In conversation with… children’s author G Neri

We caught up with award-winning children’s author G Neri to ask him about his work and how he came to realise his childhood dream of being a polar explorer.

In conversation with… children’s author G Neri

We caught up with award-winning children’s author G Neri to ask him about his work and how he came to realise his childhood dream of being a polar explorer.

In conversation with… children’s author G Neri


We caught up with award-winning children’s author G Neri to ask him about his work and how he came to realise his childhood dream of being a polar explorer.

G Neri is an award-winning teen fiction author. His books include Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty and Ghetto Cowboy which was made into the Netflix movie, Concrete Cowboy, starring Idris Elba. 

In 2017, Greg was awarded the first of two National Science Foundation grants that sent him to Antarctica. For seven weeks, he was embedded with scientists in various locations on the continent. The trip led to a series of projects including a film, a museum exhibition, a graphic novel and his latest book, the captivating travel memoir My Antarctica.

We caught up with Greg to ask him a few questions about his work and how he came to realise his childhood dream of being a polar explorer.

You’ve written novels, graphic novels, poetry, non-fiction picture books and comics. Do you have a favourite? 

They are, of course, wildly different and unique forms of storytelling. I do have a deep love of graphic novels but they are the most difficult to pull off and take the longest (mostly on the illustrating side of things). They’ve tended to take up to 6 or 7 years to get out into the world, but they’ve been among my favourites among my readers. The Time Traveling Dino Detectives of Antarctica was the shortest, both in page count and execution, and kids love that one.

My Antarctica book cover

Greg's latest book is for 7-10 year-olds (Credit: Candlewick Press)

You’ve described yourself as “a mash-up DJ of a writer: I sample real life and re-mix it into a story.” Where do you get your ideas from? 

All my ideas are inspired by real life. They tend to drop into my lap from the most unexpected sources and grab my attention immediately. To me, they are jaw-dropping ideas that I had never known about and usually, nobody has written about them either. Untold stories of unusual places and unique people are my speciality. I am a story hunter in that respect.

Tell us about My Antarctica.

My Antarctica came about from a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that sends artists and writers to Antarctica. As a kid, I dreamed of being an explorer but science itself tended to escape me. As a visual learner, I could not grasp the terminology or concepts, but I was immensely curious. My pitch for NSF to send me was so I could be a kind of science translator because for my 10-year-old self to understand these concepts, I had to come at them from a different angle (hence, The Time Traveling Dino Detectives of Antarctica). 

Greg posing with his book on the sea ice (Credit: Nick Santos)

My Antarctica developed from doing hundreds of school visits about my trip, using my photos and stories, which caused an immediate jaw-dropping reaction on the student’s faces. I started dropping cartoon versions of my 10-year-old self into the photos because I told them Antarctica made me feel like I was seeing this place through my kid's eyes. It is truly a continent of wonder and discovery. 

What inspired you to write a book about Antarctica?

When I was in university, I had a friend whose dream was to dive beneath the ice of Antarctica. He was a biologist and diver and one year, he got his chance to go. Unfortunately, he had an accident down there in the frozen sea and never returned. Antarctica remained a mystery and a pull to me for years. When I got my chance to go, I said yes. During my journey, a diver friend took me out to this remote location called New Harbour in McMurdo Sound. I stood in the exact spot where he had perished and I realised it was almost 30 years to the day that it happened. Talk about closure. The place and his passing suddenly became real and tangible to me.

How did you do your research?

I was stationed at McMurdo base on Ross Island and spent time in the Dry Valleys, Cape Royds and places around the sound. I was fortunate to visit the three remaining huts of Scott and Shackleton at Discovery Point, Cape Evans and Cape Royds. I was embedded with many different science teams over two months. My job was to talk to as many people in all aspects of life in Antarctica from Principal Investigator to cook. And to have as many different kinds of experiences as possible. The place and the people would give me the story.

Greg inside the hut

Greg visiting Shackleton’s hut in Cape Royds (Credit: Jerod Knox)

We know you love to travel. Do you still have a dream destination you haven't visited? 

South America remains the one continent I haven’t visited. But I may have a chance to go to Chile this summer!

What's next for you?

Visiting England and Scotland this summer as well. Finishing up a non-fiction book called We Are All Apollo about the Black history of space and how the space program affected the civil rights movement. And working on a picture book inspired by my recent trip in the bush in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, working with elephants and rhinos. 

What luxury item would you take if you were working at Port Lockroy for the season?

It has been a dream of mine to work at this post office! Such a fantastic location and dream job (maybe a source location for a book?). If I was lucky enough to go to Port Lockroy, I’d take my paints and return to painting, which I abandoned when writing took over 25 years ago.

Finally, what’s your favourite species of penguin?

My favourite species of penguin is the emperor. I had many close encounters on the ice where they’d come right up to you about two feet from your face and check you out for about 20 minutes. Fascinating to spend that amount of close-up time with a truly wild animal. 

Greg loved meeting emperor penguins in Antarctica (Credit: G Neri)


If you have a kid who’s a dreamer, loves to explore or is immensely curious about the world, then My Antarctica is the book for them. I hope it inspires young and old to know the continent is an attainable and unforgettable experience. Maybe you can be the next to step foot on the ice!

To find out more about the artists and writers program in Antarctica, visit our website.

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