Dressed in black from head to toe, author Walter Mosley stood out easily against the rich tones of the Mandarin Oriental's lobby and its equally overhued patrons. As he walked toward me, ebony fedora tipped to one side, visions of his most well-known character, Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, came to mind. Not only because "Walter Mosley"-fueled Google searches were so fresh on my brain, or because his latest tome, Blonde Faith, had been planted securely on my hip for the past week, but also because approaching me was, like Easy, a black hero.
When Mosley abandoned his computer programming job at roughly the age of 33 or 34 (a figure he couldn't exactly remember) and became a published author with 29 or 30 (another figure he couldn't exactly remember) books on his resumé, he wasn't just trying something out — as he so modestly described it. That leap of faith proved he possessed an extraordinary gift that the world needed desperately to receive, one that had been bursting to break free for, well, 33 or 34 years.
The classical music playing softly in the background staged a mellow scene against which Mosley stood out. His aplomb was easily read, from the way he rattled off his political views to the way he defined his position within the cadre of black literature. And though his voice was tinged with an air of superiority, it was easily accepted as an air he was allowed to have. Mosley was in town for a speaking engagement with the Brickell Avenue Literary Society, a group of lit-lovers that flies in authors like Philip Caputo and Michael Ondaatje eight times a year. But Mosley was adamant about the fact that he's more than simply the writer of great mysteries who was so famously endorsed by Bill Clinton in 1992. He has published stories that were Afro-futurist science fiction, erotica, politics, and more.
Mosley sat down with New Times one afternoon and told us all we wanted to know, and left nothing to the imagination.
Tell me about your appearance with the Brickell Avenue Literary Society.
It's funny, you know. What I am doesn't change according to my environment, which is unusual in America. It's hard for anybody in America not to be dominated by capitalism, but it's kind of hard for me not to say what I'm thinking. So we had a long talk. I really was talking about race in America and who I am and what I am and where I come from and why I write about black male heroes and like that. And that was kinda fun; it was fun. I talked for 20 to 25 minutes, then they asked questions for another 20 to 25 minutes. A lot of the questions had to do with my political stuff; some had to do with writing and my characters, stuff like that. I answered every question in the room
You're often defined as "mystery writer Walter Mosley." Is that a definition you embrace?
When you're a writer of mysteries, which I was in the very beginning of my career, you're not supposed to write other books and you're not supposed to say other things. You're not supposed to have other kinds of thoughts; you're supposed to be a certain thing. I've published either 29 or 30 books and about 40 percent of them are mysteries, and then I write other things. I refuse to be pigeonholed into this "You're a mystery writer blah, blah, blah" kind of thing. It doesn't interest me.
Speaking of being pigeonholed and defined, black writers are often pushed into the "black interest" section of bookstores. Do you think there's a need for this type of literary segregation?
First thing to say is I'm never there, which is always interesting to me. I am never in Black and African-American Interest and I have no idea why. I'm certainly one of the best-known black male writers in America, but I'm not there. [Laughs] I don't complain about it, though; I just say, "Okay, fine they don't put me there; there must be some reason and I don't care." It's hard for me to see it as a problem. I guess it's too many places for me — bookstores don't know what to do.
But another side of it is, I write these political monographs and I went to a bookstore once and I said, "Where's my political monograph?" I was looking for it and they say, "Oh it's in sociology." I was really upset because who the fuck is gonna find my book in sociology? But there really was nowhere else to put it.
I heard a rumor that Blonde Faith is the last we will read of your most well-known character, Easy Rawlins. Is that true?
No, it's the last one. It's not a rumor. Well, it's a rumor, but it's true.
So I'll have the scoop?
Well, yes, but I do tell everybody. Sorry.
I read that Easy is modeled after Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Is that true?
He's like the real Invisible Man. Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man was the philosophical one. Easy's the guy who walks in a room and nobody sees him, but he uses that to his advantage.
What would Easy be like in 2007?
There wouldn't be an Easy Rawlins in 2007. Easy Rawlins doesn't belong in 2007. One of the reasons that I'm stopping writing him is that I've done this Easy from 1948 to 1967. That Easy was during a 20-year period, a very important moment in American history. Today you have a much more complex world, and how the black man navigates that position becomes very difficult. Every once in a while you're ready to die. Every once in a while you swallow your pride and you do what you're told. It's a different world and the issues become, one, more psychological, how you deal with them; and, two, become more complex. It's about what people are doing and why they're doing them. Sometimes it's based on racism and sometimes it's not.
Most of your main characters are similar, black male heroes: Fearless Jones, Easy Rawlins, Socrates Fortlow. Why is that?
Every time I write a character, it's a black male hero. There are none in American literature. Yes, there's Jim from Huckleberry Finn, and there's ... [pause] John Henry, the steel drive man. But these are caricatures, not necessarily negative ones, but they're caricatures. But to write about heroes that represent America, they don't exist for black men. This is a major issue, one, because you have white America thinking that there are no black male heroes because there are none in their consciousness. And then all these black men who are striving to do what's right striving to make something happen in their selves, their families, their world, don't have any literature to back them up, which is a very important thing. I do write about those heroes.