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Graham Salisbury (1944–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1944, in Philadelphia, PA; Education: California State University at Northridge, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1974; Vermont College of Norwich University, M.F.A., 1990. Politics: "Middle of the road." Hobbies and other interests: Boating and fishing, biking, running.


Agent—Fran Lebowitz, Writers House, 21 West 26th St., New York, NY 10010.


Writer. Worked variously as a deckhand, glass-bottom boat skipper, singer-songwriter, graphic artist, and teacher; manager of historic office-buildings in downtown Portland, OR.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, American Library Association, Hawaiian Mission Children's Society, National Council of Teachers of English.

Honors Awards

Parents Choice Award, Bank Street College Child Study Children's Book Award, Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children's Literature, Women's National Book Association, Best Books for Young Adults designation, American Library Association (ALA), and Best Books designation, School Library Journal, all 1992, Notable Trade Book in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and Oregon Book Award, Graham Salisburyboth 1993, all for Blue Skin of the Sea; PEN/Norma Klein Award for emerging voice among American writers of children's fiction, 1992; Parents' Choice Honor Award, Editors' Choice, Booklist, Scott O'Dell Award, ALA Best Books for Young Adults and Notable Children's Books designations, and Books in the Middle designation, Voice of Youth Advocates, all 1994, Teacher's Choice, International Reading Association, Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council (NCSS/CBC), Notable Children's Books selection, Library of Congress, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age selection, Hawaii Nene Award, California Young Reader Medal, and Oregon Book Award, all 1995, all for Under the Blood-Red Sun; Oregon Book Award, 1998, and Parents' Choice Honor Award, both for Shark Bait; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age selection, and ALA Best Books for Young Adults designation, both 1999, both for Jungle Dogs; Parents' Choice Gold Award, Capitol Choices selection, New York Public Library Title for Reading and Sharing, and Booklist Editor's Choice, all 2001, Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction finalist, Boston Globe/Horn Book award, and ALA Best Book for Young Adults, all 2002, and Cooperative Children's Book Center Best of the Year selection, all for Lord of the Deep; Booklist Editor's Choice, 2002, and New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age selection and Chicago Public Library Best of the Best designation, both 2003, all for Island Boyz; John Unterecker Award for Fiction, Chaminade University/Hawaii Literary Arts Council, for body of work.


Blue Skin of the Sea, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.

Under the Blood-Red Sun, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.

Shark Bait, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.

Jungle Dogs, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.

Lord of the Deep, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2001.

Island Boyz: Short Stories, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Eyes of the Emperor, Wendy Lamb Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to anthologies, including Ultimate Sports: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995; Going Where I'm Coming From: Memoirs of American Youth, edited by Anne Mazer, Persea, 1995; No Easy Answers: Short Stories about Teenagers Making Tough Decisions, edited by Gallo, Delacorte, 1997; Working Days: Short Stories about Teenagers at Work, edited by Anne Mazer, Persea, 1997; Dirty Laundry: Stories about Family Secrets, edited by Lisa Rowe Fraustino, Viking (New York, NY), 1998; and Time Capsule: Short Stories about Teenagers throughout the Twentieth Century, edited by Gallo, Delacorte, 1999. Contributor to periodicals, including Bamboo Ridge, Chaminade Literary Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, Manoa: A Journal of Pacific and International Writing, Northwest, Booklist, ALAN Review, SIGNAL Journal, and Hawaii Library Association Journal.


Jungle Dogs was adapted for audio by Recorded Books, 2000.

Work in Progress


Characterizing himself as an author who writes for and about teenage boys, Graham Salisbury has published the short-story collection Island Boyz, as well as several well-received novels, among them Blue Skin of the Sea, Jungle Dogs, and Lord of the Deep. All of his books are set on the Hawaiian islands where Salisbury was raised. In addition to their exotic island setting, these fictional coming-of-age tales feature intricate interpersonal relationships that force young protagonists to take distinct, conscious steps toward maturity. Echoing the qualities many reviewers have cited in Salisbury's works, School Library Journal contributor Alison Follos noted of the short stories in Island Boyz that, using"creative and credible narrative voices" and "difficult situations," the author weaves together tales in which readers will discern "recognizable facts of life." Calling the collection "memorable," Gillian Engberg added in Booklist that each story pairs the island's "tropical setting with vivid, tangible details that electrify each boy's drama."

