recess radio program

02/21/05
Walter Dean Myers
    by John Cech

In our continuing programs in celebration of Black History Month, a writer for children and young adults who must be mentioned is Walter Dean Myers. Among his many distincitons, he’s a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for excellence by African American writers; his poem, "Harlem", which his son, Christopher, illustrated was named a 1997 Caldecott Honor Book; and his novel for young adults, Monster, received the first Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association for an outstanding book for young adults.

Monster is only the latest of the strong books that Myers has writen over his long, prolific career, about the lives of young people in inner city America who are struggling to find themselves and to define their values. The novel’s main character, Steve Harmon, would like to be making movies but, instead, is on trial, accused of being an accomplice in a convenience store shooting. He tells his story, in part, as a screenplay, and in part through the journal entries that he makes while waiting in jail for his court appearances. It’s a book about harsh realities and moral ambiguities -- tough and essential questions for any adolescent, questions that Myers revists in many of his works -- like he does in his1989 book, Fallen Angels, about a squad of teenage soldiers in Viet Nam; or in Hoops, about young basketball players in Harlem coming into their own and their coach who is trying to redeem himself after a past marked by scandal.

But Myers is also interested in historical subjects. He’s written books about the Amistad mutiny and trials, about black cowboys, and about an orphaned African princess who was later christened Sarah Forbes Bonetta, and became the protegé of Queen Victoria. This last book, titled At Her Majesty’s Request, began, serendipitously, when Myers found some of Sarah’s letters in an antiquarian shop in London.

Another dimension of Myers’ work appears in books like Brown Angels and Angel to Angel, which weave together vintage photographs of anonymous African American children and their parents and siblings with Myers’ tender poems. All the troubles of modern urban life have been quiet, for a moment, when Myers writes in Brown Angels:

For I am dark and precious
And have such gifts to give
Sweet joy, sweet love,
Sweet laughter
Sweet wondrous life to live.

Copyright 2005© John Cech

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Tuesday, 01-Feb-2005 09:33:38 EST


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."