Melissa Fay Greene is a Georgia journalist and author known for her bestselling nonfiction accounts of tragic historical events and the experiences of people who, faced with great pain and obstacles, have managed to survive.
Greene was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1952, and her family moved to Ohio in 1959. After she graduated from Oberlin College with high honors in 1975, Greene returned to work for the Savannah office of Georgia Legal Services, and she has lived in Georgia ever since.
Greene's intimate portraits of people are drawn from both interviews and extensive research, and her personal approach to her stories, in the words of one critic, produces "spellbinding narrative written with fierce moral passion."1 In The Temple Bombing she describes Atlanta:
The young city stood on a rocky shelf of land overlooking the moist black-earthed cotton kingdom. Cotton, and human chattel, had passed through early Atlanta, and changed hands for cash in early Atlanta, without ever becoming the city's mainstays.2
Meanwhile Green's interview subjects, even the apparently minor ones, receive similar precious attention to detail. One woman Greene describes as "tiny, curly-haired, bright-eyed,"3 while another "is distracted from her thoughts by hummingbirds in the yard,"4 characteristic, vivid descriptions with which Greene manages to bring life to all the people who appear in her writings.
Greene has won multiple awards for her work. Her first book, Praying for Sheetrock (1991),investigated a coastal Georgia power struggle between two men, one black and one white. The setting of Praying for Sheetrock, Georgia's coastal McIntosh County, provided the backdrop for a struggle between a white power structure clinging to the remnants of racist, paternalist white governance, opposed by an insurgent and persistent group of equally determined black activists. Praying for Sheetrock won the Lillian Smith Book Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won many accolades for its journalistic excellence from many newspaper and historical organizations.
Greene's second book, The Temple Bombing (1996) focused on the 1958 bombing of the oldest Jewish temple in Atlanta, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple on Peachtree Street. The Temple Bombing was also a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the Georgia Historical Society Book Award, and several other awards.
Last Man Out (2003), Greene's third book, drew upon events that followed the Springhill mine disaster in Canada in 1958, when Georgia governor Marvin Griffin tried to capitalize on the surviving miners' celebrity only to bring on a public relations disaster that spotlighted the state's racial segregationist laws. Last Man Out was a New York Times Notable Book and was named one of the best books of the year by the Chicago Tribune, the Toronto Globe & Mail, the Cox newspaper chain, and the New York Public Library.
There is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children (2006), marked a departure from stories set in Georgia for Greene. An account of an African widow's center for children with HIV and AIDS, There is No Me Without You tells the story of how, after losing her husband and daughter, an Ethiopian woman transformed her home into an orphanage and day-care center and began facilitating adoptions to homes all over the world. This work by Greene, an adoptive parent of several children, was named to several annual "best nonfiction" lists and was a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize. Greene’s fifth book, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet (2011), celebrates her and her husband's large Atlanta household of nine children, including five children they adopted from orphanages in Ethiopia and Bulgaria.
In 2015 Greene was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for nonfiction writing, which led to her sixth book. The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love (2016) tells the story of an Ohio service dog academy and its founder, which Greene interweaves with a discussion of recent discoveries about the bond between humans and dogs by neuroscientists and animal behaviorists.
1Greene, Melissa Fay. The Temple Bombing.New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1996. Print.
4Greene, Melissa Fay. Praying for Sheetrock.Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1991. Print. 16.
Photo of Melissa Fay Greene by Judith Augustine.
The following titles by Melissa Fay Greene may be found in the Hargrett Library's Hall of Fame collections:
Praying for Sheetrock. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1991.
Praying for Sheetrock. London: Secker & Warburg,1992
Praying for Sheetrock. London: Minerva, 1996.
The Temple Bombing. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1996.
The Temple Bombing. New York: Fawcett, 1996.
Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2003.
There is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.
Zij maakt het verschil. [There is No Me Without You. Dutch.] Amsterdam: Archipel, 2006.
Ai xiang Fei Zhou yi yang kuan. [There is No Me Without You. Chinese.] Taipei, Taiwan, 2007.
Anata ga irukara watashi ga iru. [There is No Me Without You. Japanese.] Tōkyō : Sofutobanku Kurieitibu, 2008.
No Biking in the House Without a Helmet. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2016.
Melissa Faye Greene’s papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection of the Hargrett Library at the University of Georgia.