., 154.

68. Ibid., 156.

69. Ronald L. Taylor, "Socialization to the Black Male Role," The Black Male in America: Perspectives on His Status in Contemporary Society, ed. Doris Y. Wilkinson and Ronald L. Taylor (Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall, 1977), 1.

70. Myers, Somewhere in the Darkness, 167.

71. Myers, Fallen Angels, 35.

72. Ibid., 28.

73. Ibid., 20.

74. Ibid., 77.

75. Ibid., 46.

76. Ibid., 132.

77. Ibid., 177.

78. Ibid., 167.

79. Ibid., 50.

80. Ibid., 132.

81. Ibid., 112.

82. Ibid., 181.

83. Ibid., 117.

84. Ibid., 190.

85. Ibid., 14.

86. Ibid., 187.

87. Ibid., 28.

88. Ibid., 117.

89. Ibid., 60.

90. Ibid., 24.

91. Ibid., 198.

92. Ibid., 301.

93. Ibid., 309.

94. Walter Dean Myers, The Outside Shot (New York: Delacorte, 1984; Dell, 1987), 136.

95. Ibid.

96. Ibid., 105.

97. Ibid., 127.

98. Gale Jackson, review of Motown and Didi, by Walter Dean Myers, in School Library Journal 31 (March 1985): 180.

99. Myers, The Outside Shot, 52.

100. Ibid., 77.

101. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., interview by Jerry W. Ward, Jr., in New Literary History 22 (Autumn 1991): 929.

References

Bishop, Rudine Sims. Presenting Walter Dean Myers. Twayne's United States Authors Series. Boston, MA: G. K. Hall and Co., 1990.

Cuseo, Allan A. and Barbara Williams Kerns. "Growing up Male." VOYA 7 (October 1984): 155-6.

Dudley, David L. My Father's Shadow: Intergenerational Conflict in African American Men's Autobiography. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Interview by Jerry W. Ward, Jr. In New Literary History 22 (Autumn 1991): 927-35.

Horton, Carrell Peterson and Jessie Carney Smith, eds. Statistical Record of Black America. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1990.

Jackson, Gale. Review of Motown and Didi, by Walter Dean Myers. In School Library Journal 31 (March 1985): 180.

Myers, Walter Dean. Crystal. New York: Viking, 1987.

――――――. Fallen Angels. New York: Scholastic, 1988.

――――――. Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff. New York: Viking, 1975; Penguin, 1988.

――――――. Hoops. New York: Delacorte, 1981; Dell, 1983.

――――――. It Ain't All for Nothin'. New York: Viking, 1978; Avon, 1985.

――――――. Malcolm X: By Any Means Necessary. New York: Scholastic, 1993.

――――――. Mojo and the Russians. New York: Viking, 1977; Avon, 1979.

――――――. Motown and Didi. New York: Viking, 1984; Dell, 1987.

――――――. Now Is Your Time: The African-American Struggle for Freedom. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

――――――. The Outside Shot. New York: Delacorte, 1984; Dell, 1987.

――――――. Scorpions. New York: Harper, 1988; Harper Keypoint, 1990.

――――――. Somewhere in the Darkness. New York: Scholastic, 1992.

――――――. Sweet Illusions. New York: Teachers and Writers Collaborative, 1986.

――――――. Where Does the Day Go? (illustrated by Leo Carty). New York: Parents Magazine Press, 1969.

――――――. Won't Know Till I Get There. New York: Viking, 1982; Penguin, 1988.

――――――. The Young Landlords. New York: Viking, 1979.

――――――. Interview by Stephanie Zvirin. In Booklist 86 (15 February 1990): 1153.

――――――. Interview by Amanda Smith. In Publishers Weekly 239 (20 July 1992): 217.

"Rescuing the Black Male." The Futurist 26 (September-October 1992): 50-51.

Sarkissian, Adele, ed. "Walter Dean Myers." In Something about the Author, vol. 2. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., 1986, 143-155.

Shelton, Frank W. "In My Father's House: Ernest Gaines after Jane Pittman." Southern Review 17 (April 1981): 340-5.

Taylor, Ronald L. "Black Youth in America: the Endangered Generation." Youth and Society 22 (September 1990): 4-11.

――――――. "Socialization to the Black Male Role." The Black Male in America: Perspectives on His Status in Contemporary Society. Edited by Doris Y. Wilkinson and Ronald L. Taylor. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall, 1977.

Unsworth, Robert E. Review of Scorpions, by Walter Dean Myers. In School Library Journal 35 (September 1988): 35.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Perennial Library, 1989.

Zvirin, Stephanie. Review of Hoops, by Walter Dean Myers. In Booklist 78 (15 September 1981): 98.

TITLE COMMENTARY

FALLEN ANGELS (1988)

Rudine Sims Bishop (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Bishop, Rudine Sims. "Of Battles and Brotherhood: Myers the War Novelist." In Presenting Walter Dean Myers, pp. 82-92. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1990.

[In the following essay, Bishop offers a critical reading of Fallen Angels, Myers's young adult novel about the Vietnam War experience, praising the novel's use of realism and natural-sounding dialogue, while ultimately calling the text "a powerful evocation of the Vietnam War and an indictment of war in general."]

Lord let us feel pity for Private Jenkins, and sorrow for ourselves, and all the angel warriors that fall. Let us fear death, but let it not live within us. Protect us, O Lord, and be merciful unto us. Amen.

