Melissa Fay Greene
Melissa Fay Greene (born December 30, 1952) is an American nonfiction author. A 1975 graduate of Oberlin College, Greene is the author of five books of nonfiction, a two-time National Book Award finalist, and a 2011 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. Her books have been translated into 15 languages.
Born in Macon, Georgia, and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Greene lives in Atlanta with her husband, Don Samuel, a criminal defense attorney, and numerous children. Married in 1979 in Savannah, Melissa and Don are the parents of nine: Molly Samuel, Seth Samuel, Lee Samuel, Lily Samuel, Fisseha "Sol" Samuel, Daniel Samuel, Jesse Samuel, Helen Samuel, and Yosef Samuel, ranging in age from 33 to 17. Don is a partner in the law firm Garland, Samuel & Loeb, representing a variety of white-collar and non-white-collar criminal defendants, including Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and rap star T.I. He has appeared in Best Lawyers in America every year since 1991. Their oldest four children were born into the family; Jesse was adopted from Bulgaria in 1999 at age four; Helen was adopted from Ethiopia in 2002 at age five, Fisseha from Ethiopia in 2004 at age 10, and brothers Daniel and Yosef from Ethiopia in 2007 at 13 and 10.
Death of Fisseha: On October 9, 2014, Fisseha "Sol" Samuel, 20, a sophomore at Georgia Gwinnett College, after relaying to a few close friends a sense of hopelessness regarding his prospects on the men's varsity soccer team, took his own life. A beloved high school soccer star, team captain, and MVP whose club team won State Cup and competed at the Region Premier League level, he played soccer across the U.S., in Jamaica, and in Israel, worked as a counselor at sports camps in Atlanta and Massachusetts, and endeared himself to people everywhere through a combination of superb athleticism, wilderness skills, sweetness, good humor, and inclusiveness in every game and endeavor of anyone who wanted to join. His body was found on October 10 in woods near the campus soccer fields. He'd never shown any sign of depression, was beloved by his family and magically popular among wide circles of friends, and was brimming with plans for the future, including his 21st birthday in January 2015 and a return visit that summer to Ethiopia. At a loss to comprehend his sudden death, the family contemplates the theory that Sol's bewildering exclusion from the field of play, culminating in a GGC home game on the night of October 8, 2014, during which he got no minutes in the game, triggered the recurrence of an early childhood trauma of such acute pain he felt unable to survive it. An investigation into the school's soccer program and their son's treatment by the coaches has been requested by the family. An extended obituary appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and tributes to him and contributions in his name engulfed his family. Survivors include immediate family in Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Dayton, Ohio, and Santa Fe, NM, and extended family in Addis Ababa and Jima, Ethiopia, with whom he remained in contact. Between 600 and 700 mourners attended his funeral. Fisseha was featured in a New York Times Magazine "Lives" column by his mother in 2011, entitled "The Flying Son." His oldest sister, Molly Samuel, a public radio producer and reporter, recorded an interview with Fisseha for the radio show, "Snap Judgement," which can be heard here: Fisseha's radio interview Sol appears throughout his mother's memoir, No Biking in the House Without A Helmet. The Bob Edwards Show, on Sirius XM and Public Radio International, interviewed Melissa in 2011 about No Biking, and the interview touched on many stories about Sol. In January 2015, in a re-broadcast of that interview, Bob Edwards read aloud from Melissa's notes about Sol's death. These final remarks appear at 4:29 minutes from the end of the revised Bob Edwards Weekend: Melissa Fay Greene.
Praying for Sheetrock
Published in 1991, Praying for Sheetrock is the true story of the often-criminal heyday of the good old boys in McIntosh McIntosh County on the rural coast of Georgia and the rise of civil rights there in the mid-1970s. It won the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights Book Award, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Quality Paperback Book Club New Visions Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the 100 best works of American journalism of the 20th century by the journalism faculty of New York University.
