Greg Neri is an American author who goes by the pen name G. Neri, and is known for his work in young-adult fiction. He has written in free-verse (Chess Rumble), novelistic prose (Surf Mules, Ghetto Cowboy), and for graphic novels (Yummy). Neri has received multiple awards from the American Library Association (2011 Coretta Scott King Honor Award, 2012 Odyssey Award Honor, 2008 and 2011 ALA Notable Books) and the International Reading Association (2010 Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, 2008 and 2011 Notable Book) among other honors (2010 Cybil Award, 2011 Once Upon a World Award from Simon Wiesenthal Center, 2012 Horace Mann Upstanders Children's Book Award). He is one of the original members of the Class of 2K7, a debut author group that featured authors like Jay Asher, Rebecca Stead, Carrie Jones, Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr and many others. As a filmmaker, he wrote, produced, and directed the indie feature A Weekend with Barbara und Ingrid and the animated short A Picasso on the Beach.
Personal life and education
Greg Neri was raised in Los Angeles, CA. He moved to Santa Cruz, CA to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz. Initially pursuing a career as a filmmaker, he later became Head of Production for two award-winning interactive media agencies in Los Angeles. In 2001, he illustrated his first book for Scholastic, but turned to writing in 2005. He currently resides in Tampa, Florida with wife, daughter, and cat.
Neri’s 2007 debut novella, Chess Rumble (Lee and Low Books, 2007), is about an 11 year old inner city teen named Marcus who is one punch away from being kicked out of school. Angry at his sister's death and his absent father, Marcus fights back with his fists when he's pushed to the brink by a bully. But when Marcus meets CM, a street-wise chess master, he's challenged to fight his battles on the chess board.
Chess Rumble received high acclaim from critics and bloggers. School Library Journal said “This book will become a standby pick for reluctant readers.” The book was highly honored, being named a Notable Book by the American Library Association, the International Reading Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English. In 2010, Neri received the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award from the International Reading Association for his free-verse on Chess Rumble.
Neri’s first novel Surf Mules (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009), revolves around two California surfers who find themselves embroiled in a world of disorganized crime. Logan Tom and his lifelong buddy Z-boy inadvertently get sucked into the world of drug muling right out of high school. This leads them on a harrowing and funny journey across country which pushes their friendship to the limits. The novel ends tragically, but Logan Tom emerges as a survivor bent on finding his way through life.
Surf Mules received great reviews from the major journals. Booklist said that Surf Mules is “Harrowing... Neri delivers a powerful story that doesn't flinch... Sometimes brutal, but always realistic, this will find an audience among teens looking for gritty contemporary fiction."
His most acclaimed work to date, the graphic novel Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty (Lee and Low Books, 2010) is about Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, who was eleven years old in 1994 when he became a fugitive from justice after accidentally killing a neighbor girl. Neri creates a fictional narrator who watches what happens to Yummy when he seeks help from the gang he is trying to impress. Instead, they turn on him when he becomes too much of a liability to them. The book asks hard questions: Was Yummy a thug who got what he deserved? Or was he just as much of a victim as the girl he killed?
The book won a 2011 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award and was named one of the Best Books of 2010 by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews. It also has received five starred reviews from the major journals and a slew of awards and honors.
His newest novel Ghetto Cowboy (Candlewick Press,2011) is inspired by the real life black urban cowboys in Philadelphia. The story is about an 11 year old named Cole who is abandoned on the doorstep of the father he's never met—a black urban cowboy in Philly. Stuck in a strange new world filled with odd characters and big animals, Cole befriends a runt of a horse named Boo. He thinks about running away, but when the City threatens to destroy his dad's stables, Cole finds his inner cowboy. Together with Boo, Cole rallies the other cowboys to defend their turf, the Cowboy Way. Neri has said he was inspired by an article in LIFE magazine.
The Christian Science Monitor called it "A heartwarming story about inner-city kids who bond with a band of forgotten race horses. Jesse Joshua Watson’s realistic pencil and graphite wash illustrations combine with Neri's gritty street language to make a powerful story. The rhythm of the writing, the smells and sounds of the neighborhood, the developing relationship between a boy and his estranged father add up to an appealing novel, especially for an under-written-for segment of young male readers."
Elizabeth Bird, a School Library Journal blogger, summed up Neri's approach by saying, "Maybe part of the reason I like Greg Neri so much is that he’s not afraid to be as “urban” as “urban” can be. He writes in dialect, sets his stories in cities, talk about gangs and other contemporary issues, and produces stories that no one else is telling. That no one else is even attempting to tell. Because if there’s one thing Neri does well it’s tell a tale that needs to be told."
In some recent interviews, Neri was asked about what themes he writes about and for whom? His responses were as follows:
“I definitely write books for boys in urban landscapes. My characters are the neglected, the misunderstood. And I’m definitely drawn to unique worlds that most people don’t know about, be it inner city chess, ghetto cowboys, surf mules, or junior gangsters in the southside of Chicago. My theme, I guess, is about finding your way through the urban jungle by stepping through unexpected doors that open and change your life.”
“I’m trying to re-think the notion of what a book means to urban teens. Many teens can make it through high school without ever having read a book of fiction. But that’s because to them, books are big, full of words, and told in a voice that is alien to them. Most of these kids are now born into a more visual society, so I think playing with graphic novels and illustrations and using voices and characters that you don’t see often in literature is a big plus for reluctant readers in the city. I see my books as gateway books to Jane Austen.”
“My books are provocative by nature. They deal with subject matters many adults might feel uncomfortable talking about: Gangs, drugs, teen violence, sex, stalking, life in the inner city. I try to show these topics honestly without dogma or stigma attached. They show the truth as I have seen it and hopefully, they provoke discussion and thought. I hope readers get something real out of Logan's fictional journey to adulthood. His decisions are very real. The key for him and for us, is to learn from these choices, good and bad, and to keep moving forward.”
“Community has been very important in my journey as a writer. I would not be where I am today without them. Teachers and librarians have given me tons of love and support and keep asking for more, which makes me want to write more. And my readers, those urban teen boys who don’t like to read, inspire me to write for them when I see them getting turned onto reading…sometimes literally in front of my eyes. All these folks keep me going and I see them getting inspired by what I write, so we feed off each other for sure.”
Easy Readers (as illustrator)
Articles and short stories
1.Beginning the Journey to a Finished Novel(article)
2.The Run (short story)
3.How to Hook Urban Non-Readers (article)
- Steele, Charlotte - Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine, January 10, 2008
- LIFE magazine article, April 22, 2005
- Christian Science Monitor article by Augusta Scattergood (September 1, 2011)