Interview with author Walter Dean Myers Part II listen09/29/10 Dawn Morgan Elliott
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Award-winning author Walter Dean Myers published two young adult novels in 2010. The first one was Lockdown, about an inner city youth who gets two years in juvenile detention for breaking and entering. The second book, The Crusiers, is about slacker students at an exclusive school for gifted students in Harlem.
WMNF’s Dawn Morgan Elliott spoke with the Myers on communicating with young adults, saving juveniles in the prison system, and how young people handle the seriousness of his subject matter.
"I believe that young people can handle much heavier things than we give them. I believe that they can handle it if we can find the language that connects. I’m writing a book now on the Social Contract. Rousseau and Locke, the whole nine yards. I’m writing it with the belief that I can find the language that young people are going to understand. I go to juvenile prisons.
"Young person was saying to me that they felt the same way as my character did but they had never been able to articulate this. I did a book Somewhere in the Darkness. The book is about a young man meeting his father as a teenager. Kids write to me and say that that that experience touched them so much because many, especially inner city kids are separated from their fathers. But I could find words for that because I met my father as a teenager.
"There I am as a 13 year-old and my biological father moved to Harlem and I met him and he was trying to make noises like a father, but he couldn’t make noises to me because I didn’t know the guy. I read fiction because I want to know that I’m not alone, and I want to know that... how someone expresses this and does it reflect me.
Is there a difference between a bunch of kids like the Cruisers and the young boys, the young men that are the main characters in Lockdown.
"You know it’s opportunity, and someone taking care. I have a young man that I’m working with now. He’s in prison in North Carolina and I think he’s 30. He wrote to me because he liked a book I did, Monster. He said that he would like to write one day and I sent him some books on writing. He sent me a handwritten manuscript that was 200 handwritten pages. It’s not a great book by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s something that he never would have done prior to being incarcerated. Many of these young people put out on their own, they're struggling on their own, they can’t tell people because they’re ashamed to. They're ashamed to tell people what they're going through. And then they get into really, really bad acts and they mess their lives up.
"When I was coming up and my mom was an alcoholic, I couldn’t go and tell my teachers that. My teachers would say 'What happened to your grades,’ and I couldn’t, I was too embarrassed to tell them that so I took on a tough guy attitude.
"Many of thee kids do. Many of these kids are so lost, that the only thing that they know that they have is gangs, is self medication with drugs. I think they’re savable. Many of these people in prisons realize 'you know, I am bright. I do have talent', but if you don’t reach them it’s useless."
Was there anything we didn’t talk about that you wanted to cover?
"I would like to see more young people writing. I think that writing is something that can be taught. Self expression is just wonderful. I worked with some kids last year in Texas. I had them writing family histories. One young man wrote to me at the end of the term and said he wasn't quite sure if his writing had improved but his relationship with is family had. And I think that what they were learning was the use of language. How communicating on a more intense, more intimate level is useful."