Walter Dean Myers


Born: August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, West Virginia

Lived in: Jersey City, New Jersey

Died: July 1, 2014, in New York City

New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2022: Arts & Letters

Walter Dean Myers had a remarkable gift: The ability to write novels, picture books and poetry that captured the attention of young-adult readers.

Myers had a difficult childhood. His mother died in childbirth and he was raised in Harlem by the first wife of his biological father and her husband. As described in a New Jersey Monthly profile, Myers’s new mother instilled in him an interest in reading. He began to write short stories and poetry. But Myers had a speech impediment and did poorly at school. He dropped out of high school and joined the Army at age 17—but not before one of his teachers encouraged him to continue writing as a means of expression.

It had long troubled Myers that few of the books he read reflected the harsh realities of the life he knew growing up in Harlem. After leaving the Army, he committed himself to remedying that situation. He began writing magazine articles and books for children and young adults that reflected his own experiences.

A remarkably prolific writer, Myers wrote more than 100 books and won numerous awards. His best-known work, the 1999 young-adult novel “Monster,” was a National Book Award finalist and a winner of one of his five Coretta Scott King honors. The story of a boy jailed for murder, “Monster” also was the inaugural winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature.

When Myers won the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1994, the organization cited four of his novels and stated: “These books authentically portray African-American youth, but their appeal is not limited to any particular ethnic group. The writing of Walter Dean Myers illustrates the universality of the teenage experience in urban America.”

In 2012, the Library of Congress named Myers its National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Explaining his role, Myers told New Jersey Monthly: “It’s an opportunity to tackle some of the things that I’ve wanted to address, such as enriching the vocabularies of young children by reading to them… If a kid has to be enticed to read, then that kid has to understand, this isn’t an option—this is your life, brother.”

Intro/Acceptance Video