Walter Dean Myers died yesterday at the age of 76.
I suspect that every YA writer has a Walter Dean Myers story, but here’s mine: In 2006 or 2007, I spent a long plane ride in the cramped back row of an airplane, situated between my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, and Walter Dean Myers.
He hadn’t read my books and didn’t know me, but when I finally got up the nerve to introduce myself a couple hours into the flight, he was astonishingly gracious. He shared advice about writing and publishing and stories over the decades. In my many interactions with him since, he was always so kind and gracious to me. He invented so much of contemporary YA lit, but he was always quick to credit and congratulate others.
He will be remembered not just for his brilliant books (he wrote more than 100 of them!) but for his tireless advocacy: He was the National Ambassador for Children’s Literacy until just a few months ago, and in March wrote this brilliant essay about the lack of diversity in children’s books.
Like many young people of my generation, I read Myers’ war novel Fallen Angels in my adolescence—it was, in fact, probably the first YA novel I read (although at the time I didn’t know about book categories; I just thought it was good). A veteran who enlisted in the army at 17, Myers was a brilliant war novelist (Sunrise over Fallujah is also excellent), but he could write about anything: He won the first-ever Printz Award for the brilliant and deeply troubling Monster, about a murder trial, and he won the Coretta Scott King Award an astonishing six times.
It’s hard to imagine YA literature without him.
I think that flight was after TLA in April 2007, flying home from San Antonio to NY. I remember we had been disappointed, because we hadn’t had a chance to see/hear/meet Walter Dean Myers during the conference itself. To find ourselves seated next to him was thrilling (and terrifying).
John has summed it up perfectly. We work in a field of smart, supportive people, but I have rarely seen such pure generosity, and intelligence. What a gift that trip was.