Walter Dean Myers was born in Martinsberg, West Virginia, into a very poor family. When he was three years old, he was adopted by Herbert and Florence Dean, who moved to New York City. Thus Myers grew up in Harlem. He began writing stories while still in his teens but had little hope of becoming a professional writer because, coming from a family of laborers, he too was expected to work with his hands. However, Myers refused to accept the notion that because he was black and poor he was restricted in what he could do. After high school he enlisted in the army, and while there he read everything he could. After completing his army service, he took what jobs he could while continuing to write. He entered a contest for writers of books for young children, "more because I wanted to write anything than because I wanted to write a picture book." He won the contest, wrote several more books for young children, and then began writing novels for young adults. Myers's novels for teenage readers have won high praise and several awards. Aside from telling good stories, Myers strives to convey what he learned while young. His message to black youth is that although growing up is not easy and reality can be harsh, young African Americans can succeed despite the odds against them. As he has said in an autobiographical essay, "I feel the need to show [black youngsters] the possibilities that exist for them that were never revealed to me as a youngster; possibilities that did not even exist for me then."