Walter Dean Myers is an African American nonfiction author, who for a long time was one of the dominant writers in the world of literature. His journey to the success that he enjoys today has been rough and tumultuous. Walter was born in West Virginia about 75 years ago. Upon the death of his mother, the young boy was raised in Harlem. His love for poetry and writing came from the challenges he faced for being speech impaired. It was a safer and exciting alternative to other forms of socialization. He joined the army, but left soon afterwards. He held a few jobs in New York City, while still writing for magazines and newspapers.
Upon winning a contest on children books, Walter decided to take a turn in his career and be a full time writer. His efforts are focused mainly on children books, although he has also ventured into adult writing. Over the time he has spent in writing, he has won numerous awards and given a number of speeches. With his works, Walter Dean Myers tries to bring integration and unity between the races. Currently, the writer resides in Jersey City.
Most of Walter Dean’s work is characterized by the themes of violence, poverty and youth. This line of writing can be traced to some historical events that influenced the prolific writer. Walter was born during the aftermath period of the Great Depression. This was a time when the economy was in shambles and most people lived in adverse poverty. Being an African American at that time meant that one would not have much of an economic backbone. Therefore, growing up in those times instilled for one the realization of the levels of poverty in the country. This has been reflected in most of his works. The author, however, tries to bring the best of the worst situations in his novels.
During the World War II, the author was still a child, but those times must have influenced the author greatly. Most of his work includes aspect of war or general struggle that the characters experienced. In 1954, during the Cold War, the author listed in the army. After three years, he left the army. His experience in the war was reflected in some of his later works.
The Vietnam War was also one of the things that influenced the writer. Although, he did not participate directly in the war, the effects could be felt by any American citizen, who had a keen interest in the affair. From such events, the author drew a sense of toughness that was lacking in his character.
The situation that African American lived in the 1950’s and 60’s was also an immense influence to the writer. Most of his works depict young people struggling with violence and bad character. The writer’s childhood was marred with many disciplinary actions brought against him in school and at home. He was, however, a bright young man with no avenues or channels of penetrating to the big world. His was a cocoon of anger and misbehavior that was later replaced by a passion for writing.
The biggest influence that the author has undergone over the years was himself. The time he spent living in Harlem with street gangs and other rough characters helped him shape the outline of most of his novels. He is arguably the author with the deepest understanding of the African American race and their struggles. This can explain his popularity and prowess in literature.
Every successful author must have a starting point in his career. As it was said above, that moment for Walter Dean was the time he won an award for one of his works in children literature. He then realized that he could do great things using pen and paper, so he plunged himself fully in his work. It is said that nothing good comes easy. This author is the perfect example to define that phrase. Coming from a background so harsh that sometimes he could not earn money to buy clothes, Walter managed to break the barrier that prevented people of black origin to reach for the stars. The simplicity in his earlier works can be accredited to his initial lack of experience in the national platform. Walter was used to writing for persona reading, or at most to distribute to the community. His first novel was, in fact, an accident. Having been meant as a short story the editor charged with reviewing it assumed it was the first chapter to a novel. Walter then had to come up with content to finish the book. This paved way for many more successful projects.
It is plausible that writing was a compromise career for the author, though first he wanted to become a lawyer. However, this dream was curtailed by the lack of opportunity. He has stated that, had his foster parents afforded college, he would have studied law. Writing is what got him through school, and was, hence, a natural talent to him. From his earlier efforts of writing so as to avoid getting into trouble, Walter Dean has been able to turn it into a fulfilling career that has touched the lives of many American citizens, of both black and white origin.
The course of Walter Dean’s writing career has been marked with immense developments. Earlier on he wrote about black teens and their struggles with the circumstances surrounding their lives. As he grew in the profession, he diverged into more mature themes such as the struggle of African Americans and their subsequent freedom. One might think that all his books are directed to the African American target group. While there is an ounce of truth in this, he has also managed to cut across the racial divide. His earlier work had a high level of black theme concentration. He also incorporated basket ball in his plots, since the game was highly enjoyed and played by African Americans. As a result of his bias towards people of color, he was once labeled a racial writer.
He experienced some personal growth after he was laid off from his formal employment after 20 years. This was when he decided to become a full time writer. The dismissal offered development to his work, as he was now able to write on a full time basis. Although, this happened at a time when his career had already taken shape, it gave another perspective to his work. It instilled seriousness in him as now this was his only source of income.
As he travelled to different places in the world, he would pick up a story form his encounters and write a book about it. For instance, his story, Fallen Angel drew its inspiration from his days in Vietnam. It tells about a young man fighting in the war, and being greatly dedicated to his brother. All h books of the author have a direct connection to events in his life. They are entertaining and informative, as well.
Literature achievements of the author have been recognized through the numerous awards that he has won. Walter Dean was the first winner of the Michael A Printz award for his novel Monster. He has also won the Margaret Edwards Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award for three times.