This is the prayer that gives Fallen Angels its title, offered on the death of one of the angel warriors—boys sent off to fight wars before they are old enough to vote. A disproportionate percentage of those angel warriors were underprivileged young men who could not escape the draft or who thought the military would offer them educational opportunities and a source of income. Many were from the Harlems of this country, and in Fallen Angels Myers presents a fictional portrayal of one such young man and his experience of the Vietnam War.

The book is dedicated to Myers's brother Tommy, one of the several Martinsburg siblings who made their way to New York. Although Myers did not develop close relationships with them, the younger boys admired Walter, who had escaped the hardships of Martinsburg and lived what must have appeared to be an exciting life in Harlem. Tommy, a sensitive young man who wanted to be an artist, elected first to follow his older brother's footsteps and join the army. He became one of the fallen angels, struck down before his twenty-first birthday. Myers was deeply moved by his death and terribly saddened at the thought of the wasted life—a gift thrown away.

Even though the book honors Tommy, Myers tapped his own experiences to create the character of Richard Perry. Like Myers, he attended Stuyvesant High School and wanted to go to college and become a writer. They both joined the army at seventeen, were stationed at Fort Devens, and played basketball for the army. In his speeches and in his autobiographical writings, Myers often acknowledges a debt to his high school English teacher, Bonnie Liebow, for the individualized reading list she gave him. In a tribute to his teacher, Myers names Perry's English teacher Mrs. Liebow and the fictional Mrs. Liebow makes a comment about heroism that states one of the themes of the book. Perry tells her about a feeling he sometimes has: "I would feel a pressure to give in, to let a rebound go over my head, to take the outside shot when I knew I had to take the ball inside…. I told Mrs. Liebow, my English teacher, and she had said that it was what separated heroes from humans, the not giving in, and I hadn't understood that."

But Perry is not, after all, Myers; Fallen Angels is not autobiography. Myers did not fight in Vietnam, and Fallen Angels is a testament to his craft as a creator of realistic fiction. The book is a graphic and sometimes horrifying depiction of the waste, the futility, and the anguish of war. It is also, as Mel Watkins points out in the New York Times Book Review, "as much about Perry's coming of age as it is about the Vietnam War."1

Fallen Angels shares with The Nicholas Factor and The Legend of Tarik the structure of the romantic adventure story. Richard Perry, too, takes a circular journey. The book begins with Perry on his way to Vietnam and closes with him on his way home. There the similarity to a romance ends. What he does share with Gerald and Tarik is a loss of innocence, the passage to manhood, and the realization that, in the real world, issues of right and wrong, good and evil, are not easily decided.

Fallen Angels opens with Richard Perry on his way to Vietnam in 1967. He chooses to join the army rather than enroll in City College because he thinks his military pay will help his mother and younger brother. He plays basketball for an army team, injures his knee, and is supposed to be excused from combat duty. But through an army snafu, he is sent to Vietnam. Much of his time there is spent waiting, bored, hoping that rumors of imminent peace are true. Other time is spent on patrol, on "pacification missions," in combat. People who share those kinds of experiences develop a bond, and camaraderie grows among the members of Perry's squad. The book ends with Perry on his way back to "the World" some months later, wounded but essentially whole, presumably with a clearer understanding of Mrs. Liebow's definition of heroism.

THE CRAFT OF FALLEN ANGELS

Reviewers recognized Fallen Angels as an extraordinary book. School Library Journal, in a starred review, called it "a riveting account of the Vietnam War" and "a compelling, graphic, necessarily gruesome, and wholly plausible novel. It neither condemns nor glorifies the war but certainly causes readers to think about events."2Horn Book also gave it a starred review, in which Ethel Heins found that "Except for occasional outbursts, the narration is remarkably direct and understated; and the dialogue, with morbid humor sometimes adding comic relief, is steeped in natural vulgarity, without which verisimilitude would be unthinkable…. With its intensity and vividness in depicting a young soldier amid the chaos and the carnage of war, the novel recalls Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage."3

In this book Myers brings together all those elements of his craft that make his best writing commendable. His characters are complex and memorable. The dialogue, both in Black vernacular and standard informal English, sounds genuine and is a major means by which he defines his characters. He uses imagery and figurative language to paint vivid word pictures of the setting, the action, and the characters. There is both linguistic and situational humor. His first-person narrator keeps the reader close to the action, and he skillfully draws the reader into sharing the emotions of his characters. The descriptions of the fighting are dramatic.

Richard Perry is drawn as an ordinary young man from Harlem—bright, fatherless, without enough money to ensure a smooth passage even through City College. He tells us that in high school he had so few suitable clothes that he had to wash them every night and dry them each morning on the oven door. Clothes for college seemed like an impossibility. Besides his mother, who drinks too much, he leaves at home a younger brother, Kenny, for whom he feels responsible. For Perry, as for many poor young men, the army seems to offer a reasonable alternative to the streets or to the college education that was out of his reach—some training, a temporary job, a salary for his family.

Mrs. Liebow points out that Perry is "too young to be just an observer in life." Readers need Perry to be an observer, however, since through him we come to know the other soldiers and to experience all the action. Partly because he is an observer, he has developed a sensitivity, an ability to tune in to the feelings of those around him. He understands when it is appropriate to reach out to his cohorts and when to keep quiet and leave them with their thoughts. He knows intuitively how to compose a letter to the family of a fallen comrade that is touching and eloquent in its simplicity.

