I like to pretend Walter Dean Myers and I are BFF. In fact, I refer to him as WDM. In the summer of 2011, Catherine (one of my co-graduate assistants) and I were insanely excited to be WDM’s “Keepers,” as he called us, when he was a visiting writer at VCFA. I didn’t know much about WDM’s life, but I do know and love his work, and so do my students. Of all the moments we had – from leaving a maple bunny on his pillow before he arrived, to the drive back to the airport with Diane Stanley –, the moment I will forever remember was during his Saturday morning talk. It’s not because his talk was insightful, which it was, or inspiring, which it also was, but it was because it was a much delayed foot-in-mouth moment that began on the way back from the airport the day before.
In the car that day, WDM, Catherine, and I had some meaningful conversation. Oh, it was the usual run-of-the-mill, getting-to-know-you type of conversation about politics, the state of education in the country, juvenile criminal justice, and the foster care system. Thinking I had some insightful info, I launched into a rambling about a documentary I had seen about adopting older children who are in foster care. “And you know,” I had said knowingly, “many foster kids who age out of the system wind up joining the Armed Forces.” As I continued, WDM nodded and smiled, a truly attentive listener.
So you can imagine my horror during WDM’s talk when he told us all about 1) being a foster child and 2) his time in the Armed Forces. His story wasn’t exactly like those of the children I had spoken about, but it became clear to me that anything I had told him was not news. It also became clear to me that not only is WDM an amazing writer and speaker, but he’s also a truly amazing, gracious person. What could have been an awkward moment in the confined space of the car wasn’t. He didn’t even mention it, and I sure wasn’t going to.