Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Messages I heard from Walter Dean Myers’ Arbuthnot lecture

Walter Dean Myers named his Arbuthnot Lecture "The Geography of the Heart". He said , "I write books for the troubled boy I once was and for the boy inside me still.

Of course he was an avid reader while growing up. For him, reading worked. He mastered the skill of decoding and the creative process of creating ownership through cultural schemas and secondary creation. 

But his reading mind was prepared long before he came to the written word because he experienced the oral tradition. He had family members like his foster mother who spoke with him. 

His intellectual geography was based on dynamics of his parents and his cultural background. It mirrored the larger mainstream culture. You wanted something and he felt you could achieve it. Later he came to understand the Geography of the Heart. His personal geography followed the trend of popular culture. 

It was a natural transition for him from reader to writer as he began emulating stories read by writing them. In his heart he knew that "Reading is good for human beings." Through his writing and thinking, he created a mythical character who declares to his teacher, "He don’t want to read no books." Jeremy understands the message "reading is good for human beings" but then adds on silently to the end "…for you."

Viewing Jeremy, Walter Dean Myers explored his physical and intellectual geography, but Jeremy’s skills are different. His geography is different. He wants transformative experiences when reading – instant changes. Jeremy hears what others say, but his experiences change his reaction. He sees a group of young black men standing around with no jobs because there ARE NO JOBS, not because they are unwilling to work. Many men are dropping out at 13 or 14 because of their personal geography and experiences. Incremental learning is not fair at this point.

With a realistic view of his surroundings or geography, Jeremy’s needs for the reading experience are different from mine
. Walter Dean Myers advocates for us to bridge that gap, to reach across their souls, to reach into their hearts, and to reach that place where we can bring our life to theirs. We have to give them HOPE. Lead them from stories of their lives to understand these children are alienated, and strangers in familiar gardens of the richest country on the earth. Still, strangers. 

Walter Dean Myers asked, "How many children don’t believe that reading is going to help them?"  We must discover where these students and readers are. We must build bridges to close our geography gaps.

If you were at the lecture, be sure to add your favorite points. I’ll point you to the print & online edition as soon as they are live. Sometimes there is so much to think about in a good workshop, that it’s hard to take notes and think simultaneously. Any corrections?