Perry is more than an observer, however. Although he is no "gung-ho" soldier, he is prepared to do his part once he has been assigned to a squad. Given the opportunity to opt out of patrols because of his knee, he elects to participate with the others. That decision sets the stage for him to experience the full horror of the war. He learns to live with "the fear that calls each of our names." He sees people dying all around him and even confronts his own death when a Vietcong guerilla tries to shoot him in the head, failing only because his gun malfunctions. Perry shoots the attacker's face away and is shaken both by his close call with death and by his killing another human being not by shooting at some bushes but at close range.

If this is a coming-of-age story, then as Mel Watkins points out, "Perry's experience in Vietnam—his baptism in the violence, confusion and moral havoc—is the crucible that tests and determines his passage to manhood."4 Having arrived in Vietnam an innocent, he leaves understanding that war changes humans, that it sometimes even destroys their humanity. He also knows that he has survived because, like Mrs. Liebow's heroes, he hasn't given in.

The character who becomes Perry's best buddy, and who provides most of the much needed humor in Fallen Angels is Peewee Gates, high school dropout from Chicago. Peewee is almost always talking—teasing, challenging, spouting opinions and his philosophy of life. The first line of the book is his:

"Somebody must have told them suckers I was coming."

"Told who?" I [Perry] asked.

"The Congs, man. Who you think I'm talking 'bout?"

"Why you think somebody told them you were coming?

"Cause I don't see none of 'em around here. They don't want their butts kicked."

No matter that the troops are in Anchorage, Alaska, on a refueling stop. Peewee is on his way, and he is bad!

Peewee is another young man from a poor inner-city neighborhood. He has joined the army, he says, because when he accompanied a friend to the recruiting office, the friend, who had a criminal record, was rejected because the army does not take rowdies. He figured that if the army were serious about killing people, they would most certainly look first for "them suckers from the projects, 'cause that's all they like to do, anyway." He now thinks he's been tricked. The army is deadly serious.

Peewee takes on all comers, regardless of size or position. His armor against fear and danger is to take the offensive, to openly invite them into his territory. When a white soldier, much larger than he, calls him "boy," Peewee kicks him in the groin and threatens him with a switchblade. When Johnson, a large Black soldier, tired of hearing Peewee belittle his native Georgia, declares that Chicago is nothing, Peewee's retort—"Neither is your daddy"—signals that Peewee is unimpressed by Johnson's size. When a captain asks, "Where the hell is your pride, soldier?" Peewee's reply is "In Chicago, sir. Can I go get it?" Perry speculates that Peewee likes to court danger.

Peewee, however, is not simply a clown, inserted into the novel to provide comic relief. Beneath the protective shell of his rhetoric, Peewee is the boy who wants to mingle spit with Perry in order to seal a vow of brotherhood and who smears a homemade Vietnamese salve on his upper lip in order to grow a mustache. His three ambitions are to drink wine from a bottle with a cork, smoke a cigar, and make love with a foreign woman. He is also a young man deeply hurt by his girlfriend's "Dear John" letter and deeply shaken by witnessing the death of a soldier holding a booby-trapped Vietnamese child for whom Peewee was busy making a doll. He is most of all, however, Perry's friend, sitting with him through a bad case of diarrhea, holding him when he can't shake the horror of having nearly been killed, helping him to recognize that, for the common soldier, the war was simply about killing or being killed. When Peewee finally acknowledges the possibility that he might actually die in combat, he verbally wills to Perry the only material thing of value he owns, an old coin.

Others in the squad are well-defined individuals, too. Notable among them are Johnson, the veteran about whom there is "a knowing" that could be trusted in or out of battle; Monaco, the Italian who is friendly enough with the Blacks to be considered one of them; and Lobel, the Jew who casts his lot with the Blacks and who copes with the war by making it all into a mental movie—until he kills his first enemy soldier, "up close,… personal," and it becomes real. In the beginning there were five whites and five Blacks from varying backgrounds. The eight who survive forge a bond cemented by their dependence on each other for survival in the "deep boonies" of Vietnam.

Richard Perry is older than all Myers's first-person narrators except Lonnie Jackson, the basketball player in Hoops. Partly because he is older, Perry's is a more literary voice, using strong imagery to paint vivid word pictures, particularly when the troops are on patrol or in firefights:

It was grave dark and quiet except for the things that crawled in the night.

There were shadows all around me, laughing, jerking, mocking.

The chopper came and we handed up Lieutenant Carroll. A burnt offering.

[on helicopters]: Great insects, angry and buzzing over the steaming jungle.

The chopper crews. They were the stuff of heroes. Swooping from the skies like great heavenly birds gathering the angels who had fallen below.

Lobel's repeated references to filmmaking and the possible roles the soldiers are playing become a part of an extended metaphor in which Myers contrasts the reality of war with the romantic notions perpetrated by movies and television. Lobel's uncle is a film director, so he is familiar with the illusions that Hollywood creates. Early on he suggests that the way to end the war is to take all the Vietcong to Universal Studios and give them bit parts in war movies. On guard duty, he declares that he cannot decide what part he is playing: the star in the foxhole who survives, Lee Marvin as a tough sergeant, or the baby-faced virgin who gets shot. His advice to Perry is to stay away from the role of "the good black guy who everybody thinks is a coward and then gets killed trying to save everybody else."

