I was so very saddened by the death of Walter Dean Myers. I admired him and his writing so much. There was something Buddha-like about the man. He was big, big in person, big in voice and in his writing, so full of articulated compassion. He could delineate the souls, experience, and aspirations of African-American kids with searing honesty, but always, always infused with understanding, empathy, and most of all with hope.
A story about him: I was visiting a prison in Virginia, talking to a group of young men, prisoners. Dressed in prison garb. I sat in a chair, and they—twenty or so—sat in a semicircle at a “safe” distance. Guards around. The young men quiet, but stiff. Were they readers? Just glad to break routine? I didn’t know.
The talk began. At best, vague interest. Distance. Then someone called out, “You know anyone famous?” Obviously, I wasn’t famous. I said, “Walter Dean Myers is a friend of mine.” There was a stir. They sat up.
“You his friend?”
And the whole mood shifted.
“Tell us about him . . . “
And suddenly I was okay, because Walter was my friend. They were readers. His readers.
We worked together in our readers’ theatre group, ART. The best moments were when we read from Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, in which Walter is an important part. When he took his part, there was always the sweetest of smiles on his face. It was by far the best moment in our show. Here’s a bit of him: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FCfm8yPhlE