Search - List of Books by Jess Mowry
Jess Mowry (b. March 27, 1960 near Starkville, Mississippi) is an American author of books and stories for children and young adult. He has written fourteen books and many short stories for and about Black children and teens in a variety of genres, ranging from inner-city settings to the forests of Haiti.
Total Books: 28
Jess Mowry was born to an African American father, and a Caucasian mother. When he was only a few months old, his mother abandoned him. His father took Jess to Oakland, California, where he supported himself and his son by working as a crane operator, truck driver, and scrap-metal salvager. Jess's father was a voracious reader who introduced his son to books at a very early age. Jess attended public school, but despite his love of reading, was not an above-average student. He dropped out of school at age thirteen, partway through the eighth grade. After leaving school, Mowry worked with his father in the scrap-iron business and, in his late teens, moved to Arizona to work as a truck driver and heavy equipment operator. He also lived and worked in Alaska as an engineer aboard a tugboat and as an aircraft mechanic on Douglas C-47 cargo planes.
Returning to Oakland in the early 1980s, Jess began working with kids at a youth center, reading to them and often making up stories because there were very few books to which inner-city youth could relate. Later, he began to write stories. In 1988, Jess sent one of his stories to Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva magazine in San Francisco. Junker rejected the tale but asked to see more work, and published the second story Jess sent. Mowry bought a 1923 Underwood typewriter for eight dollars, and within a year, his work was appearing in literary magazines in the United States and abroad.
In 1990, Mowry's first collection of stories, Rats in the Trees, won a PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award and was also published in the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan. In 1991, Mowry's first novel, Children of the Night, was published by Holloway House in Los Angeles. In 1992, his second novel, Way Past Cool, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux of New York. Way Past Cool was also published in the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Japan. It was optioned for a film, for which Mowry co-wrote the screenplay. The film, under the same titled, was produced by Redeemable Features in 2000 with director Adam Davidson and executive producers Norman Lear and Milos Forman. Other novels followed, including Six Out Seven, Babylon Boyz, Bones Become Flowers, Skeleton Key, Phat Acceptance, and Voodu Dawgz. His trademark is dialog that is a mixture of street slang and surfer lingo.
Mowry's characters and settings range from gun-toting gang kids in Oakland and Voodoo apprentices in New Orleans' French Quarter, to teenage airplane pilots and child-soldiers in Africa. As Mowry’s puts it: “Almost all my stories and books are for and about Black kids who are not always cute and cuddly. My characters often spit, sweat, and swear, as well as occasionally smoke or drink. Just like their real-world counterparts, some are overweight, may look too Black, or are otherwise unacceptable by superficial [mainstream] American values. Like on-the-real kids, they often live in dirty and violent environments, and are forced into sometimes unpleasant lifestyles."
Jess Mowry emerged during the mid- 1990s as one of America's most original and important...yet relatively unheralded...Black writers. His low profile is as much a matter of personal preference as of any lack of merit or of public interest in his writing. Mowry has declined to take the easy way, refusing to be seduced by fame or money into writing the kind of Black ghetto fiction that mainstream publishers seem to want. Instead, Mowry remains socially committed and aware; he prefers doing things his way as he works to improve the lives and self-image of black street kids.
Jess Mowry lives in Oakland.