Perry, too, is a movie lover whose all-time favorite film is Shane. He can easily join in conversations with Lobel. He struggles with letters to his brother so that Kenny will not get the idea that war is like the movies. In a battle scene, Perry desperately wishes it were: "I didn't want to get up. Where the hell was the popcorn machine?"

When the men are sitting around the barracks, the pace of the book slows considerably. Very little happens, and these sections depict for the reader how the boredom, the waiting, and the lack of anything productive to do can lead to bickering and exacerbate the tensions that arise when people of various backgrounds, facing serious danger, spend time together in confined spaces. The menu is repeated so often—roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, carrot cake, and milk—that once the cooks have to serve it wearing flak jackets. By repeating the entire menu each time it is served. Myers gives the reader a sense of the monotony experienced by the soldiers who had to eat it. A Julie Andrews movie is viewed three times—the last time without the sound and with the soldiers playing the parts. A broken television set, vicious mosquitoes, insect repellent so strong it keeps Perry awake—the details relate the sense of ennui. One of Perry's discoveries is that on some level the war is about "hours of boredom, seconds of terror."

In contrast to the boredom of the barracks, the fight scenes—the seconds of terror—are dramatic and gruesome. Myers uses stomach-tightening descriptions of the horrors of battle to undercut any sense of war as romantic adventure. We are forced to witness the sickening and grisly details of the deaths of men and boys on both sides of the war, as well as Vietnamese civilians. This violence is controlled and grows out of the setting, but there is enough to hammer home the point that war is hell and that it sometimes encourages people to forget, at least temporarily, their humanity.

Images of body bags appear more than once. When the first member of the squad is killed by a mine, Perry is sent to get the body bag. The large supply of bags on the shelf reminds Perry that many soldiers were expected to die in this place. When another squad member dies next to him in a helicopter where they both lie wounded, the use of the body bag confirms the death for Perry: "I heard the zipper. I didn't have to see it. I heard the zipper." The understatement is as effective as a graphic description of a mutilated and torn body. There is no shortage of such graphic descriptions, however: "I could see bubbles of blood coming from a gaping wound in his throat. The flies around the pile, crawling over the bodies, into and out of the wound, buzzed in delight."

Most of the time, however, Perry's narrative voice is like those of most of Myers's first-person narrators—direct, conversational. The point of view is consistently Perry's, and Myers makes effective use of Perry's memories and recollections to fill in information about his background and to round out his characterization. We learn of his conflicts with his mother: he was bright, and she never understood his needs. We also learn how much he loves his younger brother Kenny and how he takes seriously his role of older brother and role model.

Most of what we learn about the other characters comes from their conversation and from Perry's observations about them. Perry reports the dialogue that goes on among the men in the barracks and in the field. Again, Myers's rendition of the Black vernacular of Peewee and the other Black soldiers reflects his clear understanding of its grammar and style, although Peewee, unlike some of the younger boys in the love and laughter novels, is no young adolescent showing off his rapping ability. Myers is equally adept at creating natural-sounding speech for his white characters.

The dialogue also reflects the kind of language that is likely to be heard among men in wartime, words that many consider profane or foul. There is a generous sprinkling of such language throughout the book but not to the extent to which it is used in reality. Myers uses enough to give the flavor of barracks talk. His retort to people who consider the language obscene is to remind them that the real obscenity was the war itself.

The Vietnam War raised many issues that were debated in the streets and in the homes of America. Fallen Angels touches on several: the practice of promoting officers on the basis of the numbers of enemy killed, leading to the falsifying of body counts: the racism that caused some officers to give the most dangerous assignments to Blacks and that encouraged Americans to refer to the Vietnamese as "gooks"; the massacre of Vietnamese civilians; the mix-ups in which Americans fought and killed other Americans. He also raises questions about the effects of the war on the Vietnamese civilian population. Myers, however, is not on a soapbox. These issues are embedded in the context of the war experiences of Perry and his cohorts and are presented as events to which the soldiers respond in various ways.

The major issue, however, and the one Perry wrestles with repeatedly is "Why are we here?" When, near the beginning of the novel, a television news crew asks the squad members why they are fighting in Vietnam, all except Peewee give idealistic answers about fighting communism, believing in the domino theory, and demonstrating that America stands for something. Perry's answer is that "we either defended our country abroad, or we would be forced to fight in the streets of America." As the war goes on, however, his certainty evaporates. He recognizes that the war may seem right from a distance but when the killing begins there is no right or wrong, only endurance and survival; that in the midst of the fighting there is excitement but the dominant emotion is fear. It is not easy to identify the good guys. To the Vietnamese, he may well be a bad guy. Close up the enemy looks a lot like ordinary people, some young men no older than Perry's brother Kenny. Readers are left to answer the "why are we here?" question for themselves.

Perry goes home knowing that he is no longer a child. As he and Peewee wait to board the plane home, they try to avoid noticing all the silver caskets that are going back with them. They have come almost full circle, but they have been forever changed. Perry learns that Judy Duncan, the nurse he had sat with on the flight to Vietnam, has been killed; the circle has been broken. As they stand in a tired and bedraggled line, a group of new recruits arrive, looking very much like the Perry and Peewee who landed in Vietnam months before. A new circle is beginning. Perry has become a different person, having learned "something about dying, and about trying to keep each other alive."

