Jess Mowry

Jess Mowry photo

Jess Mowry an author of books and stories for children and young adults.

Many of the novels are set in Oakland, California, and deal with contemporary themes such as drug dealers, teenage sexuality, school dropouts, and coming-of-age.

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. Despite his love of reading, Jess was not an above-average student. He dropped out of school at age thirteen, part way 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, Mowry 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 the stories. In 1988, Mowry 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.

n 1990, Mowry’s first collection of stories, Rats in the Trees, won a PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award.

Mowry’s 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 road, refusing to be seduced by fame or money into writing the kind of ghetto fiction that mainstream publishers seem to want. Instead, Mowry remains socially committed; he prefers doing things his way as he works to inspire and enhance self-images of youths all over the world.

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10 Books by Jess Mowry