Jess Mowry was born on March 27, 1960 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mowry is an author who writes young adult and children’s fiction based on the experiences of and geared towards black and brown youth in West Oakland.

Mowry moved to Oakland with his father when he was very young — his mother had abandoned Mowry and his father, and Mowry’s father figured that he could easily find work in Oakland. In the 1970s, Mowry left Oakland to “have adventures and see the world.” He didn’t end up traveling much but did live and work in Arizona and Alaska. In the late 1980s, he came back just intending to see his dad but ended up staying. He began working at a youth center, where he started to cultivate inspiration for the books that he’d write by interacting with Oakland youth.

Though Mowry quit going to school in the eighth grade, he’s always loved reading and says that he supposes that he “learned how to write fairly well through osmosis.” He writes stories that would appeal to an audience of youth like the youth that he found working at the youth center.

Mowry was first published by ZYZZYVA, a San Francisco literary magazine. The editor at that time, Howard Junker, rejected his first story submission but asked him for another, which Mowry sent and Junker then published. Rats in the Trees, Mowry’s first collection of short stories, was published by the first publisher that he sent it to, as were his first two novels. Mowry says that he has a policy that he doesn’t send anything to a publisher who has rejected him three times, and that many of those publishers have since ceased to exist, potentially because they don’t have a sense of what younger folks are looking for in literature anymore.


  • Rockridge BART Station, 5660 College Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618. Mowry currently resides in North Oakland. North Oakland is a fairly expensive part of Oakland, and Mowry is currently renting a basement that floods every time that it rains. He shares the house with another writer and a long-time friend, Apollo Papafrangou, who also writes street stories. The point of reference for this neighborhood would be the Rockridge BART Station.
  • 16th Street Train Station, 1601 Wood Street, Oakland, CA 94607. Mowry grew up in West Oakland and much of his work is set there. For some time, he raised four kids in a school bus with his wife in West Oakland. He grew up there when the Black Panthers were active and has always been a supporter of their work. The 16th Street Train Station would be the point of reference for West Oakland.
  • High Street and Tompkins Avenue, Oakland, CA 94619. Mowry finished working on a novel called Spencer’s Spirit, which is set in the Oakland hills. The story is, in part, about a family who leaves West Oakland to move into a house in the hills. As the family drives into the hills, Spencer asks, “Are we still in Oakland?” The point of reference for this could be the intersection of High Street and Tompkins Avenue, where East Oakland turns into the hills.

~ by Christine Iyer ~

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