Bella Likes to Try

Chatwin Books, 2022

A Children’s Picture Book About Trying New Things Until You Find YOUR Thing 

Dancer Mary Lou Sanelli helps children find their true passion - whether that be baseball, music…or dance, in a new picture book. Sanelli wanted to tell the story of a young girl, Bella, whose mother encourages her to try new things. Be it baseball or soccer or cello, her mother reminds her that, “The only failure you will ever make is the failure to try.” In Bella Likes to Try, this courageous young girl celebrates her own courage and willingness to try her best. Throughout the story, Bella discovers that dancing allows her to express what she is feeling in a non-verbal way; makes her insides “shiver with joy.” Though she isn’t very good at first, she keeps trying. And trying. And trying. Finding an activity where she can celebrate her love of movement and music, Bella exclaims, “Dancing makes me feel exactly like…myself!”

Artist Jessica Levey illustrates the picture book with playful images that depict young people with varying sized bodies. This was important to both author and illustrator. Sanelli added, “In the dance world, talking about body size is sensitive territory, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking about it. I want to instill confidence in young dancers. I want them to focus their energy on how good it feels to dance and I hope that Bella can help them with that.”

Every Little Thing:

Small Breakthroughs, Big Mistakes, Endless Lessons

Chatwin Books, 2021
Nominated for a PNBA, a Pushcart Prize, and a 2022 Washington State Book Award

A fine-tuned, beautiful book that looks with a sharp eye and a generous spirit at one’s sense of place as it was in the five years leading up to 2021. And as it is. Now. So much more than a collection of essays, this is a writer's soul laid bare. Filled with universal experience, every page reveals Sanelli’s profound understanding of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

The Star Struck Dance Studio (of Yucca Springs): A Novel

Chatwin Books, 2019

This is a story that explores the wide range of human emotion as if from behind the intimate curtain of a dance studio; the meaning of family in all its diverse varieties and determination. With humor, compassion, a sprinkling of irreverence, and a sharp eye on contemporary life, Sanelli explores, through Lucy, what it means to be a daughter, a teacher, and a friend at a moment in her life when she is forced to approach life as a lesson in forgiveness in an attempt to understand why haters hate.

A Woman Writing:

A Memoir in Essays:
What writing about writing taught me about determination, persistence, and the ups and downs of choosing a writing life.

Aequitas Books, 2015

A delight. A beautifully written delight.

In these wonderfully wise writings, Mary Lou Sanelli once again relies on her literary voice and candid sense of humor to explore all the realities true to anyone who has thought of making writing a part of his or her life. In a conversational style that entirely conveys her nature, she relates the comedy and the heartbreak the writing life is; how little it has to do with literary circles and clout and how much it has to do with limitless uncertainty, publishing anxiety, finding a way to make the process of writing, of life, your joy, rather than any outcome and, if lucky, how to view each let-down along the way as a triumph. Most compelling is how these writings, chronologically collected, grow and twine on the page right in front of you, allowing us to relish each like a long conversation with a trusted friend.

Sanelli writes about themes as varied as marriage, politics, friendship, aging, nature, her distrust of too much technology (“no one wins like the guys who make the software”); what it feels like for an East Coast transplant to find herself living in the belly of Seattle; for a daughter to be caring for her elderly mother; what went wrong at an Obama party once―all with spot-on insight, all through the eyes of a woman, a woman writing; and she compels us to find ourselves, and perhaps our own writing voice, in the process. She notices everything and she’s exceptionally funny.

Among Friends: A Memoir

Third Printing 2017 Good Reads Notable

An intelligent voice. An illuminating book. Sanelli is unsparing as she explores the subject of friendship in women’s lives. This is a book of self-discovery...dauntless, smart, funny, beautifully written.

"This book came along at just the right time for me."

— Vicki Jewel, Honolulu Bookclub

Small Talk


When the author saw the cover painting by Lois Silver, Girlfriends, she was captured by the easy intimacy these two women share. Soon after, she set out to compile a collection of poems that captures those innermost connections between people—those brief conversations, those small talks, that make us whole.

Falling Awake: A Collection of Essays


Falling Awake chronologically compiles Sanelli’s inquisitive, savvy, and humorous essays. Mary Lou Sanelli has a personable and striking presence in her writings. Throughout her career—seven poetry collections with a memoir, Among Friends, forthcoming in 2009, regular newspaper and magazine columns, and numerous radio commentaries—she brings a sharp eye and sophisticated wit not only to the sometimes disheartening, sometimes encouraging aspects of our current politics and culture, but also to issues specific to her home city of Seattle and home town of Port Townsend, Washington. Political relations, women’s issues, family dynamics, the intricacies of a writer’s life, what can go wrong at a Seattle dinner party—all are mulled over in this intelligently engaging collection that is a life-affirming journey in essays, a testimonial to the agelong process of questioning the status quo in order to find one’s honesty.

Craving Water


In Mary Lou Sanelli's sixth collection, the author shows, in poem after poem, just what place means to her: the people, the landscape, the gardens, the cafes, and, yes, the water. She does, indeed, crave the water. For Sanelli, rain, for which the Northwest is so well known, has a mission to revive and cleanse rather than to depress or sadden, and she learns, along with her readers, how to grow and to thrive under "clouds raining gray." You'll come away from this book with a deep appreciation of this corner of America and, quite likely, with a longing to know your own home town and your own neighbors a little better than you do now.

The Immigrant’s Table

2002, Third Printing, 2011

“An unusual & delightful book” —Publisher’s Weekly

This book made possible, in part, from a grant from Artist Trust.

“In this collection, Mary Lou Sanelli brings poems out of the ivory tower, straight to the family dinner table. No fast-food substitutes here, as the poet recreates a culture in which food preparation is a cherished ritual. Sanelli’s clear-eyed, yet loving, awareness of family members’ foibles, including her own, provides the reader with a menu that nourishes both body and spirit, a gourmet treat for the imagination.”
—Madeline DeFrees

Women in the Garden

2001, Second Printing 2005

Women in the Garden lights on a winning combination: cultivating the soil and renewing the language. The gardener’s routine, like that of the poet, sharpens observation and fosters the contemplative spirit. Though the book’s focus is in the garden, the situations are varied and as much outside the individual’s control as the elements. Wind, rain, and sun may help or hinder growth, but the key to success in both gardening and writing is a ready receptivity, something Sanelli brings to the ordinary happenings of each day.

Close at Hand

1998, High Plains Press is a winner of the Governor's Arts Award, 2010

In this early collection Sanelli takes her time to look closely at things. This is an intimate and absorbing collection. Woven into the rhythm of daily life, Sanelli crafts an original blend of memorable and distinct poetry, all of it close to the heart of things, close at hand.