Fallen Angels is a powerful evocation of the Vietnam War and an indictment of war in general. It recognizes and celebrates the bonding that grows from shared experience. It also recognizes that young men who face the conditions of war also face themselves and find out what they are made of. Ultimately, though, it reminds us that, for the angel warriors—the boys we send off to fight before they have a chance to become men—war mostly provides lessons in how to kill in order to keep themselves from being killed. For many the lessons are not enough; they become the fallen angels. The survivors have other lessons to learn. Having learned to kill, having learned to face death, they come home to relearn what it means to be an ordinary human being.

Notes

1. Mel Watkins, review of Fallen Angels, New York Times Book Review, 22 January 1989, 29.

2. Maria B. Salvatore, review of Fallen Angels, School Library Journal (June-July 1988): 118.

3. Ethel Heins, review of Fallen Angels, Horn Book (July-August 1988): 503.

4. Watkins, review of Fallen Angels, 29.

Beth Murray (essay date 2002)

SOURCE: Murray, Beth. "Defending Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers: Framing—Not Taming—Controversy." In Censored Books II: Critical Viewpoints, 1985–2000, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, pp. 167-72. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Murray explores various censorship issues that have challenged the presentation of Fallen Angels in classrooms and children's libraries, asserting that the text best functions as a "vehicle for critical examination of a hotly contested historical period."]

The plot of Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers, is not extraordinary in its skeletal form: a young army soldier from Harlem flies to Vietnam, encounters challenges, builds alliances, sustains injuries, loses comrades, and ultimately returns home; plane to plane. It's a war story, after all. However, Walter Dean Myers's artistic choices in creating this particular story as one soldier's vivid narrative of feelings, thoughts, and observations fleshes out the tale with immediacy and the inevitable controversy that seems to shadow immediacy. In choosing to write a Vietnam War story at all, Walter Dean Myers strode knowingly toward controversy. In choosing to tell the story through Richard Perry, a soldier on the front lines, Myers stood squarely in the complex immediacy of controversy. This is not a "war book" aiming only to clarify military strategy and events, though it does so to some extent. Readers spend a great deal of time inside the mind of Richard Perry, looking out through his eyes, listening through his ears—feeling his feelings. Perspective and depth lean upon each other.

Perry and his comrades refer to their lives and families in the states as being "back in the world." This phrase underscores the enormity of Myers's task as a writer: transporting readers to a different world, in place and time. Today's teen readers categorize a Vietnam War novel as a work of historical fiction. Richard Perry guides the historical journey. Though Perry narrates in the first person, the story relies heavily upon dialogue among multiple characters with varying and often opposing perspectives. The story plays as a movie: episodic, with flashbacks, interior monologues, and a vast cast of characters.

However, the very same narrative element that brings immediacy also brings protection. Myers is careful to cushion the read within Perry's perspective of a pensive young man taking care, questioning, quietly defending, stretching to understand, and learning to live with the emotional paradoxes of war and of life. The most controversial elements are often Perry's observations, not his own actions or words. Perry's perceptions and preconceptions emerge through these observations, on behalf of the reticent reader. In time, the war problematizes many of Perry's prejudgments. As Perry's categorization of his world grows more complex, the reader must wonder past stereotypes as well.

Teaching Fallen Angels (or sharing it with teens) invites exploration of censorship issues on multiple levels. In this book, there is something to challenge anyone's thinking. Of course, some readers construe challenges as opportunities to be offended. This book will "offend" almost anyone seeking a reason to be offended. First, it is a war story set largely in Vietnam. Those opposed to that particular conflict or violence in books for young people might oppose this book, despite its acclaimed accuracy. Second, it takes a close look at a multiraced platoon and personifies the "battle within the battle" faced by soldiers of color. Those opposed to plain talk about sometimes divisive racial tension in books for young people might oppose this book. Those opposed to any questioning of the military might oppose this book. Third, this book relies upon an ensemble of characters to spin its story. Most of these characters are soldiers on the front lines of a war. They speak as any range of soldiers might: some formally, some informally, some derogatorily, and some religiously. Characters utter racial slurs, sexual innuendo, homophobic comments, and "cuss" words between their playful banter and professions of solemn support. Those who oppose "offensive" language in books for young people might oppose this book. Those who oppose open prayer might oppose this book. One could choose to view such elements as controversial enough to keep the book available on the shelf, marginally significant enough to entrust it to the hands of a few who could mediate it themselves, or important enough to share it at the center of a broad classroom inquiry into the construction of perspectives and perceptions. Myers lays the groundwork to support such brave inquiry.

In teaching a controversial book, we often anticipate—sometimes tensely—reactions in young readers: the flush of giggles over the allusion to the human anatomy in chapter 10, or the exchanged glances and raised eyebrows as one character blurts out "hell" or "fuck" in the midst of a fiery tirade. Profanity and racial slurs arrest attention as they hope to stereotype, intimate, taunt, and dehumanize. We wait to see if the controversial moment lures or alienates readers. Myers doesn't make us wait in Fallen Angels. By page three, the "enemy" Vietnamese are dehumanized and objectified as "Congs." By page 6, the sergeant taunts soldiers with language that would make most people blush. By page 7 the same sergeant has stereotyped and estranged the entire gay population. By page 12, there is a triangle of racial tension involving a Vietnamese cleaning woman, an African American soldier, and a White soldier filled with derogatory labels and knee-jerk bravado, brinking on violence.

