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Jess Mowry

Agent: Mark McVeigh

Cayes Squellette (not really), Haiti

Email: Timounn@aol.com

Home page: http://Timoun.tripod.com

I'm the author of Way Past Cool, Phat Acceptance, Voodu Dawgz and Skeleton Key as well as other novels for and about black kids and teens, such as Six Out Seven, Babylon Boyz, Rats In The Trees, Ghost Train, Bones Become Flowers, When All Goes Bright, Tyger Tales and Children Of The Night.

My stories have appeared in many anthologies, such as In The Tradition, Cornerstones, School Is Not Cool, Follow That Dream, I Believe In Water, Face Relations, Make Me Over and Brotherman.

After over thirty years of working with kids and raising four of my own, along with a few strays -- none of whom are in prison or collecting Welfare -- not to mention almost twenty years of writing books and stories for and about kids, I've found that it's a lot easier for people to be "pro-child" about some kids than it is for them to care about and champion "other" kids. Perhaps, like the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm, some kids are more equal than others?

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" and have no desire to be skinny, or may look "too black," or are otherwise unacceptable by superficial American values... including some African-American values. Like on-the-real kids, they often live in dirty, violent environments, and are forced into sometimes unpleasant lifestyles.

And virtually no one writes books or stories about them -- at least seldom in ways that don't exploit them, and/or don't glorify gangs, guns, drugs and violence. I've learned that few publishers, including black ones, will publish positive books about these kids... books that don't portray them in stereotypical roles, and thus only reinforce the negative aspects of their lives.

The result is that there very few positive books about these kids. This leaves them with no role models except stereotypes of gangsters, rappers or sports figures. Worse, virtually the only books that "white" (or more fortunate) children have to read about most black kids are also filled with these negative stereotypes. About the only exception are books in which black kids play a supporting role to a white hero.

I have devoted my career, such as it is, to writing positive but realistic books and stories, not only for and about black kids, but also for "white" kids so they will understand that the negative stereotypes aren't true... that most black kids have other interests besides guns, gangs, drugs, violence, becoming rap stars, or playing basketball.

When I first began writing I wanted to write many different kinds of books; adventure novels, magic, ghost stories. These were the kinds of books I grew up reading, though I often wondered why there were no black heroes, such as ship captains or airplane pilots... no black Indiana Joneses, Hardy Boys or Hobbits. But mainstream publishers only want the stereotypes: if not blatantly negative stereotypes, then only stereotypical positive images. Only what "good black kids" are "supposed" to do. What the mainstream white world expects them to dream about and aspire to be.

I'm often appalled (a word I seldom use) when I see that a black schoolteacher's list of books recommended for black kids are mostly black books... and whether or not any of mine are included. As already mentioned, I began my reading with the books available to me, and few of those were by black authors. It was a welcome surprise when I finally did start discovering black books... like, "hey, we can write too!" Of course black kids should be encouraged to read black literature but, unfortunately this is a white-controlled society and if our kids only read mostly black books it's part of a recipe for failure. One makes true friends in this life, and/or best triumphs over enemies, by understanding where they're coming from, and one of the best ways to understand people is to read their stories. Far too many black books recommended for kids dwell upon injustice past and present, and to be continually reminded of these injustices sends too many black kids into the world with a massive chip on their shoulders. Of course our kids should know that this culture is filled with inequality, racism, prejudice and ignorance, but there are few black kids I've met who don't already know this by the age of eight. Ironically, many of the books I see recommended by black educators for black kids should be the books that white kids ought to be reading so they will understand the challenges faced by their brothers and sisters of color.

As for my own books, I often write about violence because the U.S.A. is a violent country in a violent world and pretending it isn't doesn't help anyone. Most of my kids aren't angels, but they are being as good as they can be... which is a lot better than most people seem to think they are.

To me, being pro-child includes all children, even kids whom it may be hard to like... especially kids who are hard to like.

Interests: Trying to help kids by any means necessary, old trucks, ships and airplanes.

Published writer: Yes

Freelance: Yes

 

Published works:

Fiction

  • Rats In The Trees
  • Ghost Train
  • Ghost Train
  • Bones Become Flowers
  • Way Past Cool
  • Children Of The Night
  • Babylon Boyz
  • Six Out Seven
  • Voodu Dawgz
  • Skeleton Key
  • Tyger Tales
  • Crusader Rabbit and Other Stories
  • Phat Acceptance
  • When All Goes Bright