03 Jul WALTER DEAN MYERS – YESTERDAYS
This post is not about Walter’s incredible literary accomplishments; it is about my relationship with one of the greatest human beings one could encounter in life.
We met in the late l960’s when I worked at Bank Street College at a research center on l25th Street-smack in the middle of Harlem.
A group of us, including poet, Lilian Moore, became quite active with the Council on Interracial Books encouraging the organization to initiate a Children’s Book Award for ‘minorities.’ Walter’s first book, WHERE DOES THE DAY GO? (Parents Magazine Press) was the first winner for text. We became friends way back then.
Walter became the first poet to twice win the Lee Bennett Hopkins/Penn State Poetry Award for breakthrough volumes of verse, HERE IN HARLEM (2004), JAZZ (2007) as well as an Honor Book for BLUES JOURNEY (2003; all Holiday House.)
Although he penned scores of fiction, poetry was an important part of his being. After BLUES… he wrote me: “I am working on poetry like mad…do you know of any verse novels, those you admire? I’m trying one and find myself on VERY shaking ground.”
I wrote him back citing works by Nikki Grimes, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Sonya Sones and my own BEEN TO YESTERDAYS.
Immersing himself in poetry he penned HERE IN HARLEM.
In 2009, I received the National Council of Teachers of English Excellence in Poetry for Children Award. A celebration was held in Philadelphia, PA. In his theatrical voice he rose to the podium and read a verse he wrote for me:
For Lee, my friend
If God needs
His memory jogged
After I have
Shed the coil
Earned the urn
Moved on, baby
Pfft! Pow! Kaput!
If He really needs a reminder
That I, too, once splashed
In this well of lonelines
Then I will leave a few words
Hopefully, He will read them
Does God read?
And all that will tell Him
All he needs to know
Is who my friends
Shortly after I wrote him: “When I received the Award I immediately thought I reached an age where they had no one else to give it to.”
At the age of 74, Walter became the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. He wrote back, jokingly, about our both being in our 7th decade: Years ago I was approached for a story by an editor running a small magazine in the East Village. It was the third time he had come to me. ‘You’re not that good,’ he said ‘but you’ve always got something lying around we can publish!’ The story of my life really. Now I’ve got another plus — “Are there any blacks guys around we can — oh, yes, Walter’s still around.’ I know how you feel.
Pfft! Pow! Kaput!
Damn it all.