Mary Monroe

I am the third child of Alabama sharecroppers and the first and only member of my family to finish high school. I never attended college or any writing classes. I taught myself how to write and started writing short stories around age four. I spent the first part of my life in Alabama and Ohio and moved to Richmond, California in 1973. I have lived in Oakland since 1984.

My first novel THE UPPER ROOM was published by St. Martin's Press in 1985 and was widely reviewed throughout the U.S. and in Great Britain. An excerpt is included in Terry McMillan's anthology BREAKING ICE. I endured fifteen years and hundreds of more rejection letters before I landed a contract for my second novel, GOD DON'T LIKE UGLY. It was published in October 2000 by Kensington Books. GOD DON'T PLAY is my seventh novel to be published, and it landed me a spot on the prestigious New York Times Bestsellers list for the first time! My eighth novel, "BORROW TROUBLE," was released December 1, 2006. My ninth novel, DELIVER ME FROM EVIL, will be released in September 2007 and my tenth novel, SPIRIT IN THE DARK, will be released in September 2008.

I won the Oakland Pen Award for Best Fiction of the Year in 2001 for GOD DON'T LIKE UGLY. I won the Best Southern Author Award for GONNA LAY DOWN MY BURDENS, in 2004.

I am divorced, I love to travel, I love to mingle with other authors, and I love to read anything by Ernest Gaines, Stephen King, Alice Walker, and James Patterson. I still write seven days a week and I get most of my ideas from current events, the people around me, but most of my material is autobiographical.

Authors In Your Pocket on Second Life Cable Radio - Mary Monroe

L Peggy Hicks talks to Mary Monroe about her new novel, Deliver Me From Evil

“I just hope this is not a dream. I will drop dead if I wake up one day to find myself standing in a cotton field, still unpublished.” –Mary Monroe

Mary Monroe is the Essence® bestselling author of God Don't Like Ugly, which earned the author the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award and a nomination for the Black Writers Alliance's Golden Pen Award. Her other novels are God Still Don't Like Ugly, The Upper Room, Red Light Wives and Gonna Lay Down My Burdens, which is named among the BET.com Best Books of 2002, In Sheep's Clothing, and "God Don't Play." In September 2006, "God Don't Play landed Mary a spot on the prestigious New York Times Bestsellers list for the first time. Her latest book is "Borrow Trouble," released December 1, 2006. The third child of Alabama sharecroppers, and the first and only member of her family to finish high school, Monroe, who says "I graduated high school by the skin of my teeth," never attended college or any writing classes. "I'm from a family of Bible-thumping farm workers and domestics," she says. "At one point, I was thought to be crazy because of my passion for literature." Monroe was born in rural Toxey, Alabama to Otis and Ocie Mae Nicholson. After her father’s death, her mother remarried and moved the family to Alliance, Ohio. Monroe was seven, and started second grade there. It was there that she first went to a library, and her life was changed. Monroe, married at seventeen, has two daughters. After her marriage ended, she moved with her children to California. She has lived in Oakland since 1984.

Monroe credits reading with changing her life, noting that “Reading made me realize that I had more options than I’d been taught to believe.”

“Even before we left Alabama I had fantasized about writing my own material so that I would always have something to read. When I got my first library card I went hog wild. By then, everyone realized how important reading was to me and pretty much left me alone. As long as I did my reading after I’d finished my chores, or after everyone else had turned in for the night, it was safe,” says the author who notes she was often in trouble for reading. “I used to get whuppings for having my nose ‘stuck’ in a book’ when I was supposed to be mopping a floor or cleaning a fish.”

Although eleven years elapsed between the publication of her first novel, The Upper Room, and God Don’t Like Ugly in November 2000, readers eagerly embraced Monroe upon her return to bookshelves. So much so that God Don’t Like Ugly has more than 250,000 copies in print and—five years after publication—continues to be among the most requested of all the Dafina titles.

A storyteller since she was a child, writing came somewhat easily to Monroe, who now finds herself included in the upcoming reference book, The 100 Most Popular African American Writers. She started when she was four or five, but received her first paychecks for her work while a teenager, penning stories for magazines such as Reader’s Digest and Bronze Thrills to earn spending money. Her first sale was for the short story I Married a Hairy Beast. Others included Homosexual Preacher Stole My Husband and My Husband and His Mistress Tried to Kill Me with Voodoo.

Advice from Alice Walker, Ann Rice, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison encouraged her to write. When the images of her aunts, uncles and friends from childhood would not leave her mind, Monroe began her first novel, the highly praised The Upper Room, which the San Francisco Chronicle praises as “magnificent, coarse, funny and terrifying.” About the novel, Monroe says “these characters are people I know. I took inspiration from people in my life. They were so colorful, it was a shame the world didn’t know about them.” The Upper Room is excerpted in Terry McMillan’s anthology Breaking Ice.

“A lot of my material is autobiographical,” continues Monroe, whose novels can, minimally, be described as larger-than-life. She poses extraordinary circumstances and, often, unsettling portrayals of people on the fringe of society—privy to the sort of secrets and violence few among her readers will ever encounter. Drawing from the people may well be what infuses her characters with the humanity and, at times, ingenuousness, that brings them so alive for readers. Sadly, the autobiographical nature of her work means that not just her protagonists, but many of the actions in her novels—including sexual and verbal abuse—have their genesis in Mary’s own life.

Monroe gets inspiration from everyday life, whether it’s a movie, dream, book or even through eavesdropping on conversations. All of her books continue to have one thing in common—they are all inspired by actual experiences.

“I love to travel,” Monroe says. “I love to mingle with other authors. And I love to read anything by Ernest Gaines, Stephen King, Alice Walker and James Patterson.”

Monroe’s been working hard, with five books published since October 2000. By doing so, she hopes to create a legacy that will be remembered for years to come. She notes, “I just want people to be able to say that I had a voice and something to say.”

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