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July 3, 2014

Walter Dean Myers ’84 Dies at 76

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library, presents Walter Dean Myers ’84 with the Distinguished Alumni Award.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, left, director of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library, presents Walter Dean Myers ’84 with the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award. Photo/Marty Heitner

Renowned writer, two-time Newbery Award winner and Empire State College alumnus Walter Dean Myers ’84 has died at 76, his publisher, HarperCollins has announced.

“On behalf of the entire Empire State College Community, I extend my sympathy and condolences to the family of Walter Dean Myers for their loss,” said Merodie A. Hancock, president of SUNY Empire State College. “Walter will be best remembered as the critically acclaimed and award-winning author of books about urban teenagers and young, economically disadvantaged African-Americans. Empire State College’s students, his fellow alumni, faculty and staff will remember Walter as a source of great inspiration.  Walter will be missed and I join his family, readers, the literary world and the college community in mourning his passing.”

On April 30 of this year, Myers gave a lecture as part of a literary series at the college’s Hudson Valley office. He was recognized with the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award for his participation in the life of the college and for all of his literary accomplishments at the college’s event celebrating black history on July 1, 2013.

Myers studied at the college’s office in Manhattan and earned a B.A. in cultural studies. In 2002, he was the cover story for the winter issue of the college’s Empire State College News (now Connections).

Myers wrote more than 100 books aimed at children, middle-schoolers and young adults. In March, he wrote an essay, "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?", for a cover story in the New York Times Book Review.

Faculty members Christine Leake, far left, Linda Treinish, Stacey Gallagher and Thomas Brady, assessment specialist, join Walter Dean Myers ‘84, wearing glasses, and faculty members Jennifer Spitz and Arlene Rider after Dean’s lecture at the college’s Hartsdale office.

Faculty members Christine Leake, far left, Linda Treinish, Stacey Gallagher and Thomas Brady, assessment specialist, join Walter Dean Myers ‘84, wearing glasses, and faculty members Jennifer Spitz and Arlene Rider, after Dean’s lecture at the college’s Hartsdale office.

Myers is quoted on his website saying, “I was born on a Thursday, the 12th of August, 1937, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. My name at birth was Walter Milton Myers. I was about two years old when my mother died and then I was inexplicably given to Florence and Herbert Dean. I was raised in Harlem by Herbert, who was African-American, and Florence, who was German and Native American, and wonderful. They loved me very much and I grew to love Harlem.”

He dropped out of high school and joined the army on his 17th birthday. One of his teachers recognized his writing talent -- "It's what you do," she said -- and advised him to pursue it. He was working on a construction job when he remembered her words and began writing for magazines at night. A winning contest entry with the Council on Interracial Books for Children became his first book, “Where Does the Day Go?”

The announcement of his death on his webpage is available at http://walterdeanmyers.net/

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