Awards & Recognition Remembering beloved author, Walter Dean Myers

We are deeply saddened that Walter Dean Myers, beloved and award-winning children’s book author passed away on July 1, 2014, following a brief illness.

The impact Walter Dean Myers has left on the numerous listeners and readers of his many impressive works is one that will continue to grow for years to come. He offered young people a chance to see themselves in his stories and to get to know him as he shared his passion for history, biography, and literature.

Walter Dean Myers’ numerous awards include two Newbery Honor Books, three National Book Award Finalists, and six Coretta Scott King Award/Honor-winning books, as well as the first Michael L. Printz Award for Monster. He was the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults and recently served as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

However, I think Walter was most proud of his ability to reach out to children and teens and make a difference in their lives. He was able to connect with teens including those he portrayed in his titles, he provided young African-Americans who were struggling in school or at home with characters they could connect to.  His characters were so rich that even if you were not similar to them, you could imagine how they felt and what they were going through.

Walter encouraged young people to become readers, listeners, and above all, learners—he wanted to create successful adults. He frequently met with incarcerated teens in juvenile detention centers. He told Phoebe W. Yeh, his long-time editor, “I want to talk to the kids that never get visits. I could have been one of those kids. I want them to know what I’ve learned—that you should never give up. That there is always hope for a second chance.”

As the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2012-2013, Walter traveled around the United States promoting the slogan “Reading is not optional.” He strove to spread the message that a brighter future depends on reading proficiency and widespread literacy.

“I will never forget seeing Walter walk into the recording studio surrounded by the actors that were going to play all of the roles in the book, and the smile that he had on his face.”

–Dan Zitt
I asked Dan Zitt, VP Content Production, Penguin Random House Audio and Living Language, about what it was like to collaborate with Walter Dean Myers on his audiobooks. Dan said, “I met Walter Dean Myers after I had finished reading Monster in preparation for the audiobook production many years ago. It was the first time in my career that I had read a book that was about kids that I knew growing up, that I cared about. Walter and I spoke at length about these characters, these kids, and we were immediately on the same page. We both knew what Steve Harmon sounded like, what people from Steve’s neighborhood sounded like, and why it was so important to make the Monster audiobook an authentic experience. So we auditioned and listened, and auditioned and listened, and listened again until we got it right. I will never forget seeing Walter walk into the recording studio surrounded by the actors that were going to play all of the roles in the book, and the smile that he had on his face. To this day, working with Walter on the Monster audiobook remains as one of the most important experiences of my career. Walter wrote books for all kinds of kids, and it’s a deep hope of mine that his books will be read and listened to long after his passing.”

Walter Dean Myers will live on in his numerous works and he has a new book, On A Clear Day, coming out in September. Phoebe W. Yeh writes, “Once again, Walter was trying something different.  His hero is supported by an ensemble cast including an ex-rocker, ex-athlete, ex-inmate and a teen terrorist. Walter was disturbed that young people he’d met seemed alienated. With On A Clear Day, he wanted his listeners and readers to remember that they can make a difference. Walter and his books have made such an impact on millions of people. His passing is a tremendous loss. There were so many more books he planned to write! I am grateful for everything Walter taught me about writing, bookmaking, discipline, passion and compassion.”

Walter lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, with his wife Constance. He is survived by his wife, as well as his two sons, Christopher and Michael Dean. He was predeceased by his daughter, Karen.

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