The extraordinary Walter Dean Myers died on July 1, 2014. The children's literature community has lost a great voice, and a great man. The kids who read---devour---Mr. Myers' words have lost a great map-maker (as Myers' son, Christopher Myers, would say and which I believe wholeheartedly) and a great advocate.
I was lucky enough to be able to hear him speak once, at an Alumni Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He told stories about his life, offered specific writing tools that worked for him, and read from his amazing work. Crystal clear, throughout his presentations, was his deep belief that books explore our common humanity and that they transmit values. He marveled at the way books had been a big part of his salvation and was determined about the need for more and better books that honored a more diverse range of children.
I am a writer, but I also see myself as something of a landscape artist. I paint pictures of scenes for inner-city youth that are familiar, and I people the scenes with brothers and aunts and friends they all have met. Thousands of young people have come to me saying that they love my books for some reason or the other, but I strongly suspect that what they have found in my pages is...the recognition of themselves in the story, a validation of their existence as human beings, an acknowledgment of their value by someone who understands who they are. It is the shock of recognition at its highest level.
I am sad that we have lost such a powerful person in our field. May we all accept the torch that he has passed along to us---to be landscape artists in our own ways; to paint pictures of the streets, mountainsides, alleyways, farms, and all of the other corners and nooks that need that bright and hopeful light.
|Landscape Collage by BeckHanson|