Sunday, August 15, 2010

Beyond Myers : Recognizing More Black Male YA Authors

The first book I read by Walter Dean Myers was Crystal. I had just started working in the children's and YA section of the bookstore. I was still in the process of getting acquainted with the authors and their books.

When I picked up Crystal, I didn't know Myers was known for his male protagonist or that he was the first YA author to be awarded the Printz for Monster. At the time I was simply in search of a good story. I was attracted to the Black girl on the cover of Crystal and I got exactly what I wanted. A few months later I read Monster and wow. It's an amazing book. After Monster, Walter Dean Myers became a go to author for me. I would highly recommend him to customers and I always looked forward to his next book.

For a long time Myers has been an answer to two YA questions. "Where are all the books for boys?" and "Where are all the books featuring Black boys?"

Its inevitable that someone will say "Walter Dean Myers", and that's how it should be. Myers has written some great books with Black male protagonist. As good as Myers books have been in the past, it was never right for him to be the only Black male author recognized for writing Black male protagonist.

I never questioned this when I liked what Myers wrote though I should have. Now, since the last few Myers novels haven't been good, its all I can think about. The last one I really liked was Dope Sick.

I will always love Monster, Fallen Angels, Sunrise Over Fallujah, Crystal and many other titles by Myers. I like to give authors I love the benefit of the doubt and second chances. "That so -so book was a bad fluke. The next one will be better." Its been difficult but I had to accept what was in front of me for what it was, Myers novels have lost the magic.

I loved Charles R Smith's YA novel Chameleon . Its one of the best coming of age stories I've read in awhile.. I got very lucky and stumbled upon it. There was no buzz around it, which is a shame My review, Edi's , Jodie's and Ari's

Author Derrick Barnes has a YA novel coming out in November called We Could Be Brothers I am a fan of Barnes work. I am looking forward to reading We Could Be Brothers. I have my fingers crossed that it doesn't have a quiet release like Chameleon.

Its time other Black male YA authors who write Black male protagonist are recognized and praised for the work they do. One author should not be expected to pen the voices of many.


MissA said...

I give this post a hearty Amen! I've only read Dope Sick (really liked), Glory Field (which I just realized I read and that one was just OK. Since I can barely remember it ;) , Crystal (like you this is the first book of his I read and I really liked this one too) and Harlem Summer (liked it). He is totally the go-to author for books about black boys by a Black author. I only intend on reading Sunrise over fallujah and Monster. Then I'm done, unless I hear rave reviews about his other books.

I would love to see Nick Burd's next book be about an African American guy (and if he's gay all the better). Bil Wright had that one book about a guy boxer I think? But he sort of disappeared. I guess our hope lies with Charles Smith and Derrick Barnes (both of whom I love anyway). And perhaps Varian Johnson?

Shalonda said...

I have been a fan of Walter Dean Myers for as long as I can remember. I think the first I ever read was Motown & Didi. From then on, I was sold. I haven't read any of his latest books, but my kids can't get enough WDM. I have purchased multiple copies of Slam and Monster, many of which were never returned (I take it to be a good thing), but I don't think they have read his latest books yet either.

Thanks so much for the suggestions. I have been looking for some other Black YA authors to introduce my students to and for me to read as well. I will always be fond of WDM, but like you said, it's definitely time we recognize some other talented Black writers.

Anonymous said...

You're brave, Doret--for many people, critiquing a giant like WDM is sacrilege! I think it's important for us to be honest when we look at an author's body of work--every book isn't likely to be brilliant, and someone that prolific is likely to produce some duds. You point to a serious problem within publishing--this "big fish, small pond" syndrome whereby editors stop looking for new talent and cling to the one author they're comfortable with...there's room for many more voices, male and female.

Mardel said...

OMG - we have a LOT of Walter Dean Myer's books in our school library. I didn't know we had a POC writer there. Except we don't have any of the books you've listed. When I go back to school, I'll check to see which ones we have. Nice to know we already have some POC books. Now I also know to look out for more of his books.

Jeannine said...

If you think finding brown boys in YA is hard, try middle grade. I've been doing a little research for a blog post(Hi Ari) and anyone I have asked has said check out Walter Dean Myers and Charles Smith. You're right there must be more than just a couple of authors writing with brown boys in mind and if not, why not??

max said...

My books are for boys 8 - 13, but they're intended for the general market.

Here are a couple links if interested.

Author Web Site

Books For Boys Blog

Doret said...

Ari - Monster and Sunrise over Fallujah are very good and well worth reading.

Shalonda and Mardel another book you might want to check out for your libraries, is The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees. Its YA crazy good, relucatant reader friendly and no content issues.

I figured I'd mention it, since its also difficult to find good books with Latino Male protagonist

Thanks Zetta - There's enough room to recognize more Black male YA authors

Jeannine - Man, that is hard. If I think of anyone beyond the few well known, I will let you know.

One I can think of right now is Troy Cle. He writes MG fantasy.

Anonymous said...

I once looked up WDM body of work and was amazed by the length and breadth of what he's written. While he's often the only author of color mentioned, he's too often left out of conversations about YA books in general.

MG boys: Derrick Barnes; 8th Grade Superzero; Greg Neri; Secret Saturday; The Circuit; books by Harold Imes; The Whole Sky Full of Stars; Christopher Paul Curtis; Island Boyz by Salisbury; My Father the Angel of Death. There are a couple of others, but I can't think if the titles, one has a blue cover and is about a boy named Brandon, his name is in the title. I think the other is named Messed Up.
There's always that wonderful Bluford series (I'm being very sarcastic.)
I'd also suggest looking at sports and biography books as they would really appeal to this age group as well.

Doret said...

Edi - Have you read "My father the Angel of Death? It looks like it could be fun, though the cover is creppy.

The main protagonist from 8th Grade Superzero was a lovely change. Finally a Black male lead in a contempary MG novel

Jodie said...

Great point. As much as we might love one author, we all want to see multiple options out there. What if some male readers don't like Myers, where do they go?

Anonymous said...

Doret, I haven't read it. It is in my media center and on my TBR pile.

Anonymous said...

You're right. Christopher Grant's TEENIE will be out in 2011. Paul Volponi's BLACK AND WHITE, and ROOFTOP are big hits with boys. And Walter Mosly is seldom recognized, though two of his books in particular are very accessible to older teens (ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED, and WALKING THE DOG).