Walter Dean Myers of Martinsburg, West Virginia, died on Tuesday at 76, following a brief illness, his publisher HarperCollins confirmed in a public statement.
The author was not known just for his best-selling children’s books, perhaps his greatest legacy is the content of his groundbreaking novels for children and young adults.
The “Sunrise Over Fallujah” author was praised throughout his lifetime for taking on serious subject matter such as wars, violence, and even the drug culture.
“Drugs, drive-by shootings, gang warfare, wasted lives – Myers has written about all these subjects with nuanced understanding and hard-won, qualified sense of hope,” critic Leonard S. Marcus wrote in 2008 in Myers’ profile in The New York Times Book Review.
Myers work earned him many coveted awards including two Newbery Honors.
He was the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a three-time National Book Award finalist.
In 2012, he was deemed the national ambassador for young people’s literature.
His life’s journey was far from an easy one, and it certainly wasn’t the life that most people would expect of an award-winning author.
As it turns out, there was a reason Myers was able to touch on heavy subject matter in such a unique way – in may cases he had experienced them himself.
After he finished his time in the service, he entered a dark period.
Myers himself called it “a drunken stumble through life, with me holding on just enough to survive.”
That’s when writing pulled him up from the low point. He wrote a night to get through hardships, and before long he discovered the power that great literature could have on its readers.
He came across a short story by James Baldwin, which he admittedly “didn’t love,” but it still lifted him.
“I didn’t love the story, but I was lifted by it for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with Black people like those I knew,” Myers wrote in a New York Times essay that was published earlier this year. “By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.”
Myers wrote more than 100 books throughout his lifetime, including his 1999 New York Times best-selling novel, Monster.
In addition to a powerful legacy, he also leaves behind his wife Constance and their two sons, Christopher and Michael Dean.