Books: Oakland Author Writes Sequel to ‘Ugly’ Success

Tuesday September 09, 2003

Oakland writer Mary Monroe is an inspiration in perseverance. She wrote her first book, “The Upper Room,” in 1974. After hundreds of rejection letters, and eleven years, the novel was finally published in 1985. It got great reviews and quickly disappeared. 

Fifteen years went by, along with a thousand rejection letters. Agents and editors came and went before she got her next big break. 

Her second book, “God Don’t Like Ugly,” was published in 2000. It was an overnight success and, after years of struggle, Monroe has finally cashed in. She got a three-book contract from Kensington, and then a second three-book contract. Mary Monroe is on a roll! 

I met Mary at Café Giovanni on Shattuck Avenue, a place she’s been frequenting several times a week since she moved to the Bay Area in the early 70S. 

Originally from Alabama, Mary grew up in Alliance, Ohio, a working class town just south of Cleveland. She always knew she wanted to be a writer and she always knew she wanted to leave Alliance. 

While a teenager she wrote for tabloid magazines, True Confessions and Bronze Thrills. 

“I was good at titles,” says Mary. “I invented stuff like ‘I Married My Rapist’, and ‘My Husband and His Lover Tried to Kill Me With Voodoo’. My super-religious grandfather took me aside and said, ‘Mary, you’ve got a god-given talent. Don’t waste it.’ The next day I came up with ‘A Homosexual Preacher Stole my Husband!’” 

Mary’s first choice of escape from Ohio wasn’t California. At nineteen she visited relatives in New Jersey and took a bus into Manhattan. 

She turned around and took another bus right back out of the city and returned to Alliance. 

Then she tried Erie, Pennsylvania. After days of looking for a place to stay and being turned away because of her color, she finally found a room at the Richmond Hotel. 

“I took it as a sign,” she says. “I had an aunt in Richmond, California and I decided that was where I ought to be, not downtown Erie, Pennsylvania.” 

After settling in Richmond, she worked temp jobs all over the East Bay and San Francisco. But during her lunch hours and at nights she wrote and wrote and wrote. Her inspirations were Alice Walker, Ishmael Reed, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Ann Rice. 

In 1989 actress Robin Givens contacted her about her writing. Mary whipped out a screenplay she called “Girlfriends.” Robin liked it but then everything fell apart. Mary laughs as she tells the story. 

“Back then Robin was having all those marital problems. I guess you can blame Mike Tyson for everything, including my failed connection with Robin.” 

But Mary’s knack for titles helped save the day. She rewrote “Girlfriends” as a novel and gave it a new name, “God Don’t Like Ugly.” It was a winner. Now in its fourteenth printing, readers from all over the country have been begging Mary to follow up with a book that starts where “God Don’t Like Ugly” ended. And that’s just what Mary has done.  

“God Still Don’t Like Ugly” (another great title) has just hit the bookstores. It’s the continuing tale of Annette Goode who thinks all men are as low-down as the father who deserted her, the boarder who abused her and the fiancé who walked out on her. She has severed ties with her murderous best friend, Rhoda, but then, after five years of separation, Rhoda saunters back into her life. And so does Annette’s old, apologetic daddy. 

Based loosely on Mary’s real life, “God Don’t Like Ugly” depicts a young woman learning to forgive and in doing so finding herself and the happiness that has eluded her. 

“What’s next?” I asked Mary. 

“’God Ain’t Through Yet,’” answered Mary. 

You can say that again. He’s definitely not through with Mary and for that we can be thankful.  

She’ll be appearing to talk about her newest offering on Oct. 11 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland. 652 2344.