Children’s Author Walter Dean Myers Dies

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“There were two very distinct voices going on in my head and I moved easily between them,” Myers wrote in his memoir, “Bad Boy,” which came out in 2001. “One had to do with sports, street life and establishing myself as a male. … The other voice, the one I had from my street friends and teammates, was increasingly dealing with the vocabulary of literature.”

Myers was gifted enough to be accepted to one of Manhattan’s best public schools, Stuyvesant. But he was also shy, too poor to afford new clothes and unable to keep up with the work. Myers began skipping school for weeks at a time and never graduated.

“I know what falling off the cliff means,” he told The Associated Press in 2011. “I know from being considered a very bright kid to being considered like a moron and dropping out of school.”

He served three years in the military, and later was employed as a factory worker, a messenger on Wall Street and a construction worker. Anxious to be a writer after reading James Baldwin, he contributed to Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine and numerous sports publications. His first book — “Where Does the Day Go?” — was published in 1969 after he won a contest for children’s literature by people of color.

His visits with students and inmates not only gave him the chance to help others straighten out their lives, but also inspired some of his work. “Lockdown,” a National Book Award finalist, began after Myers met a kid who was afraid to get out of jail because he would only get in trouble again. For “Monster,” he remembered a boy who would talk about the crimes he committed in the third person, as if someone else had committed them.

“Then I found out that all the guys could do that. They could separate themselves from their crimes,” Myers told the AP. “We come up with strategies for dealing with our lives and my strategy might be different because my life has been different.”

Myers’ novel “On a Clear Day” is scheduled to come out in September.

Survivors include his wife, Constance, and two sons. A daughter, Karen, died earlier.

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