Dear friends and fans of Floyd Salas,
From now on, any posts on this website, which I shall keep open, will be from me, his wife, Claire Ortalda. Floyd died October 17, 2021 at 1:50 p.m. My obituary follows. Please scroll down for the link to the Berkeleyside article on his life and work and to the link on the Legacy website for his obituary published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
FLOYD FRANCIS SALAS
January 23, 1931 – October 17, 2021
After a long illness, longtime East Bay resident and award-winning writer and teacher Floyd Salas, 90, died at his Berkeley home with his son Gregory and wife Claire Ortalda at his side.
Born in Walsenburg, Colorado to Ed Salas and Anita Sanchez Salas, Floyd moved at age 8 with his family, including older brothers John Edward and Albert, older sister Dorothy and younger sister Annabelle, all now deceased, to Boomtown (Central Valley), California where his father had secured a position blasting tunnels to supply the Shasta Dam, then under construction as part of the New Deal.
The family next moved to Oakland, California, where his father operated restaurants and rented apartments throughout the war years and beyond. His mother died in 1943, a family-shattering event which Floyd would later chronicle in several of his books.
Floyd looked up to his two brothers, Eddy, an intellectual and a Navy officer in World War II who opened a pharmacy in San Francisco after the war, and Albert, a Golden Glove boxing champion. These relationships, too, Floyd would explore and memorialize in his books.
Floyd married his first wife, Velva Daryl Harris in 1948. His only son Gregory was born in 1949. Floyd worked a series of jobs to support his young family but at age 19 vowed to go to college and write, in honor of his brother Eddy who died that year.
An accomplished artist and sculptor, Floyd attended first Oakland Junior College then California College of Arts and Crafts, then San Francisco State University where he received a BA in English and a MA in Creative Writing, working under Walter Van Tilburg Clark and other noted writers of the time. His thesis, his first novel Tattoo the Wicked Cross, won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award and was published by Grove Press in 1967. Grove also published his second novel, What Now My Love. His third novel, Lay My Body on the Line, published by Ishmael Reed and Al Young’s Y’Bird Press, fictionally explored the political turmoil at San Francisco State during the 1960s where Floyd himself had been an activist for peace and social justice issues. Other published works included the novel State of Emergency and three volumes of poetry. Several of his books were published internationally and his work was included in numerous anthologies and periodicals.
Floyd taught creative writing at various Bay Area colleges, including San Francisco State, Cal Berkeley, Sonoma State, University of San Francisco and Foothill College as well as at San Quentin and Folsom prisons. He was Statewide Coordinator for Poetry in the Schools, a San Francisco State program, from 1973 to1976, and a recipient of the John P. Lynch Memorial Fellowship for Outstanding Teachers, University of California, Berkeley and a Bay Area Writing Project Fellowship for Outstanding Teachers of Writing.
He was 2002-2003 Regent’s Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, staff writer for the NBC drama series, Kingpin, and the recipient of California Arts Council, Rockefeller Foundation, NEA, and Eugene F. Saxton fellowships. Tattoo the Wicked Cross earned a place on the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Western 100 List of Best 20th Century Fiction and also, along with his memoir Buffalo Nickel, is featured in Masterpieces of Hispanic Literature (HarperCollins 1994). He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 (American Book Awards). September 28, 2010 was proclaimed Floyd Salas Day by the City of Berkeley in honor of his many contributions to the community. His manuscripts and papers are archived in the Floyd Salas collection in the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
A popular creative writing teacher, many of his students wrote to him over the years, telling him that he had changed their lives for the better. He en-COURGE-es his students, one wrote, emphasizing that Floyd not only taught writing skills but, through his enthusiasm and support, gave students the courage to express themselves. He also coached boxing students, including two national champions, at University of California, Berkeley.
A proficient dancer, crooner, photographer, and pet-lover, Floyd lived life to the fullest. His humor, loving encouragement, creativity and elan will be missed by his extended family and multiple friends and former students as well as his wife Claire and son Gregory. He will live long in his work as well as in the memories of those who were fortunate enough to know him. He was buried October 28 in a private ceremony at Mountain View Cemetery.
Berkeleyside published a remembrance of Floyd. Here’s the link: