If you attended school at any point since the mid-90s, chances are, you read (and loved) a book authored by Walter Dean Myers. Five-time recipient of the prestigious Coretta Scott King Award for Literature for African-American authors, Myers penned books ranging in subject matter and age-appropriateness, but focused his career on young adult literature.
Born on August 12, 1937 in Martinsburg, WV, Myers’ beautiful ability to communicate via writing was actually brought about, in part, by a speech impediment that actually made verbal communication difficult for him. Some of his better-known works include Monster, Fallen Angels, Autobiography of my Dead, and Scorpion. In addition to the Coretta Scott King Awards, Myers was also recognized for his accomplishments in writing with a Newbery Medal, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and the Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature.
Myers’ bold, realistic portrayals of Black youth in America lined bookshelves across the country beginning in the mid-80s. At the time, these were voices previously unheard and grossly underrepresented in literature. While the harsh realities faced by Black teens, particularly young Black men, are, in fact, realities, many were not so keen on the content of Myers’ novels being readily accessible to young people. His novels were unapologetically truthful, never sugar-coated, sometimes graphic, often contained harsh language, and had a general emphasis on the “adult” in “young adult” with regard to content. For example, schools were hesitant to add Fallen Angels (a novel that delves deeply into the terrifying events that took place during the Vietnam War from the perspective of a young, Black soldier) to their syllabi at the time. However, these were and continue to be the truths faced by our Black youth. To deem it “too controversial” for students to read is to dampen the voice of the children for whom this narrative rings true. Despite having passed away in 2014, Myers’ work remains relevant and widely loved today, with a film adaptation of 1999’s Monster having made its debut at Sundance less than two weeks ago.
Perhaps the most revolutionary part of Myers’ writing is that while it largely portrayed Black youth, it gained widespread popularity with readers of all races and ethnic backgrounds. It was eye opening for those who did not culturally and racially identify with the main characters in his work. And it gave readers who did the representation and relatable characters for which there was previously such a dire need.
For that reason, Doxygen Media, would like to dedicate today to a true Black History Hero: Walter Dean Myers.