Melissa Fay Greene is a renowned journalist and author famous for her creative nonfiction on tragedy and the human experience. Born in Macon in 1952, her family moved to Ohio in 1959. She graduated from Oberlin College with high honors in 1975 and returned to Georgia the same year to work for the Savannah office of Georgia Legal Services. She has made her home in several Georgia cities, residing in turn in Athens, Rome, and Atlanta.
Greene intimately portrays her subjects, both ordinary people and those in authority, putting their lives together from interviews and extensive research. Her personal approach to her subjects gives her works life and depth; in the words of one critic, she crafts "spellbinding narrative written with fierce moral passion."1 Her dedication to her home state, despite its historical flaws, shines through in her work. 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
Interviewed sources, even the apparently least-important ones, receive similar attention to detail; one woman Greene interviewed is described as "tiny, curly-haired, bright-eyed,"3 while another "is distracted from her thoughts by hummingbirds in the yard."4These vivid descriptions add life to the Georgia residents of her writings.
Greene has won multiple awards for her work. Her first book, Praying for Sheetrock,is an in-depth look at the power struggle between two authority figures, one black and one white. It portrays the fight against the corruption inherent in McIntosh County, a Georgia region still clinging to the "Old South." The book was cited as one of the best works in American journalism of the 20th century and was included on Entertainment Weekly's list of "The 100 Best Books of the Last 25 Years."5 It was a finalist for the National Book Award, and also won the Lillian Smith Book Award among other accolades. Greene's second book, published in 1996, is The Temple Bombing. It focuses on the 1958 bombing of the oldest, richest temple in Atlanta, exposing the little-studied problem of religious persecution against Jews in Georgia at the time. It 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 accolades. Greene's third book, Last Man Out, records the events after the Springhill mine disaster in 1958, displaying the virulent racism and segregation in Georgia present even in the case of an international hero. 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. Greene's most recent book, There is No Me Without You, marks her first literary departure from her Georgia homeland as she reports on an African widow's center for children with HIV and AIDS.
Melissa Faye Greene’s fifth book, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet (2011), celebrates her large family of nine children, five of whom she and her husband adopted from orphanages in Ethiopia and Bulgaria.
Photo by Judith Augustine.
The following titles by Melissa Fay Greene may be found in the Hall of Fame Library:
Praying for Sheetrock. 1991.
The Temple Bombing. 1996.
Last Man Out. 2003.
There is No Me Without You. 2006.
Melissa Faye Greene’s papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection of the Hargrett Library at the University of Georgia.
Born: December 30, 1952