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Reading ‘ambassador’ brings national tour to Kalamazoo

Foundation for Newark's Future

The Kalamazoo area’s renewed push for literacy will get a boost from a national champion. For two days, New York Times best-selling young-adult author Walter Dean Myers will speak and sign books at the Kalamazoo Public Library. It is part of his cross-country tour as the 2012 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

“The reception is almost always good,” says Myers, 75, who has spoken at libraries, schools and juvenile centers in 45 to 50 communities across America since being named to his post a year-and-a-half ago.

The New York Times likens the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature title to a poet laureate in the children’s book world. “People want to hear about literacy, and I (also) talk about books and writing,” added Myers, in an interview with WMUK in advance of his stop in Kalamazoo.

Literacy is a deeply personal issue for Myers. He was raised by an economically-challenged foster family in Harlem. Myers says his foster father was functionally illiterate and his foster mother read at about third-grade level. Myers himself dropped out of high school. Although he was a strong reader and kept reading even in the face of kids teasing him for liking books, Myers says he ultimately became discouraged about his future because his parents could not afford college for him. So he left school. 

Despite that, Myers has gone on to become a prolific and award-winning writer who is on a mission to spread the word that “reading is not optional". “What kids need very much is role models,” says Myers, who hopes that young people who hear his presentations in Kalamazoo and elsewhere will see him as an example of success.

While he's in Kalamazoo, Myers will speak at 6 p.m., Tuesday, August 6th, at the Kalamazoo Public Library’s Main Branch, 315 South Rose Street in downtown Kalamazoo. The second talk is set for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, August 7th, at the Powell Branch, 1000 West Paterson Street.

Myers has penned 109 books, ranging from non-fiction and poetry to picture books that often center on urban issues facing teens. He has won two Newberry Honors Awards; five Coretta King Awards; and the first Michael L. Printz Award, given for excellence in young adult literature by the American Library Association. He has also been a National Book Award finalist. Myers lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Myers' Kalamazoo visit is sponsored by the Kalamazoo Public Library. He's the third person to be appointed a National Ambassador for Young Peoples’ Literature. The program was created in 2008. It is run by Every Child a Reader, a non-profit organization that promotes literacy and reading and co-sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress and the Children’s Book Council, a publisher's trade group.