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  • 145th Street: Short Stories
  • Written by Walter Dean Myers
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780307976109
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  • 145th Street: Short Stories
  • Written by Walter Dean Myers
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780385729840
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Written by Walter Dean MyersAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Walter Dean Myers

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On Sale: November 13, 2001
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-385-72984-0
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A salty, wrenchingly honest collection of stories set on one block of 145th Street. We get to know the oldest resident; the cop on the beat; fine Peaches and her girl, Squeezie; Monkeyman; and Benny, a fighter on the way to a knockout. We meet Angela, who starts having prophetic dreams after her father is killed; Kitty, whose love for Mack pulls him back from the brink; and Big Joe, who wants a bang-up funeral while he's still around to enjoy it. Some of these stories are private, and some are the ones behind the headlines. In each one, characters jump off the page and pull readers right into the mix on 1-4-5.


From the Paperback edition.

Excerpt

The way I see it, things happen on 145th Street that don't happen anywhere else in the world. I'm not saying that 145th is weird or anything like that, but it's, like, intense. So when I heard about Big Joe's funeral it didn't take me by surprise. It was something that I remember, and that's why I'm telling it. This is the way it went down.

The funeral took place on the Fourth of July, one of the hottest days of the year. People were sitting out on their fire escapes or on their front stoops trying to catch a breeze. If there was a breeze in the 'hood it must have stopped somewhere for an iced tea because I didn't see or feel it. Nobody was doing any unnecessary movements unless their name was Peaches Jones, who was setting out to ruin Big Joe's funeral.

Peaches was what you would call seriously fine. She was fifteen, about five feet three, a medium brown color, and definitely wrong. She was wrong because she was not giving Big Joe his propers, which means his proper respect. A person ought to have respect for other people all of the time, but especially at two times during their life. The first time is when they are born. When a baby is born you shouldn't say discouraging things about it like "Hey, I seen prettier dogs than that baby," or "Maybe he ain't ugly, maybe he's just inside out." Give the baby a chance.

The other time you need to show some respect is when a person is going on out of this world. You know, like they're dead and whatnot. Let the person go. Whatever will be their reward has got to be figured out on the other side. Even if they slip on out owing you some money, you got to bite the bullet, give up some slack, and let them be on their way. But Peaches didn't see it that way when it came to Big Joe. She had her mind dead set on messing up Big Joe's funeral.

Let me back up here and tell you: It all started when Big Joe, who owns Big Joe's Bar-B-Que and Burger Restaurant, right here on 145th Street down from the EezOn-In Cafe, decided to cancel his life insurance. He said he had been paying on his life insurance for twenty years. If he canceled his insurance he would get a check from the insurance company for eighteen thousand dollars. Now, that is some serious money. It sounded good when the guys in the barbershop were talking about it. So Big Joe canceled his insurance and sure enough, two weeks later, he was telling everybody that the check came just like he thought it would. That's when he decided to have the funeral.

"I have always loved a good funeral," Big Joe said. He was sitting outside his restaurant, peeling potatoes to make potato salad. "And when I went to Freddy's funeral-y'all remember Freddy?"

"Yeah, I remember Freddy and his funeral," Willie Murphy said. "He looked real good."

"That's my point," Big Joe said. "He was looking better than I have ever seen him. He was dean, had his hair combed, and wore that dark suit with a carnation in his lapel."

"He was sharp!" Willie went on. "And when Angela, that little Puerto Rican girl, sang 'Precious Lord,' everybody was crying."

"Ain't nobody was going to cry over Freddy when he was alive," Big Joe said. "Funerals bring out the best in people. Am I lying or flying?"

"You definitely flying," I said.

"I hate to talk about the dead " Willie added, "but when Freddy was a walkie-talkie all he wanted to do was to hang out on the corner and ask everybody he seen if they had any spare change so he could take it down to the Eez-On-In and get him a beer."

"Un-huh, but he still had him a nice funeral," Big Joe said. "I'm going to have me a nice funeral while I'm still alive so I can appreciate it."

