Walter Dean Myers, author whose books focused on young blacks, dies at 76

Los Angeles TimesJuly 5, 2014 

Like many of the protagonists in his dozens of young adult books, Walter Dean Myers was once a troubled, sensitive and intelligent young man living an aimless life. A writer's heart beat in his chest, the passion for words there even as he stumbled through a childhood in the 1940s and '50s scarred by a broken family and an angry Harlem upbringing.

"I didn't know I was going to be a writer," he said in an interview with readers of Scholastic Books after his book "Scorpions" was published in 1988. "In fact, I didn't know that there was such a job as an author. No one really encouraged me to write, it was just something I loved to do."

Myers, 76, died Tuesday at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York after a brief illness, said his publisher, HarperCollins.

He became a writer almost by accident. Long after he'd dropped out of high school, completed a stint in the Army and worked in a series of low-wage jobs, he won a writing contest. His story "Where Does the Day Go?" became his first book.

Eventually, unsettled young characters became Myers' trademark. He imagined them in all sorts of adventures, facing impossible difficulties. Collectively, his characters worked their way through the turbulent history of the 20th century, with its rampant injustices, especially against blacks.

Later in his life, as the 21st century dawned and a black president came to live in the White House, it hurt Myers that characters like his were still so scarce in literature for young adults. In 2013, according to one study, only 93 of the 3,200 children's books published in the U.S. were about black people. Myers believed the invisibility of people of color in literature discouraged kids from reading.

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