Remembering Floyd Salas, novelist, boxing trainer, social activist



Floyd Salas at the Oakland Book Festival. Courtesy of Claire Ortalda

Floyd Salas, whose first two novels were published by Grove Press during the Barney Rosset years, died at his Berkeley home on Sunday after a long illness. He was 90 years old.

His first novel, Tattoo the wicked cross, was published by Grove and won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award. Innovative for its honest description of rape in prison. The New American Review wrote that the book “renews our faith in the human spirit”. His second novel, What now my love, about a drug seizure at Haight Ashbury and a theft to Mexico, continued a tradition of tackling difficult matters. “Miles is a former con-man turned college professor who lives out Henley’s ‘Invictus’ credo. Sam is a drug addict who uses a mixture of Zen and methedrine. Carole is a beautiful walnut with no apparent Weltanschaung, but with very long legs, ”wrote the New York Times Book Review.

In 1978, Ishmael Reed and Al Young, through their Y’Bird Press, published his third novel, Lay my body on the line, about the San Francisco state strike in which Salas, who had been a leader in social protest on behalf of the campus peace and ethnic studies movements, participated. He “thrust[s] the reader in the turbulent politics of the time, and it rings true to the end, ”wrote Fred Cody in the Berkeley monthly.

In 1968, Salas gained notoriety by calling a sordid comment to Saul Bellow when Bellow was speaking on the San Francisco State Campus. “Are you saying that the university should offer writers a refuge from the vulgarities of the contemporary world?” Salas asked the 1976 Nobel Laureate. A shocked bellows later fictionalized the event in Mr. Sammler’s planet and the incident has been recounted in several biographies and articles. However, Salas, a published author and college instructor at the time, told a biographer that he had the utmost respect for Bellow and had read every one of his books. The comment was prompted, Salas said, by Bellow’s haughty manner and refusal to answer respectful questions from the public. Bellow admitted in a 1983 interview with Leah Garchik in the Chronicle of San Francisco, “I don’t think I behaved very well. But I think no one behaved well.

Continuing his history of activism for liberal causes, in 1989 Salas enthusiastically endorsed Ishmael Reed’s idea of ​​establishing a multicultural branch of the PEN chapter to “promote the works of excellence of writers of all cultural backgrounds. and racial ”. The group was later dubbed “the blue collar PEN” by Norman Mailer. Salas was President of PEN Oakland from its inception until his death.

Memory of Salas, Nickel Buffalo, was published in 1992 by Arte Publico Press and the book, with Tattoo, appeared in the book Masterpieces of Latin literature. He went on to publish three books of poetry and a sequel to Body entitled Emergency state.

A popular creative writing teacher at various colleges in California for 45 years, Salas has also taught at San Quentin and Folsom prisons. He was an assistant boxing coach at UC Berkeley, earning the sobriquet of “fighter-writer,” a writer for a short-lived drama on NBC. Central pivot, and a Regent’s Lecturer at UC Berkeley, where his papers are archived. Berkeley City Council proclaimed September 28, 2010, Floyd Salas Day. In 2013, he won the American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Salas was born in Walsenburg, Colorado, to parents of Spanish and Navajo descent. The family, including four siblings, moved to California during the Depression when his father, Ed, found work on the Shasta Dam.

Salas has made his home in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 80 years. He is survived by his third wife, the writer Claire Ortalda, and his son, Gregory Salas.

Salas and his wife, Clare, in the early 2000s. Courtesy of Claire Ortalda
Salas and his son, Grégoire. Courtesy of Claire Ortalda



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