Now, we didn't exactly know what Big Joe meant by that but when he started explaining, it made sense. He was going to take part of that eighteen thousand dollars and throw himself a funeral the way some people throw a party.

"Nothing too fancy," he said. "Just something nice."

Now, this is what he did. He went over to the Unity Funeral Home on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and arranged things with them. At first Old Man Turner, who ran the place, was a little put Out, but then he saw where live people having funerals would greatly increase his business and he said okay. He was going to supply the coffin, the hearse, which carried the coffin, and two limousines. The good part of this is that since I was there when Big Joe was first talking about his funeral I was going to get to ride in one of the limousines.

Big Joe asked Leroy Brown, who had a little band, to play the music at his funeral. Then he found Angela, that little girl who had sung at Freddy's funeral, and asked her to sing a song.

Now, you're probably wondering what Sadie, Big Joe's girlfriend, thought about all this. Well, she didn't like it one bit.

"You don't mess with dying," she said, her hands on her hips. "You go laying up in some coffin and death liable to reach out and snatch you right away from here!"

"Woman, you're just superstitious," Big Joe said. "Ain't nothing to worry about."

Sadie was a widow lady, her husband having been run over by an ambulance while he was on the way across Malcolm X Boulevard to buy a Lotto ticket. Maybe her being a widow was what made her touchy. But if she was a little upset it was nothing compared to what her daughter, Peaches, felt. When Peaches heard about Big Joe's plans she was madder than a junkyard dog with fleas.

"He's been asking my mama to marry him for the last year," Peaches said. "If he's going to be a good husband what's he doing going around acting stupid?"

"Is she going to marry him?" I asked.

"She doesn't need to marry him or anybody else," Peaches said.

Big Joe had promised Sadie he was going to adopt Peaches once they were married. That looked like a good deal to me because Big Joe was really successful and everybody liked him. Not only that but the brother was handsome, too. He was tall and dark and had white hair at the temples, which made him distinguished-looking.
Peaches and her mama argued up one side of Big Joe and down the other but he didn't change his mind. He was going to have his funeral.

Big Joe was popular on 145th Street. If you were a little down on your luck and needed a meal, or a pair of shoes, or even half the month's rent, you could go to Big Joe and he'd listen to you and more than likely help you out, too. So by the day of the funeral it looked like there was going to be a big turnout.

Now, besides Sadie and Peaches there were some sisters from the church who thought the idea was a little peculiar and they made sure that everybody knew it, but even some of them showed up because they appreciated a good funeral, too.

Well, the Fourth of July was hot but the undertaker's parlor was air-conditioned. There were only two funerals scheduled for that day, Big Joe's in the afternoon and a funeral for somebody named Calderone later that night.

When we came into the funeral parlor there was Big Joe, lying up front in his casket. It spooked me out. Big Joe wasn't moving a muscle and you could see he had on some of that makeup they put on dead people. Sadie was sitting in the front row with her arms folded and her jaws tight.

When it was my turn to file past the coffin I did so real slow. I knew that Big Joe was alive but I didn't know what I would do if he suddenly sat up. I was glad to sit back down again.

The funeral director's wife played some songs on the organ and then Angela sang her heart out; there were real tears running down her face. Then some of Joe's friends stood up and said good things about him.

Leroy's band, the All Star Stompers, played "Amazing Grace" and "One More River to Cross" and before you knew it we were deep into the funeral. I looked over at Sadie and she was getting a little misty, too.

When the inside part of the funeral was over the undertaker shut the coffin. I watched to see if Big Joe was going to move. The dude didn't even twitch.

When we got outside, the hearse and the limousines were waiting, and so was Peaches. She and two of her friends, LaToya and Squeezie, had painted these big signs. They read, BIG JOE IS NOT DEAD.

Mother Fletcher, who might be the oldest woman on the block, was just passing by and saw them. She went over to them. I went over, too, because I wanted to know what she was going to say.

"You're right, child," Mother Fletcher said. "The flesh fades but the spirit lives on to its eternal reward!"

"That's not what I mean," Peaches said. "I mean he's really not dead!"

"Suffer the little children!" Mother Fletcher said as she started walking away. "Glory hallelu'ah!"


