Walter Dean Myers, author of Harlem and The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, has a soft voice and quiet demeanor
that belies the tough child he once was. His autobiography, in fact, is called Bad Boy.
"I was very lucky in teachers," he said in an exclusive interview. "I had a sixth-grade teacher and I was put in his classroom
because I fought so much and he was a tough guy. He convinced me that I was smarter than I was tough."
Part of the toughness stemmed from his speech difficulties. "I spent eleven years in speech therapy. I
couldn't speak very well for most of my childhood life. So when I wasn't playing ball or fighting someone, I would be at home
with my books."
He was, he said, tough enough to carry those books home through the streets of Harlem without too many incidents. It was worth the risk. "Books took me, not so much to foreign lands and fanciful adventures, but to a place within myself that I have been constantly exploring ever since."
Looking back, Walter Dean Myers noted that when he was growing up, the act of reading was
not as pervasive and important as it is now. "Reading has changed in my lifetime. When I was a child, my father could not read but he was strong. My father was a little bull of a man. And he could make a living. Today you can't do that. Today reading is like air. You have to be able to read to survive today."
When he was young, reading was a way to discover himself; later, writing became a way of expressing what he found. Mr. Myers noted, "Writing for me has been many things. It was a way to overcome the hindrance of speech problems as I tried to reach out to the world. It was a way of establishing my humanity in a world that often ignores the humanity of those in less favored positions."
He added, "What I think I'm doing now is rediscovering the innocence of children that I once took for granted. I cannot relive it or reclaim it, but I can expose it and celebrate it in the books I write.
I really like people – I mean I really like people – and children are some of the best people I know."
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