While Salisbury was born in Pennsylvania, his family had its roots on the islands of Hawaii, where his ancestors served as missionaries in the early nineteenth century. His father, an ensign in the U.S. Navy, was at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941; although he survived that ordeal, he died a few years later when he was shot down in his fighter plane on April 11, 1945—his son's first birthday. Young Salisbury and his widowed mother continued to make their home on the islands, and the author's love for this tropical region is reflected in each of his books.

Unlike many writers, Salisbury was not interested in books as a child. Because of his father's untimely death, he was raised without a solid male role-model to provide guidance, and he was left with a lot of time on his hands in which to wander the islands with his friends. His mother, immersed in her own problems, was distant both emotionally and physically, leaving her son to seek guidance and approval from other adults in his life, such as friends, relatives, and teachers.

When Salisbury enrolled in boarding school in grade seven, he gained the structure and guidance he had missed earlier in life. However, until his college days at California State University at Northridge, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1974, the idea of being a writer never occurred to him. "I didn't read until I was a little past thirty," Salisbury once confided to Something about the Author (SATA). "Sure, I … read the required Iliad and Odyssey in high school, but I didn't read of my own choice until my first son was born. Then I read Alex Haley's Roots, which changed my life forever." It was Roots that inspired Salisbury to become a voracious reader and then to write books of
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his own. He also went on to obtain a master's degree in fine arts at Vermont College of Norwich University in 1990.

Published in 1992, Salisbury's first novel, Blue Skin of the Sea, is composed of a series of eleven interlinking short stories that center on Sonny Mendoza and his cousin Keo. The boys are growing up in Hawaii during the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when the old island ways are fading due to the increasing influx of tourists and other newcomers. Keo is fearless, while Sonny, whose mother died when he was very young, is more thoughtful and introspective. But as friends the two cousins balance one another. Throughout the book, the boys learn to deal with the school bully, try to cope with their growing attraction to girls, figure out ways to earn spending money, and jump other hurdles of everyday teen life. Along the way they meet up with a Hollywood film crew that is filming actor Spencer Tracy in The Old Man and the Sea. The boys, thinking that the props make the action look unrealistic, decide to educate the veteran actor in how to deal with real, rather than fake sharks.

A New York Times Book Review critic termed Blue Skin of the Sea an "impressive debut," while Five Owls contributor Gary D. Schmidt deemed the novel "entertaining, moving, and poignant," adding praise for Salisbury's realistic depiction of island life, with all its "pressures and tensions and loves and fears." Blue Skin of the Sea won several awards, and was chosen one of the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults.

Reflecting upon his father's experiences during and after the bombing raid at Pearl Harbor, Salisbury began a new novel when he imagined what it would be like to be there, as a boy, during the bombing and its aftermath. Under the Blood-Red Sun, published in 1994, is the story of Japanese-American eighth-grader Tomikazu"Tomi" Nakaji, whose parents had left Japan to find a better life in the United States and now live on the island of Oahu. Tomi's life is suddenly, radically altered after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an action that prompted the U.S. government to join World War II. Where baseball, school assignments, and a local bully once occupied his thoughts, young Tomi now must worry about battling the increased tensions between Japanese immigrants and native islanders. Of real difficulty is toning down his elderly grandfather's proud display of his Japanese heritage, a heritage which is now viewed with suspicion by the Nakajis' American neighbors. Praising Salisbury for "subtly reveal[ing] the natural suspicions of the Americans and the equally natural bewilderment of the Japanese immigrants," Booklist contributor Frances Bradburn wrote that it is"a tribute to the writer's craft that, though there are no easy answers in the story, there is empathy for both cultures." Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer John R. Lord also praised Under the Blood-Red Sun, noting that "in a time when positive co-existence is being touted in our schools, this novel is an outstanding example of thought-provoking—and at the same time eerily entertaining—prose for the YA reader."