From the Hardcover edition.
Walter Dean Myers

About Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers - 145th Street: Short Stories

Photo © Ken Petretti

Born in Marinsburg, West Virginia in 1937, Walter Dean Myers is one of the premier authors of books for children. His mother died very early in his life–an event that propelled him into experiences that later influenced him to write. It was difficult for Myers' father to raise eight children alone, and eventually, a nearby couple, Herbert and Florence Dean, took in three-year old Walter and moved to Harlem, New York. "Harlem became my home and the place where my first impressions of the world were set," says Myers.
 
As a child, Myers went to school in his neighborhood and attended bible school almost every day of the week. Myers had a speech impediment which made communicating difficult for him, and often found himself in fights, defending himself against kids who taunted him. After a while, one of this teachers suggested to his class that they could write something to read aloud. Young Myers began writing poetry to give voice to his thoughts and feelings, and at age sixteen, won a prize in an essay contest and a set of encyclopedias for a long narrative poem. Later, his father bought him a used typewriter, which he used to churn out a seemingly endless stream of stories.
 
Along with the many things he was discovering about himself, Myers was also learning how to survive. One day he had the courage to break up a fight between three gang members and a kid who had just moved into the neighborhood. He became a marked man–and felt his life was in danger.
 
For example, once, he was sitting in the tree in Morningside Park, across from the building he lived in, reading O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, when some gang members spotted him and surrounded the tree. Myers jumped to the ground, flashed a stiletto in order to fend them off, and made a mad dash for his building. He escaped, but he never forgot the incident. Later he enlisted in the army, got married, had a child, went through a turbulent creative struggle, got divorced, got married again–and during all of this, kept writing, whether his work pleased him or not.
 
But Walter Dean Myers' life is not the story of a tormented, embittered artist. Rather it is the story of a gifted, complex person committed to sharing that gift with young readers. Myers' stories and novels paint a powerful picture of the pressures of growing up on big city streets. Yet, he emphasizes close relationships, trust, and personal growth.
 
It seems that one of Myers' greatest struggles was to understand what type of writer he wanted to be. As the years passed and his books became more and more popular, Walter Dean Myers came to believe that his work filled a void for African American youths who yearned for positive reading experiences and role models. He frequently writes about children who share similar economic and ethnic situations with his own childhood. "But my situation as a parent did not mirror that of my childhood," he says. "While my parents were quite poor, my children are thoroughly entrenched in the middle class experience. To them African prints go well with designer jeans, pizzas go down easier to a reggae beat, and shopping malls are an unmistakable part of their culture."
 
It is clear that Myers' understanding of both the world he was raised in and the world of his children allows him to bring an authority to his work that resonates with his young readers. It is one of many attributes that has made him one of the most important children's and young adult authors writing today. Among his many honors are two Newbery Honor books for Scorpions and Somewhere in the Darkness. He is also a two-time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award for Now Is Your Time! and Fallen Angels. In addition, Myers has received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for his contribution to young adult literature.
 
Myers' novel, Darnell Rock Reporting, is a warm and humorous story about thirteen-year-old Darnell Rock–a boy who works on his school newspaper. The book is sure to appeal to reluctant readers. Myers' recent picture book, How Mr. Monkey Saw the Whole World, is a cautionary fable about a watchful monkey who sees that a greedy buzzard gets his comeuppance.
 
Myer’s 145th Street: Short Stories (A Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book) captures the heartbeat of one memorable block in Harlem, New York. These powerful, often gripping stories range from humor and celebration to terror and grief.

Recently, Myers was named the 2012 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.  The National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.
 
Walter Dean Myers, the father of three grown children, lives with his wife in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Praise

Praise

"Myers has a great natural style . . . and is completely at home in a Harlem depicted without adulation but with great affection." — The Horn Book Magazine, Starred

"Readers will find that they could settle in for hours and take it all in." — Publishers Weekly, Starred

"Fast, wry, and honest . . . the search for personal identity is at the heart of this lyrical collection, and so is the sense of the place." — Booklist, Boxed


From the Paperback edition.

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