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Book News: Children's Author Walter Dean Myers Dies At 76

Author Walter Dean Myers tours his old Harlem neighborhood in New York in 2010.
Charles Sykes
Author Walter Dean Myers tours his old Harlem neighborhood in New York in 2010.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Celebrated children's and YA author Walter Dean Myers, whose motto was "Reading is not optional," died Tuesday at age 76, his literary agent said in a phone interview. He died from complications from pneumonia. Myers wrote more than 100 children's books, winning five Coretta Scott King Awards and two Newbery Honors along the way. Myers' mission was as social as it was literary. His father was illiterate, and as the 2012/2013 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, Myers traveled around the United States promoting literacy with his slogan "Reading is not optional." Myers spoke often about the extreme racial imbalance in children' literature: A study he cited in one essay found that "of 3,200 children's books published in 2013, just 93 were about black people." Myers' characters were often black teenagers dealing with harsh realities that included crime, gangs and drug addiction. Myers wrote that by including them in his stories, he wanted to make "poor inner-city children ... feel as if they are part of America's dream, that all the rhetoric is meant for them, and that they are wanted in this country." He added, "Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?"
  • Novelist Colum McCann was attacked in a hotel in New Haven, Conn., and was hospitalized "with significant facial injuries," The Associated Press reports. According to the news service, police say that "witness accounts suggest he may have tried to help a woman in a dispute."
  • World Book Night — an annual night when volunteers hand out free books — is suspending operations after three years due to a lack of funds. "The expenses of running World Book Night U.S., even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, and shippers, are too high to sustain without additional outside funding," director Carl Lennertz said in a statement.
  • Rickey Laurentiis has four poems in the new issue of Poetry magazine. One, "Study in Black," begins:
  • "There's a wind in the grass —

    Is there here

    a boat's mast claiming my lonely night too?"

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.
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