Mona Lisa Saloy – A Literary Voice for the African-American Creole Culture

Mona Lisa Saloy

Author, folklorist, essayist, and poet Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy is a passionate literary voice representing the African-American and the New Orleans Creole cultural experience. A writer who has seen more than her fair share of hardship, Saloy boasts a substantial body of work to her credit. In addition to her books, her articles, essays, and poems have appeared in numerous magazines, journals, anthologies, and films, including The Southern Review, Louisiana English Journal, and African American Review.

Saloy’s also a popular lecturer and was keynote speaker at the Re-Building New Orleans Conference at Tulane University; writer-in-residence at the Arna Bontemps Museum in Alexandria, Louisiana; and guest writer at the University of Missouri in 2005. Since then, Saloy has been a featured writer at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival, Santa Barbara Community College, and the 2006 DeBose Festival.

Educational and Teaching Background

Mona Lisa Saloy holds a Ph.D. in English from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, as well as an MFA in Creative Writing from the same institution.

Dr. Saloy has also served as visiting Associate Professor of English at the University of Washington in Seattle and Director of the Creative Writing program—a program she herself developed and founded—at Dillard University, where she taught for 21 years. She has also taught at Louisiana State University, UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University, Laney College, and City College of San Francisco.

Saloy’s latest book of poetry is a collection of post-Katrina poems illustrating how people can handle disasters and hurricanes with “heart.”


Dr. Saloy’s first collection of poetry, Red Beans and Ricely Yours: Poems, from Truman State University Press (2005), won the 2005 T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize and the 2006 PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award in Poetry. The Josephine Miles Award honors excellence in multi-cultural literature. This poetry collection, which chronicles the author’s life in the Seventh Ward of downtown New Orleans, also tied for the 2005 Morgan Prize from Story Line Press.

In addition, Saloy was commissioned by The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia in 2006 to write and perform a poem entitled “We” in celebration of 2006 Liberty Medal Recipients President William J. Clinton and President George H.W. Bush. Her poem encapsulated the depth of meaning in the word “we”— the most important word in the U.S. Constitution.

Saloy’s poetry also appears in the volume, Furious Flower: African American Poetry from the Black Arts Movement to the Present, University of Virginia Press (2004), Joanne V. Gabbin, editor. This second anthology born out of the Furious Flower Conference, which first convened in 1994, is a poetry collection that serves as a historical compendium of African-American poetry at the close of the 20th century.

Saloy also published a chapter in the essay collection, Living Blue in the Red States, from University of Nebraska Press (2007), David Starkey, editor, and contributed to New Orleans: What Can’t Be Lost – 88 Stories and Traditions from the Sacred City, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press (2010), Lee Barclay, editor. The 88 stories in the latter volume, published to commemorate the resilience of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, are intended, according to Barclay, to represent “piano keys in a love song to New Orleans”—a highly appropriate venue for the New Orleans native who lost her own home to the storm.

Other volumes in which Saloy’s work appears include Dear Success Seeker: Wisdom from Outstanding Women, Atria Books (2009), and Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Poetry, University of Georgia Press (2009). Her work was also included in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume IV: Louisiana, Texas A&M University Press (2011).

In addition to the above anthologies, Saloy’s poems appear in Immortelles, Poems of Life and Death by New Southern Writers, New Orleans: Xavier Review Press (1995). She’s also published in the seminal Louisiana Women Writers, New Essays and a Comprehensive Bibliography, from LSU Press (1992), Brown and Ewell, editors, and featured in The American Poetry Archives’ Color: A Sampling of Contemporary African American Writers (1994).

Articles published by Dr. Saloy include “African American Oral Traditions in Louisiana,” “Zora Neale Hurston on the River Road: Portrait of Algiers, New Orleans, and her Fieldwork,” “Sidewalk Songs, Jump-Rope Rhymes, and Clap-Hand Games of African American Children.”

Upcoming Work

Mona Lisa Saloy’s latest book of poetry, which is currently in the works thanks to a sabbatical awarded to the author by the UNCF/Mellon Foundation, is a collection of post-Katrina poems illustrating how people can handle disasters and hurricanes with “heart.” The book will document the struggles experienced after Katrina, shedding light on Dr. Saloy’s Creole culture and how the disaster affected that three-centuries-old culture, while presenting an “original and fresh perspective (on the) apocalyptic event” and on hurricanes in general. The poems will highlight the faith and resilience needed to rebuild a city and a life torn apart by nature’s wrath—a faith and resilience amply demonstrated by the people of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.

Honours and Awards

Dr. Saloy has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the United Negro College Fund/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help facilitate the continuation of her research on Black Beat poet Bob Kaufman, an icon of the Black Arts movement and the subject of her article, “Black Beats and Black issues.” The article appears in Beat Culture and the New America 1950-1965, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1965), Lisa Phillips, editor.

Mona Lisa Saloy’s listed in the Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers, published by Greenwood Press (2007), Yolanda W. Page, editor.

An African-American Creole with Heart

To Mona Lisa Saloy, cultural history’s a crucial component of literature. She reads writers who not only feed her spirit but “who respect the past and their cultural histories.” And she equally respects and shares her own cultural history and identity for the edification of others. As an African-American woman who’s also Creole, she explains the way she sees the two identities combining into a unified whole reflecting who she is —and who her people are — and how these complementary characteristics come through in her writing:

“I write to capture what I think is great about us. I wanted to hear my voice—the voices of my family and community in the Seventh Ward—and contribute to the discussions of who we are as a people. There is not one monolithic black culture, but there are a lot of givens within the African worldview: we believe in a higher power, we are close to family and then community. For me, Creole is Black even though it’s a French language. It is one of the ways our African selves existed through another culture.”

Mona Lisa Saloy sees herself as “Black and Creole, innately Southern, and certainly American” and declares that “[i]n New Orleans, there lives a recognizable culture, and it’s here to stay.” She distinctly remembers growing up in New Orleans surrounded by the joy of life. She recalls her Creole father waking up expressing deep satisfaction about the day ahead and joyful certainty that God would be with them “from now on” — an optimistic view of life which no doubt played a key role in her own outlook.

Her Christian faith has also helped carry her through many hardships, disasters, and other life traumas in addition to Katrina — not the least of which involved her challenges as “a female artist competing for support.” Yet, she is overcoming these obstacles and declares that she’s thankful because her trials have carved the character she is becoming, they will mould the writing which is to come, and they will shape the future into “tomorrows of adventure (and) promise.”

Rebuilding with Bricks and Words in a Post-Katrina World

Seven years after the fateful day that Katrina inundated New Orleans on August 29th 2005 — destroying Saloy’s 5,000-volume library, her unpublished research materials, and all her family treasures — this Mona Lisa is calling upon her deeply-ingrained optimism and resilience and rebuilding her family home, after moving fifteen times and living in three different states. She says it’s a joy and a blessing to be back home — even though she’s living in an apartment while she rebuilds.

In her newest book of poems, Mona Lisa Saloy aspires to capture the spirit and friendliness of pre-Katrina New Orleans—the joie de vivre that her father so characteristically demonstrated every morning, as did so many of their neighbours —before Katrina battered and destroyed their town, leaving them homeless. She hopes to convey the heartbreak of leaving and the stark reality that when she and others returned, they returned to a mere shadow of the grandeur of their former life — a situation in which they had to draw from somewhere deep within themselves the strength and faith and heart to carry on…to rebuild and to rejoice in their ability to restore, not merely what they had lost, but something new and different and better: a brand new hope and vision for the future.

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