So why bother with this book at all? The story is broader and deeper than its necessarily coarse language and imagery. The timeless tensions it explores merit close study. The instructional challenge then becomes gauging comfort levels with explicitness and creating contexts where everything can be interrogated, including discomfort. Myers did not write this book to place readers at ease. The reader is challenged to unpack the battles within battles, the histories and motivations. These tensions are not new nor are they unique to the Vietnam War. They are patterns in human history. Myers tries to help readers find their place in history through Perry's struggles. It is both a war story and a coming-of-age story.

Sometimes the coming-of-age story supersedes the war story. This book is part of a larger mission on Myers's part to share voices formerly unheard and inspire readers formerly unmirrored in literature for young people on their rites of passage. Scorpions (1988) and Monster (1999) are examples of two other titles working toward that career-long mission. Perry is searching, as are many young people who would be drawn to this text. He just happens to be a soldier. The immediacy of Perry's first-person view pushes the book, through war, toward more universal struggles. Thus the text is doubly rich as the poignant, complex lessons Perry and Peewee, Perry's newfound comrade, and the others learn as they come of age are inextricably bound up with the complex lessons of the Vietnam War. The lines between boyhood and manhood are as blurred as the borders between war and peace. The parallel exploration of personal and global treacherous, unsettled terrain sets this story above other adolescent novels in which the journey is not nearly so plural.

Hostile actions are vital to the authenticity of this tale. However, Myers focuses less on how people die and more on the emotional aftermath, as in the case of Jenkins's death.

"You know him?"

"No," I said, "I just met him at the replacement company."

"Sometimes it goes like that," Monaco said. He started to say something else then shrugged it off, and left.

I wanted to say more to him. I wanted to say that the only dead person I had seen before had been my grandmother…. But Jenkins was different. Jenkins had been walking with me and talking with me only hours before. Seeing him lying there like that, his mouth and eyes open, had grabbed something inside my chest and twisted it hard.

                                             (43)

When the platoon commanding officer dies, the aftermath is again more central than the physical demise. Perry has aged over the pages between the deaths. His perspective broadens to collective rather than individual grief.

Shock. Pain. Nobody wanted to look at anybody else. Nobody wanted to talk. There was nothing to say. Lieutenant Carroll's death was close. It hung around our shoulders and filled the spaces between us. Lieutenant Carroll had sat with us, had been afraid with us, had worried about us. Now he was dead.

                                         (120)

As Perry wrote the tragic letter to Mrs. Carroll, Myers broadened the range of perspectives yet again: "I know that it is not much comfort to you that your husband died bravely, or honorably, but he did. All of the guys in the squad who served under him are grateful for his leadership and for having known him" (131).

Other deaths followed, including the loss of comrade and enemy lives—though the line between is increasingly blurred, a hallmark of war, particularly the Vietnamese conflict. Myers wasted not one death as statistic or set dressing. Each was an opportunity to consider another perspective, or deepen the understanding of a familiar one.

Unlike textbook accounts and television coverage of war, which most often focus on acts of aggression, well-written trade books focus on the results of aggression—the uprooted and ruined lives, the suffering from pain and sadness, and the waste of lives and energy, and resources. If the violence in these stories can convince young people that they must find peaceful ways to settle their differences, then it is justified.

                                    (Tomlinson, 45)

Hostile words are also vital for authenticity. No character in this story is simply good or evil, rather an emerging negotiation of perspectives. Take Peewee, for instance, the fast-talking little guy from Chicago whose conversations often turn to verbal boxing matches. Finding a spic-and-span sentence uttered by this character is nearly impossible. However, he is deeper than a foul-mouthed runt. Early in the book, we learn a great deal about Peewee "back in the world" in a few of his own words.

[T]his is the first place I ever been in my life where I got what everybody else got … anything anybody got in the army, I got. You got a gun. I got a gun. You got boots, I got boots. You eat this lousy-ass chip beef on toast, guess what I eat?

                                              (15)

He is a central player in most name-calling volleys. Perry often runs interference for Peewee when he gets too deep with someone too large. In the should-Monaco-marry-the-girl-back-home discussion, Peewee meets our expectations of smart-aleck superficiality by asking: "Is she pregnant?" and "What's she look like?" Then he surprises us as the first romantic in the crowd to say: "I vote for the marriage." When Perry breaks down after a near-death brush with a Vietcong soldier, it's Peewee who comforts him.

Similarly, Peewee internalizes the struggle faced by the young children in their war-torn country. Wanting to help in some way, he starts making a doll with items he finds in the immediate area. As he completes the doll, the platoon watches the smiling woman hand her child—for whom the doll was intended—to an American soldier. The child had been mined. The soldier, the child, and the child's family die instantly. When others check in on Peewee later, clearly shaken and withdrawn, the exterior emerges again.

"Hey Peewee," I said, "it's okay to feel bad about what's going on over here, man. It's really okay."

"Me? Feel bad?" Peewee turned over in his bunk and pulled his sheet up around his shoulders. "Never happen."

The words—profane, profound, and mundane—are all part of a larger, more complex context.

The initial categories of censorship concern (war, racial tension, coarse language) pervade the entire book; however, just as Perry and his platoon evolve, so do the categories. War becomes more complicated than "kickin' butt" and being American. Patriotism emerges along a continuum, interpreted variably among characters and situations. Racial lines blur as soldiers lean on each other for platoon survival (though the strongest link is shared between Perry and Peewee, two African Americans). Coarse language begins to sound commonplace for its frequency. The words between carry the memorable meanings. These potentially contentious elements, considered together, mirror the journey of the Fallen Angels cast. All are vital to its compelling telling.