Other Writers Who Influenced the Author
Walter has said in an interview, that his key influencers were Frank Yerby and Langston Hughes. However, he has stated that his main source of strength was his sixth grade teacher, who helped him discover his talent and nurture it from a very young age.
Teen Struggles and Violence
This theme is dominant in the novels that depict his childhood and youthful life. During his students period, Walter often exposed violence which led him to various troubles. Most of the youths in his novels are portrayed in this light. Other struggles included drugs and crime. Most of his friends would engage in detrimental activities. This gave him inspiration to write about the struggles of an average kid, who does not have someone else to stand up for him. He has also written a book about gambling. These are just some hardships faced by the youth, especially when they live in harsh conditions.
This theme cuts across many of his books. Having grown up in poverty, Walter had the first hand experience to build this theme to perfection. His first novel, Fast Sam, Cool Clyde and Stuff is based on the hardships and negative influence of growing up in a poor and unruly neighborhood. The real life situations surrounding most of the people at that time was also reflected in his novels. For Walter Dean it was important to incorporate this theme, since it helped him get in touch with his readers. He was seen as a voice to the voiceless. He was a weapon through which they could tell their story to the world. Through these novels, his readers were inspired to change their lives and come out of the poverty that had curtailed them from advancing their lives.
Family and Parental Neglect
Many literature analysts have linked the themes of family and parental neglect in Dean’s works to the fact that Walter was sent to a foster family to live with them because his father had a big family to take care of after his mother’s death. In his novel “Mouse Rap”, the author talks about a father who was absent for a long time finally coming back into the life of his 14 year old son. This depicts the need for his father to come back to his life. In another novel, “Somewhere in the Darkness”, the author talks about a father, who is released from jail and saves his son from foster care. All these novels seem to be directed to some lack of childhood closure that he did not get, since he did not live with his real family. In his other novels, some of the protagonists either come from broken homes or single parents.
As a result of his efforts to write about family and the needs for parents to take care of their children, many parents have become serious on the responsibility of their families. This has been one of the greatest contributions of the author to the society. In this age where divorce rates are raising through the roof and children are being left homeless by runaway parents, it is imperative for the building unit of society to be reconstructed.
The author was adopted by his foster parents, and even took their middle name as a sign of respect and appreciation. He took this further by incorporating the theme of adoption in a number of his novels, usually in a positive light. His move to an adopted home was actually a blessing in disguise. Had he not moved to Harlem, he would not have gone through all the challenges that helped shape him to the man that he became, and one who gave us many novels and poems.
Having experienced two major wars in his life, Walter wrote about war related incidences in a number of his books. One of the most famous of his books, “Fallen Angel”, offers raw and clear analysis of the Vietnam War. Another one of his works talks about the role that African Americans played in the World War II. The journal of Scott Collins focuses on the daily routine of a soldier who fought in the war.
Contributions to the World of Children Literature
Children literature was the author’s first focus, which is proved by the awards he won for books in this genre. He is currently serving in the society of children’s book writers and illustrators (McElmeel Sharron). The author’s passion for this field has seen him produce some works of art. Even in his other ventures, Dean tries to keep the book at a level where children can read.
Examples of his Works
This controversial, but yet popular book was published in 1988, and has been in distribution ever since. However, from the 1990’s, the novel has been challenged because of the use of explicit language and a clear analysis of the Vietnam War. It is classified under the genre of young adult war novels (Walter, 1988). The main themes in the novel are war and youth. Those, who did not participate in the war can get a feel of the vents that transpired by reading this novel. Thus, the book serves as a source of truthful information about the Vietnam war. While some say that it is not a pleasant to read, due to the use of some strong language the book is quite entertaining.
“Monster” is another of the author’s famous novels. It is classified under the category of drama and crime novels (Myers, 1989). As the name suggests, the main theme in the novel is crime and humanity. The protagonist, Steve, is a young man, who is awaiting trial for a robbery he committed because of peer pressure. In the course of the robbery, he killed a person and is subsequently jailed for it. The prosecutor labels Steve a monster. This novel takes the form of an advisory novel to teens not to engage in criminal activities as well as for African American teens, which are exposed to crimes committed in rough neighborhoods.
Motown and Didi, A Love Story
This romantic novel genre work is set in Harlem. It gives the story of two people who fall in love in the neighborhood and have to bear all the hardships that come with it. These include drug dealers, imminent dangers and death. It takes the form of an entertaining novel. The narration is simple and understandable, thus, the novel can be read by all age groups.
Walter Dean Myers has led a long and fulfilling life. From a life of adverse poverty and hopelessness, he was able to make a name for himself (Myers, 2001). He has also influenced a lot of people to do the same for himself. In his works, Dean managed to strike a balance between reality and fiction. He also provided his readers with educative information and entertainment at the same time. Even in his advanced years, he is still writing novels that are sure to be entertaining and educative. Undoubtedly, Walter Dean can be considered one of the most prominent authors of our days.