“Let there be no suspense about my reaction to this book. I intend to try to make a joyful noise here. Melissa Fay Greene has written a superb account of life and struggle in a tiny place. Because of its themes and the brilliant way the author has handled them, this book could stand as a metaphor for the halting American effort to become something better than we have been… Most of all, it is a story of simple black people enduring and rising very, very slowly and then a little faster on the broad back of a flawed leader who ultimately breaks because he is human and has aspirations and burdens that push him past his limits." –Roger Wilkins, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, December 15, 1991
“Greene’s achievement recalls Jane Austen’s description of her novels as fine brushwork on a ‘little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory’… What Greene has written is political history of a rare kind…” –James Lardner, The New Yorker, April 13, 1992
"With the sharp eye of the judicious observer and the keen ear of the storyteller, she draws her readers into an engrossing and enlightening account of how power was not only lost by some and won by others, but of how daily life in a small rural society was irrevocably changed."—The National Book Foundation, 1991 Nonfiction Finalist Citation
Other reviews: SHEETROCK reviews
The Temple Bombing
The Temple Bombing (1996) investigates an incident of domestic terrorism during the era of "massive resistance" to desegregation in Atlanta in 1958 when an Atlanta synagogue known as "The Temple" was bombed by a homegrown neo-Nazi organization. The New Jersey-born Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, a friend and colleague of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of other white and African-American civil rights activists, spoke and acted on behalf of civil equality despite the precarious social position of Southern Jews and the fears of his congregants that the violent racists would come after them.
The book was a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the Georgia Author of the Year Award of the Georgia Writers Association, the Georgia Historical Society Award, the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award, the Salon Book Award, and the American Civil Liberties Union National Civil Liberties Award.
“…….this book is as illuminating as it is shocking. I learned a great deal from Ms Greene, and so will many readers who think their lives are disconnected from history.” –New York Times Book Review
"Combining the historian's urge for accuracy with a sociologist's sense of social nuance and a writerly passion for the beauty of language, Melissa Fay Greene revisits an ugly moment in Atlanta's history... The Temple Bombing is an act of witness against the chaos, at once sickening, elegant, and heartfelt."—The National Book Foundation 1996 Nonfiction Finalist Citation
Other reviews: Temple Bombing reviews
The infamous 1915 lynching—by a white mob including civic leaders—of the Jewish 31-year-old manager of the Atlanta Pencil Company, Leo Frank, wrongly convicted and posthumously pardoned for the murder of 13-year-old child worker Mary Phagan, occurred within this same community: Frank was a member of The Temple.
The Academy Award-winning Driving Miss Daisy (Best Picture, 1989), written by prize-winning Atlanta native Alfred Alfred Uhry, makes dramatic use of the Temple bombing incident—Miss Daisy is a Temple member—though the chronology is fictionalized.
Last Man Out
Last Man Out (2002) tells the story of the 1958 Springhill mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia and the absurdist American white supremacist coda to the spectacular rescue of a handful of Canadian men. Nearly a week after the collapse of the deepest coal mine in the world, long after all the missing were presumed dead, two groups of men—injured and desperately dehydrated—were discovered a vertical mile underground. The worldwide focus on the rescue of the first group—through newspapers, television news reports, and movie theater news-reels—inspired a few highly placed officials in the administration of Governor Governor Marvin Griffin of Georgia, a staunch segregationist, to invite the survivors and their families to vacation on the coastal resort of Jekyll Jekyll Island, Georgia. The state officials conceived it as a PR gimmick that would enlighten the world about the Georgia coast as a tourist destination equal to Florida's beaches. However, a second group of miners was found alive; when the survivors were finally extricated, the "last man out" turned out to be an "Afro-Canadian," Maurice Ruddick. All tourist accommodations in Georgia were segregated. Rather than a brilliant PR coup, Georgia officials inadvertently insulted Ruddick, a Canadian hero of the underground, causing a minor international incident.
“….[a] most vivid account of horror and heroism, of exemplary human behavior under the most adverse circumstances and of the buffoonery of those who tried to exploit those admirable survivors.” –Chicago Tribune.
