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Walter Dean Myers, celebrated young adult author, dies at 76

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Walter Dean Myers dies at 76; his 'books do not shy away from the sometimes gritty truth of growing up'
A short story by James Baldwin 'gave me permission to write about my own experiences': RIP Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers, a celebrated author known for writing books about young African Americans, such as "Monster," "Fallen Angels" and "Hoops," has died. He was 76.

"Walter's many award-winning books do not shy away from the sometimes gritty truth of growing up.... He wrote with heart and he spoke to teens in a language they understood," Susan Katz, president and publisher of HarperCollins Children's Books, said in a statement. HarperCollins said he died Tuesday after a brief illness.

Myers' work includes six Newbery Honor Books and three National Book Award finalists. He won the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature and the first Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. 

Myers “often wrote books about the most difficult time in his own life — his teenage years — for the reader he once was; these were the books that he wished were available when he was that age,” HarperCollins said.

Born Aug. 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, W.Va., Myers was raised in Harlem, N.Y. As a child, "I was always in trouble," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. He hung out with gangs. He was "sort of" arrested. He had a speech impediment. He was angry. 

“Reading pushed me to discover worlds beyond my landscape, especially during dark times when my uncle was murdered and my family became dysfunctional with alcohol and grief,” he recalled on his website.

Myers dropped out of high school and joined the Army at 17. After his military service, remembering encouragement from a high school teacher, he picked up writing. He started with short pieces for tabloids and men’s magazines.

“A turning point for me was the discovery of a short story by James Baldwin about the black urban experience. It gave me permission to write about my own experiences,” he wrote.

“Myers inspired generations of readers, including a 12-year-old me when I read ‘Fallen Angels,’ and then a 22-year-old me when I read ‘Monster,’” John Green, author of the bestselling “The Fault in Our Stars,” said on Twitter. “It's hard to imagine YA literature without him.”

He recently served as the national ambassador for young people’s literature, a post appointed by the Library of Congress.

For more news, follow @raablauren on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

1:43 p.m.: Adds background details.

The first version of this story was published at 12:56 p.m.

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