This is a valuable book for capable and interested young readers to experience individually. Most teachers and librarians find comfort in an individual approach, given the "lively" language and stark subject matter. However, this book screams for conversation and invites exploration beyond its bindings. What was life for those "back in the world?" What about the Vietnamese perspective? What do veterans, politicians, and protesters think about the event retrospectively? What challenges do we still face? What poetry grew out of this era? What songs? What patterns from this era persist and recur today? What is oppression and who were the oppressors in the Vietnam conflict? What types of oppression does the military fight against? What types of oppression does it support and reward? How do veterans return home? How does a war-torn country adapt to "peace"? Who is this book for? Whom might it offend? Why? How might some story events be described through the eyes of another character, real or imagined, within or beyond Fallen Angels ?

Imposing this text on young people would do them and the story a disservice. The layers, levels, and perspectives demand committed exploration. The reader needs to be the explorer. Using the text as a vehicle for critical examination of a hotly contested historical period considered from a variety of perspectives would offer all involved a learning experience. The art becomes harnessing the controversy that swirls around this text, framing and naming the subtle levels of controversy, not taming them.

Works Cited

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.

――――――. Fallen Angels. New York: Scholastic, 1988.

――――――. Scorpions. New York: Harper Trophy, 1988.

Tomlinson, Carl. (1995). "Justifying Violence in Children's Literature." In Battling Dragons: Issues and Controversy in Children's Literature, ed. Susan Lehr. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1995.

THE BEAST (2003)

Terre Sychterz (review date summer 2004)

SOURCE: Sychterz, Terre. Review of The Beast, by Walter Dean Myers. Childhood Education 80, no. 4 (summer 2004): 214.

[In The Beast, ] Anthony Witherspoon (Spoon) leaves his Harlem home to attend an exclusive prep school in Connecticut. When he returns for a holiday visit, nothing in the neighborhood seems the same, especially his girlfriend Gabi. Spoon is shocked when he discovers that Gabi, an aspiring poet, is "surfing the skin" and is hooked on "The Beast" (heroin). The needle becomes Gabi's haven to escape the realities of her cancer-ridden mother, blind grandfather, and a world that seems to offer no hope. Spoon's and Gabi's dreams are in jeopardy. Figurative language and strong characterization offer readers a provocative coming-of-age novel. Ages 12-15.

ANTARCTICA: JOURNEYS TO THE SOUTH POLE (2004)

Hazel Rochman (review date 15 November 2004)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Booklist 101, no. 6 (15 November 2004): 573.

Gr. 6-10—Science and geography play a big role in [Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, ] this exciting overview of the discovery and exploration of Antarctica, "the last unexplored landmass on Earth." What drives the narrative is the personal adventures of those who raced to reach the South Pole first, especially the fierce rivalry between Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (he got there first) and Britain's Robert Scott, whose entire party died. The writing is not always as strong as it was in Myers' Malcolm X (1993), but the book design is highly appealing, with archival photos and prints, and boxed insets with fascinating information about such topics as latitude and longitude, seals, scurvy, and magnetic and geographical poles Although Myers doesn't include source notes, his extensive bibliography references personal accounts as well as the technology, and he has put together a useful fact summary and time line. Best of all are the quotes from primary documents that appear throughout the book; some are drawn from the journals of the explorers—those who returned and those who didn't. Myers makes failure a part of heroism.

HERE IN HARLEM: POEMS IN MANY VOICES (2004)

Roger Sutton (review date January-February 2005)

SOURCE: Sutton, Roger. Review of Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, by Walter Dean Myers. Horn Book Magazine 81, no. 1 (January-February 2005): 104.

In [Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, ] an ambitious collection inspired, says the author in an introduction, by Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, Myers constructs a portrait of his beloved Harlem through the voices of its various constituents—children, adolescents, church ladies and jazz musicians, veterans, hustlers, a hairdresser, a boxer—in a series of more than fifty first-person poems. Each poem is titled with the name, age, and occupation of its imagined speaker, and there's variety in form, meter, and mood. Mail carrier Henry Johnson hears the voices of leaders in those of Harlem's men: "Could be Marcus, I said / Could be Martin, came a voice from down the way / Sounds like Malcolm, rang from the shadows." Nanny Eleanor Hayden sardonically imagines what will happen when her little white charge starts singing the blues: "I'm going to say she got it from the television." Young basketball player Lawrence Hamm owns the court: "'Gone!' is my name, and 'Slam!' / In this sweet universe / Of Ball, I am! I am!" Old snapshots and studio portraits of ordinary black folks help place the voices in a past that is somewhat indeterminate but never sentimentalized.

I'VE SEEN THE PROMISED LAND: THE LIFE OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (2004)

Susan M. Moore (review date April 2004)

SOURCE: Moore, Susan M. Review of I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins. School Library Journal 50, no. 4 (April 2004): 140.

Gr. 1-4—This eloquent picture book [I've Seen the Promised Land: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ] presents a brief overview of King's life and accomplishments. The text focuses on events beginning with the 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks and King's leadership during the yearlong boycott that eventually resulted in the integration of buses in Montgomery, AL. The book ends with his support of the striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968 and his assassination a few days later. In a clear and cogent manner, Myers frames King's political efforts and his belief in nonviolent demonstration for change with information about the personal consequences to the man and his family. The author also paraphrases some of his subject's most powerful speeches without quoting them directly. Jenkins's stunning collage artwork dramatically reflects the events described in the narrative. Information about how protestors were frequently assaulted is paired with an abstract street scene, the frighteningly toothy profile of a chalk-white guard dog front and center. In a spread depicting King's famous speech about seeing the promised land, he is shown with his arms gracefully yet compellingly uplifted; the power and beauty of his words are reflected in the brightly colored background, while fiery red tones foreshadow his murder. This book makes an excellent starting point to introduce young readers to King and should be coupled with Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words (Hyperion, 2001), which so effectively provides access to the words that made him famous.