“Last Man Out, by a natural-born storyteller from the American South, is as good a book about a Canadian disaster as you’re ever likely to find…. with vivid prose and high sensitivity to human anguish, Greene has created a book that is deep, moving and timeless. –The Toronto Globe and Mail.
Other reviews: LAST MAN OUT reviews
There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Save Her Country’s Children
This 2006 book illuminates the Ethiopian orphan crisis caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa through the portrait of one person on the frontlines: a middle-aged Ethiopian foster mother, Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra, and the scores of children crossing her threshold. It was winner of Elle Magazine’s Elle’s Lettres Readers Prize, a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, an American Library Association Notable Book and Booksense Notable Book, and named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, Christian Science Monitor, Entertainment Weekly, Chicago Tribune, and The Atlanta Constitution.
"A fundamental truth — heartwarming and heartbreaking — underlies this passionate narrative: Every child needs a loving parent, and every mother needs a child." –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Greene’s nuanced portrait places Haregewoin Teferra at the center of a global crisis, but never loses its focus on innocent victims. The U.N. estimates that by 2010, Africa could have 50 million children orphaned because their parents dide of a disease that can be treated by drugs readily available in different nations….Greene quotes a doctor whose colleagues compare AIDS in Africa to the Holocaust. “We will be asked by future generations, ‘What did you do to help?’” Teferra will have no trouble answering: More than my share. –PEOPLE, Critics Choice
Other reviews: There Is No Me reviews
There Is No Me Without You has been translated into 15 languages.
No Biking in the House without a Helmet
[Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011] Greene's first humorous book and first memoir is an overview of family life with nine children from three continents, composed, according to the acknowledgements, with the consent and veto-power of all family members.
“It’s time for a laugh-out-loud selection….something you can take to the beach.‘No Biking’ is…a chance to revel in the joy that one wonderful writer takes in this messy, exhausting, life-changing process… Not everything goes smoothly in this story, and Ms. Greene is not Pollyanna. But she is as upbeat as any parent you are ever going to meet, with a wicked sense of humor that I plan to try and channel the next time things get chaotic in my own, relatively tiny family.” –Lisa Belkin, Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting, The New York Times
“You just know that a book’s going to be good if you’ve already guffawed and the type has started to blur--and you’ve barely even finished the introduction… Greene is a culturally sensitive, boldly humane, never-crushing antidote to this year’s Tiger Mother. ... No Biking is a revelatory must-read.”–Terry Hong, The Christian Science Monitor
“There are funny parenting books and wise parenting books. Rarely a funny and wise parenting book. Melissa Fay Greene really does have nine children, five of whom were adopted from foreign orphanages—but this book isn’t a treacly, multicultural ‘Brady Bunch.’ Neither moralistic nor preachy, this memoir is about what it’s like to have heart, and grow children with heart..." —Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune, 4/15/2011
A "moving, enlightening, and surprisingly funny new memoir” — Sara Nelson, O Magazine
More reviews: NO BIKING reviews
Greene has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Life Magazine, Good Housekeeping, The Atlantic, Readers Digest, The Wilson Quarterly, Redbook, MS Magazine, CNN.com and Salon.com.
Awards and Honors (incomplete)
2011: induction into the Georgia Writer's Hall of Fame
2010: Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Emory University
2006: Winner, Elle Magazine’s Elle’s Lettres Readers Prize,
2006, Finalist, J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize,
- Georgia Writers Hall of Fame
- Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
- Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize
- Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
- Quality Paperback Book Club New Visions Award
- National Book Award
- National Book Critics Circle Award
-  and one of "The New Classics: Entertainment Weekly's Best 100 Books of the Last 25 Years"
- The Temple
- National Book Award
- Southern Book Critics Circle Award
- Georgia Historical Society Award
- Elle’s Lettres Readers Prize, Elle Magazine
- Best Book of the Year, Publishers Weekly
- Elle’s Lettres Readers Prize, Elle Magazine