Fallen Angels | Study Guide

Walter Dean Myers

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Walter Dean Myers | Biography


Early Life

Walter Dean Myers was born Walter Milton Myers on August 12, 1937, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The fourth of five children, his mother passed away when he was two. At that point, Myers's father sent him to live with his first wife and her new husband—Florence and Herbert Dean—in Harlem, where they raised Myers alongside their own children. Later, Myers would substitute Dean for his given middle name in a pen name that honors his adoptive parents. Myers described himself as a smart kid who struggled with a speech impediment. Myers loved reading with his adoptive mother, and his high school English teacher encouraged him to write. Myers considered his discovery of "Sonny's Blues," a short story by James Baldwin (1924–87), a formative moment in his writing career, writing that Baldwin's description of the black urban experience "gave me permission to write about my own experiences."


Myers had no way to finance a college education; he did not even finish high school, instead enlisting in the U.S. Army on his 17th birthday. After three years of service, he worked in a variety of jobs while writing at night. His work was published in magazines, including a tribute in the magazine Essence to his half-brother Wayne, who died in Vietnam. In 1969, he won a literature contest for minority writers that led to the publication of his first book Where Does the Day Go? Myers subsequently wrote more than 100 books before his death on July 1, 2014, primarily written for young and African American readers. His stories often feature young, troubled African American men, with whom he identified. Myers reflected, "Somehow I always go back to the most turbulent periods of my own life. I write books for the troubled boy I once was, and for the boy who lives within me still."

Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels is one of Myers's most critically acclaimed books. Published in 1988, the novel honors Myers's half-brother Wayne, who died on his first day in Vietnam. The story follows the military service of an African American youth from Harlem who, like Myers, finds solace in writing. The book presents a harrowing recounting of the main character's tour of duty in Vietnam, capturing the battlefields as well as the inner turmoil of the soldiers. Shining a light on the experience of soldiers of color in the war, Fallen Angels won the Coretta Scott King Award and has been named one of the top 10 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults of all time.

Literary Legacy

Myers dedicated his career to literature and literacy for children of all ages. His characters, often from minority and poor backgrounds, reflected the people in his own life. Myers hoped that reading about these characters would expand opportunities for members of underrepresented communities to see themselves reflected in literature. Myers's books have been awarded the Coretta Scott King Award five times and the Newbery Award twice. He has won the Michael L. Printz award and has been honored with the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Myers was also the 1994 recipient of the American Library Association's Margaret A. Edwards Award in honor of a "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature." From 2012–13, Myers served as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Myers remained an advocate for young adult literature as well as a writer through his final days in 2014.

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