SHOOTER (2004)

Jeff Zaleski (review date 22 March 2004)

SOURCE: Zaleski, Jeff. Review of Shooter, by Walter Dean Myers. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 12 (22 March 2004): 87.

In this chilling cautionary tale [Shooter ], Myers revisits the themes of his Monster and Scorpions in a slightly more detached structure, but the outcome is every bit as moving. The novel opens with what serves as a cover sheet to a "Threat Analysis Report," which, in its mission statement, makes mention of "the tragic events of last April."

Gradually, readers discover that Len Gray killed a fellow high school student before taking his own life. Through transcripts of various adults questioning Len's friends, Cameron Porter and Carla Evans, readers get to form their own opinions about how much these two may or may not have contributed to the events of that day. Myers sculpts every character here in three dimensions, including the interviewers. Dr. Ewings, the psychologist, shows compassion toward Cameron, and therefore the 17-year-old reveals to him the most intimate details of his friendship with Len and also his home life. Cameron's interview with FBI Special Agent Victoria Lash, on the other hand, puts Cameron on the defensive. When she pointedly questions Cameron about what she calls his "money-conscious" parents, he tells the agent, "They make more than most people. They make more than you do. Does that bother you?" to which she replies, "I'm white and you're black, does that bother you?"

Here, no one is completely innocent and no one is entirely to blame. A myriad of small occurrences add up to the tragic outcome: blind spots on the part of teachers and coaches, parents who are consumed with their own lives and not considering how their actions have an impact on their children. Myers takes no shortcuts: all three teens are smart (readers get to know Len through his journal entries, handwritten in a somewhat deranged-looking scrawl and included as an appendix); all three consider themselves outsiders. Readers will find themselves racing through the pages, then turning back to pore over the details once more. Ages 12-up.

USS CONSTELLATION: PRIDE OF THE AMERICAN NAVY (2004)

Carolyn Phelan (review date July 2004)

SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of USS Constellation: Pride of the American Navy, by Walter Dean Myers. Booklist 100, no. 21 (July 2004): 1841.

Gr. 4-8—This well-researched book [USS Constellation: Pride of the American Navy ] traces the history of the USS Constellation, which was built as a frigate, launched in 1797, and initially charged with battling privateers that threatened U.S. trade with Europe. She was rebuilt as a sloop in 1854 and, in 1999, restored to her 1854 glory and docked in Baltimore Harbor. Myers uses quotes from primary sources to give voice to those who sailed on the famous ship. Perhaps the most memorable is a lengthy and dramatic account, written by a 21-year-old officer, that describes how the Constellation overtook and captured the Cora, a slave ship, in 1860. The volume features an attractive design and many black-and-white reproductions of period photographs, drawings, paintings, and documents. A glossary of nautical terms; time lines; lists of books, periodicals, and other sources; recommended Web sites and places to visit; illustration credits; and an author's note are appended. A unique addition to American history collections.

Additional coverage of Myers's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 4, 23; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 6, 8, 11; Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 3; Black Writers, Ed. 2; Children's Literature Review, Vols. 4, 16, 35; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 20, 42, 67, 108; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 35; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 33; DISCovering Authors Modules: Multicultural, Novelists; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 5; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults Supplement, Ed. 1; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Something about the Author, Vols. 27, 41, 71, 109, 157; Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 2; and Writers for Young Adults.

FURTHER READING

Criticism

Doughty, Terri. "Locating Harry Potter in the 'Boys' Book' Market." In The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon, edited by Lana A. Whited, pp. 243-57. Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

Places J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series within the larger framework of the boys' book genre, comparing the series to several works, including Walter Dean Myers's Monster.

Lane, R. D. "'Keepin' It Real': Walter Dean Myers and the Promise of African-American Children's Literature." African-American Review 32, no. 1 (spring 1998): 125-38.

Suggests that children's literature for minority youth can be used as a tool to boost the positive self-images of African-American children, a philosophy readily evident in Myers's young adult novels.

Latrobe, Kathy, and Trisha Hutcherson. "An Introduction to Ten Outstanding Young Adult Authors in the United States." World Literature Today 76, nos. 3-4 (summer 2002): 68-73.

Offers profiles of ten of the most important U.S. young adult novelists, including Myers.

May, Jill P. "Poetic Language and Literary Style." In Children's Literature and Critical Theory: Reading and Writing for Understanding, pp. 143-49. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1995.

Examines how Myers's use of "street" dialect influences his narratives and draws the reader into a sense of commonality with Myers's protagonists.

Myers, Walter Dean. "Earning Our Children's Trust." Lion and the Unicorn 10 (1986): 21-2.

Myers suggests that children's writers should attempt to "bring children and adults together" through their works.

―――――――. "Escalating Offenses." Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 6 (November-December 2001): 701-02.

Myers comments on the nature of self-image among juvenile offenders using a series of prison interviews he conducted as research for Monster as evidence.

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