Author Interview: Greg Neri

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
author: Greg Neri
publisher: Lee and Low; 2010
main character: Robert “Yummy” Sandifer

It doesn’t take long to read Yummy but it’s impossible to call it an easy read. Yummy is the true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer. In 1994, Sanidifer was shooting at  members of a rival gang in Chicago when he accidentally shot and killed a neighborhood girl, Shavon Dean.
Sandifer was called “Yummy” because of his sweet tooth.
Greg Neri retells the story of Yummy In a book that will create meaningful debate in schools across America. He paints Yummy neither as a victim nor a monster. He simply asks: where is the blame, the fault? And even more important: where is the solution? You see, the Yummys of the world don’t just kill neighborhood girls like Shavon Dean.

I’ve joined with Doret @ HappyNappyBookseller (1 August)  and Ari @ Reading in Color ( 2 August) for a blog tour featuring Greg Neri’s latest book, Yummy: The Last Days of  a Southside Shorty. Be sure to visit their blogs for the rest of the interview!
Not only does Yummy hit the books shelves today, but Greg and his family also leave for a year in Berlin. Please join me in wishing them a wonderful, ‘yummy’ year abroad!

After reading several of your interviews, I finally realized what impresses me most is your passion for reading and for students, particularly those students who seem most reluctant about being in school and reading. Where does that passion come from? Who or what inspired you to enjoy reading so much that you work so hard to share that joy with others?
Well, I have to say, it’s not that I woke up one morning with some divine message telling me to go forth and promote reading to urban teens. It all came about by accident, mostly from the reactions to my first book Chess Rumble by students, teachers, and librarians. When that came out, I started to see and hear about boys who’d never read a book ever, reading my book and the excitement that generated with their teachers, well, it was infectious. It seemed to be happening
everywhere I went. I mean, once you’ve seen that you can have some actual effect on young people, and they actually ask for more, that’s powerful motivator.
And quite by accident, all the projects I was working on after that, seemed to fit into that same category: bold compelling books for boys and urban teens. When I started speaking in classrooms and conferences, I started to understand that the way I was naturally approaching storytelling attracted non-readers for specifics reasons…reasons I remembered from when I was young and not all that into books. I started talking about how every non-reader had a book out there that would surprise them and change their concept about what a book was and what it could do. And the whole process was circular. The more I started breaking down those elements that might bring a non-reader into the fold (real voices, free verse, white space, thin volumes, and unusual, provocative storytelling with illustrations), the more I started playing with the form. And it grew from there.

As someone who has worked in so many art forms I’m wondering what future you see for books?
I always prefer to call myself a storyteller, rather than a writer. To me, story is king and there will always be stories. Whether something is on a printed piece of paper or on an iPad means less to me than whether or not there are still stories to be absorbed.
I love the digital world and the ecologist in me wants all books to go digital for that one reason alone: the carbon footprint of eliminating the killing of trees, the waste and pollution from manufacturing and shipping…digital is clearly the way to go. I’ve always hated the waste associated with producing books, even though I love books. But in the very near future, I’ll be able to write and feel good about the impact my stories might have on this earth and in young people’s minds.

Germany! What are you most looking forward to?
I have been to Germany many times because my wife is from there. But I have never lived outside of the states for a year, and while the thought of it makes me incredibly uneasy, I know it will be good for me. I look forward to getting some distant perspective on everything: the US, my writing career and how I approach writing. I look forward to meeting more German writers and ex-pats. And of all the big German cities, Berlin is an amazing place: a living museum of ancient Germany, the Nazi and Communist eras, and the only place in the world that had a huge empty piece of real estate in the middle of it (because of the Wall coming down) where they could build an almost sci-fi city of the future. Pretty cool stuff and a lot different than Tampa!
I look forward to experiencing more international perspectives in a deeper way than I have before. And maybe even come to love soccer.
Neri has also authored Chess Rumble (2008 NCTE/ IRA Notable Children’s Book in the English Language Arts, 2009 ALA Quick pick for Reluctant YA Readers, 2010 winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins/ IRA Promising Poet Award) and Surf Mules (2009 Cylbils Nominee.

2 thoughts on “Author Interview: Greg Neri

  1. So true. This is a quick read that had me racing to get to the end, and even though I knew how it would end, I was hoping the ending would magically change =/

    Besides how convenient ereaders are, I too like them because they save paper. Have fun in Germany Mr. Neri! I love the line about every non reader having one book that will change them for the better.


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