|Harlem - The Author and the Illustrator|
Walter Dean Myers (Author) came to Harlem from West Virginia when "I was three, after my mother died. My father, who was very poor, gave me up to two wonderful people, my foster parents. Thinking back to boyhood days, I remember the bright sun on Harlem streets, the easy rhythms of black and brown bodies, the sounds of children streaming in and out of red brick tenements. I remember La Marqueta, in East Harlem, where people spoke a multiitude of languages. I remember playing basketball in Morningside Park until it was too dark to see the basket and then climbing over the fence to go home. One of my teachers thought that if I wrote something, I would use words I could pronounce, so she said, 'Why don't you write something yourself? Whatever you choose to write.' I began writing little poems, and they helped me because of the rhythms. I began to write short stories, too. My writing was about the only thing I was praised for in school. By high school, I'd identified my own 'avenue of values' as an intellectual, because I couldn't speak well, and had a limited social life. But I knew my family couldn't afford college for me. So I dropped out of high school, at age 15. I was brought back to school but I dropped out again at 16, and on my 17th birthday I joined the Army. When I got out of the Army, I didn't have any skills, I had no confidence, and I had a speech problem. I wrote at nights. I wrote for magazines, I wrote adventure stuff, I wrote for the National Enquirer, I wrote advertising copy for cemeteries. Then I saw that the Council on Interracial Books for Children had a contest for black writers of children's books. I won the contest and that was my first book - Where Did the Day Go? Eventually I got into writing for teenagers. Actually, I had done a short story about teenagers. My first Young Adult book was Fast Sam, Cool Clyde, and Stuff. It changed my life because I had no realy education, and I needed something to validate myself. I needed to find value and pblishing gave me that value." "I so love writing. It is not something that I am doing just for a living; this is something that I love to do."
Christopher Myers (Illustrator) believes that "Illustrating children's books is a trip. SO many peope are starving for images. I think we are learning how important images are, how much they do. In a black and white 8x10 my gradfather, Herbert Dean, stares at my grandmother, a slys mile on his face. He was a storyteller. His thick, dark, calloused hands told stories. My father tells stories. I tell stories. I'm fascinated with work, what work is, who does work, how much our identities are wrapped up in what we do with our hands. Shoeshine boy, ditchdigger, painter. My grandfather laughed at my father's hands because they were too soft. Still I think he was proud of the fact that my father didn't have to work with his back. This is progress. My father is always working on something which he would ask me to research, mostly African-American and labor history. For example, my uncle worked in the coal mines of West Virginia. There was an accident. He would have died in the mine shaft had not a woman come by and heard his cries for help. She stayed with him for three days in the mine shaft until he got better. She sang to him and worked root medicine on his open wounds (spider webs as antiseptic). Later she became my aunt. My folks collect old pictures, antiques they call them. They finger through auctions and flea markets and buy little histories. Other people's memories that get left behind. I grew up breathing the dust of stuff others had left behind. Paging through our dusty files, looking for reflections of me. All these photos - images - are important to me. They have taught me things, taken me places. No matter how these images are trasmitted in the future we must acknowledge how much work we are doing as image makers. Trying to feed the famine."