The world of boyhood is central to Salisbury's writing, and it contains elements that he well remembers, particularly what he calls the "Silent Code of Conduct." In his ALAN Review interview, he recalled a scene from his youth, when he and friends were surfing. While sitting on their surfboards, legs dangling knee-deep in the salt water, one of the boys pointed out to a nearby reef and stated, simply, "'Got one shark surfing with us,' as if it were a mullet, or one of those fat hotel-pond carps," Salisbury remembered. "The strength in my arms suddenly felt like jelly," he continued, and stories of the infrequent shark attacks around the island of Oahu reeled through his mind. "None of us moved. None of us started paddling in to shore. We just kept sitting there with our legs, from the knee down, dangling underwa-
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ter," Salisbury recalled. "I sat there with the rest of them, keeping an eye on the shark … trying not to look nervous, which I was." Salisbury attributes the young boys' desires to be accepted to "that unspoken 'code' lurking in the corner of [our] mind."

In Salisbury's novel Shark Bait, that silent code of male conduct weighs heavily on fourteen-year-old protagonist Eric Chock, nicknamed "Mokes" or "tough guy." Mokes is unsure where his loyalties lie when he and his school friends hear through the grapevine that tensions between native kids and Navy sailors from a destroyer docked nearby are about to spark a showdown. Mokes's father, the police chief in their small Hawaiian town, working to uphold the law and keep the peace, imposes a six o'clock evening curfew, but Mokes's best friend, seventeen-year-old Booley, plans to go to the fight and vows to kill one of the white sailors if he has the chance during the brawl. Mokes wants to obey his father, but also feels he should stand by his friend in battle. Things take a sharp turn for the worse when it is discovered that one of the island kids is going to the fight with a loaded gun.

Praising Salisbury's "surefooted" portrayal of "the teen milieu of fast cars, faster girls, rivalries, and swagger," Elizabeth Bush writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books commended the novel as "a lot more diverting than luaus and ukuleles." While somewhat concerned about Salisbury's casual treatment of alcohol and drug use among the novel's teen protagonists, School Library Journal contributor Coop Renner deemed Shark Bait "a consistently engaging, well-written problem novel in a well-realized setting."

In Shark Bait, Salisbury's characters speak Pidgin English, a dialect used by many people native to the islands. Booklist contributor Helen Rosenberg praised the author's use of dialect for adding to his "colorful picture of island life, complete with love interests and local superstitions. Along with the local color, there's some riveting action and a [powerful] climax."

Again featuring a Hawaiian setting, Jungle Dogs centers on twelve-year-old Boy Regis, who is growing up in a tough neighborhood in which he must learn to conquer his fears and stand up for his convictions. Boy's older brother, who belongs to a gang, believes he must fight all his younger sibling's battles for him, often making things more difficult for Boy. At the same time, Boy's family relies on income he earns from his paper route—a route requiring that he daily pass a pack of wild jungle dogs on one of the paths to his deliveries. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the novel as a"tightly drawn drama," noting that Salisbury's "somewhat exotic scenery and dialect are backdrop for sharp characterizations and inventive, subtle plot twists." Janice M. Del Negro noted in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "The lush Hawaii setting adds a physical dimension that strongly colors the action as Boy faces both canine and human packs with tenacity and nerve that will hearten young readers confronting their own demons."

Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book award, Lord of the Deep introduces readers to thirteen-year-old Mickey Donovan, who works alongside his stepfather, Bill, as a deck hand Bill's charter boat, the Crystal C. To Mickey, Bill is not only the boy's mentor and the man who gave his family emotional and financial stability; Bill is the best skipper on the islands. Bill is also patient with his stepson as Mickey tries hard to learn the ropes, from piloting the boat to swimming under the Crystal C. to de-tangle fishing lines. However, the boy watches his idol tarnish when the older man tolerates the mistreatment of two fishing clients, loutish brothers Ernie and Cal, during a three-day fishing charter. When Ernie strong-arms Bill to let him take credit for a huge, world-record shattering mahi-mahi that Bill actually brought in by offering the captain money, Mickey is crushed to see that his stepfather agrees to go along with the lie. While his reaction is at first raw anger, the boy eventually realizes that, all along, his stepfather has been exhibiting the most important attributes of adulthood: patience and the strength to forgive.

