The Library of Congress recently named Walter Dean Myers its new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. The position was created to raise awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of their lives.
Myers grew up poor in Harlem. His father was illiterate, but his mother read to him. Kids would tease him when they saw him carrying books home from the library. He wrote poetry at a young age, and, as he says in his biography, “I wrote well in high school and a teacher (bless her!) recognized this and also knew I was going to drop out. She advised me to keep on writing no matter what happened to me. I didn't know exactly what that meant but, years later … I remembered her words. I began writing at night and eventually began writing about the most difficult period of my own life, the teen years.” Now Myers is a critically acclaimed author of young adult books. According to this news story, as ambassador, Myers wants to encourage parents to read to their children when they are very young, and help remove the stigma from teenagers who can’t read well.
Many factors have led to Myers success, but I was struck by how books and encouragement seemed to have played a central role. Stories like his renew my resolve to meet our goal of inspiring 1 million people to become volunteer readers, tutors, and mentors. While we can’t all be noted authors, we can be ambassadors for literacy, and for hope.