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In Horn Book a contributor deemed Lord of the Deep a "masterpiece of subtlety," while School Library Journal reviewer Caroline Ward praised it as "a winning combination of riveting deep-sea fishing action, a sensitive depiction of family relationships, and an intriguing exploration of the fine line between lying and telling the truth." While the novel "vividly conveys the pace and dangers of sport fishing," according to Booklist contributor John Peters, the critic added that the overlying plot hinges on the "ethical conundrum" of Salisbury's young protagonist, revealing, as the Horn Book contributor noted, "the perilous undercurrents that can lie beneath even the best of human relationships."

Understanding that his books are read by impressionable young readers, Salisbury takes his writing seriously."I've thought a lot about what my job is … as an author of books for young readers," he noted in an article in the ALAN Review. "I don't write to teach, preach, lecture, or criticize, but to explore. I write to make good use of the amazing English language. And if my stories show boys choosing certain life options, and the possible consequences of having chosen those options, then maybe I will have finally done something worthwhile."

Salisbury once told SATA: "The important thing for me to understand as a writer for young readers is that though the world has changed, the basic needs of young people haven't. There are many, many kids out there with holes in their lives that they desperately want to fill. I can write about those holes. I can do this because I am human and have suffered and soared myself. Strange as it sounds to say, I—as a writer—consider myself lucky, indeed, to have all the holes I have in my own life. Because when I write, I remember, I understand, I empathize, and I feel a need to explore those holes and maybe even fill a couple of them—for myself and for any reader with a similar need who happens to stumble onto my work."

Although he still has many relatives in Hawaii, Salisbury makes his home in Portland, Oregon, with his family. His hobbies include boating, fishing, biking, and running, and he also enjoys researching his family history in Hawaii, both the positive and negative aspects of his Anglo-Saxon missionary past and its role in the colonization of the native Hawaiian people. While identifying with native Hawaiians' concern that their traditional culture is being destroyed, Salisbury maintains that looking back and apportioning blame is not constructive. As he told Benton, "We are all new people. The people of the past are dust."

Biographical and Critical Sources


ALAN Review, fall, 1994, Graham Salisbury, "A Leaf on the Sea," pp. 11-14; winter, 1996, pp. 35-45; winter, 1997, Janet Benton, Janet, "'Writing My Way Home': An Interview with Salisbury."

Booklist, October 15, 1994, Frances Bradburn, review of Under the Blood-Red Sun, p. 425; September 1, 1997, Helen Rosenberg, review of Shark Bait, p. 107; September 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Jungle Dogs, p. 110; March 1, 2001, Anna Rich, review of Jungle Dogs, p. 1295; August, 2001, John Peters, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 2108; April 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Island Boyz, p. 1399.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1994, p. 102; December, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of Shark Bait, pp. 138-139; February, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Jungle Dogs, p. 216.

Five Owls, May-June, 1992, Gary D. Schmidt, review of Blue Skin of the Sea, p. 66.

Horn Book, September-October, 1995, pp. 634-639; September-October, 1998, Susan P. Bloom, review of Jungle Dogs, p. 614; September, 2001, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 595; March-April, 2002, Peter D. Sieruta, review of Island Boyz, p. 219; January-February, 2003, Graham Salisbury, "E Komo Mai" (award acceptance speech), p. 39.

Journal of Adolescence and Adult Literacy, November, 2002, James Blasingame, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 267.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1994, p. 1415; July 1, 1997, p. 1035; July 15, 1998, p. 1041; March 15, 2002, review of Island Boyz, p. 425.

Kliatt, July, 2002, Jean Palmer, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 53; May, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 20; March, 2004, Olivia Durant, review of Island Boyz, p. 28.

New York Times Book Review, May 2, 1993, review of Blue Skin of the Sea, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1992, p. 104; July 13, 1992, p. 22; October 31, 1994, p. 64; July 13, 1998, review of Jungle Dogs, p. 78; July 30, 2001, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 86.

School Library Journal, July, 1995, p. 50; September, 1997, Coop Renner, review of Shark Bait, p. 225; October, 20000, Todd Dunkelberg, review of Jungle Dogs, p. 94; August, 2001, Caroline Ward, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 188; March, 2002, Alison Follos, review of Island Boyz, p. 238; July, 2002, Vicki Reutter, review of Lord of the Deep, p. 63.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1994, John R. Lord, review of Under the Blood-Red Sun, p. 216.


Graham Salisbury Web site, http://www.grahamsalisbury.com (June 28, 2005).

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