BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Walter Mosley, how many books of fiction have you written?
Mr. WALTER MOSLEY, AUTHOR, "WORKIN' ON THE CHAIN GANG": Ten. Ten--published 10 books of fiction.
LAMB: Who's Easy Rawlins?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, Easy Rawlins is my detective. It's the first guy I wrote about. As--as a matter of fact, the first book I wrote was not a detective book, but it was a book called "Gone Fishin'." It was a novel about Easy Rawlins and his friend, Mouse, and the Deep South coming of age, though that didn't get published till eight years into my career. And Easy became this detective. I couldn't get that first book published. So then I wrote a mystery about Easy Rawlins, and I got that published, and so I started writing about him in that way.
LAMB: When was your first book published? What year?
Mr. MOSLEY: 1990--January of 1990.
LAMB: Where'd you get the character? Where'd you get the name?
Mr. MOSLEY: You know, it--things just come. I--I think that it came out, I looked at it and I--and I thought, `Yeah, it's true, I'm calling him Easy, but his life is anything but that.' And so that's--that's how it happened. Like, if I had given him another name, I might have changed it to Easy. But, you know, who knows?
LAMB: Where's he from?
Mr. MOSLEY: Deep South--Texas, Louisiana. Lived there his—his young life. Then he moves to Los Angeles. The whole purpose of those books was to talk about the migration of blacks from the Deep South into Los Angeles and, after World War II, how that affected them and how that affected the world in general.
LAMB: Did you know anybody or do you know anybody like Easy Rawlins?
Mr. MOSLEY: Not exactly, but my whole family--my whole family is that--my father's side, anyway. They all came from Texas and Louisiana. They came up--so there are little aspects of the various parts of the family about Easy. But, you know, Easy's a creation;
he's a fictional creation.
LAMB: Where did--where did you start out in life?
Mr. MOSLEY: I was born in Watts. My parents were hardworking. My father, African-American; my mother, Jewish from New York. They were--you know, they had simple jobs. I had a simple education. And they--they slowly kind of climbed up into the middle class, and I became interested in reading books.
LAMB: How did they get together?
Mr. MOSLEY: They both worked in a school. My father was a janitor. My mother was a clerk. They tried to get married in 1952, and they weren't allowed to be married. They--it was legal for them to get married, but the state still wouldn't give them a--a marriage license. So they didn't get married till I was about eight, I think.
LAMB: And where did they get married?
Mr. MOSLEY: In Los Angeles, finally.
LAMB: And it wasn't legal in California?
Mr. MOSLEY: It was legal, but they wouldn't give them the marriage license. It was--you know, it's an interesting thing. Well, it was legal, but they just didn't give it to them. They went, they applied. They said, `Well, no, I'm sorry. We can't give this to you.' And they kind of fudged around, and they came again, tried--finally, they gave up. They said, `They won't give it to us.'
LAMB: What impact did it have on you to be in a double mixed marriage: double religious, double race?
Mr. MOSLEY: Double minority. I don't know. You know, it's--the--the interesting thing about being black in America is that we're all mixed. We all have some, you know, Native American and some--you know, we got an Irish name or a French name, a--a—different colors. People with very light skin and red hair and freckles. People--you know, dark black, people with fine features, people with broad features. It seems--I don't feel so different. It doesn't feel such an odd thing to me.
Somebody once asked me--they said, `Well, you know, must have been very difficult living in a mixed marriage in Watts.' I said, `Well, a lot easier in Watts than it would have been in Beverly Hills,' you know, because there are all kinds of different people. People look different, act different, come from different places, but we accept each other because of the pressure from the outside, you know.
LAMB: Where is Watts in LA? Where is it?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, it's in South Central Los Angeles; 116th Street and Central is where I--I lived. You know, that--it's the large—that large, black community. It's the Harlem of--of Los Angeles.
LAMB: And how did they work out of being janitors and clerks up to the middle class?
Mr. MOSLEY: You know, worked hard, you know.
LAMB: But what did they do eventually?
Mr. MOSLEY: Oh, my--my--my father remained being a janitor; became the supervising--a--a maintenance supervisor, a building supervisor. My mother just worked up in--in employment. My father started buying apartment buildings at a point which was just at the perfect point. Property was still cheap, but it was about to go up. And so, you know, we got--he bought the apartment buildings 'cause he said, `If the buildings pay their own rent, then we'll always be secure.' But it--they actually ended up doing much more than that.
LAMB: Are they still around?
Mr. MOSLEY: My father died six years ago. My mother's still—my mother still works for the Board of Education. She's 80 years old, and she has a kind of a temporary job that she goes in every day.
LAMB: What does she think of what's happened to you?
Mr. MOSLEY: She's very happy. She's very happy. She's very happy about that. I think my father--my father--I don't know exactly what my father thought. I think he was very happy about it, and he was a little surprised by it, you know, because, you know, one of the things--one of the things I write about with Easy Rowlins--Easy lives in a--in a kind of life where the weight of racism and the effect of racism ha--holds him back in the contemporary world, even where a lot of that racism doesn't exist, at least not in the same way. And I think that my father was surprised. He, when he was a kid, wanted to be a writer, and it was absolutely impossible. And for me to be able to do that, I th--really, it shocked him in a way.
LAMB: When was your first writing, or what was the first thing you ever...
Mr. MOSLEY: You know, I started writing very late. I was 33, 34 years old, and I wrote a--a sentence called--the sentence was, `On hot, sticky days in southern Louisiana, the fire ants swarmed.' Wrote that--I'd read a lot of books. I'd never tried to write one. And I looked at that sentence, and I said, `Well, that's a good sentence. That could work. That could be a novel.' I was 33, 34. I worked—I was a computer programmer. I worked for Mobil Oil.
LAMB: Say it--say it again. What was that sentence?
Mr. MOSLEY: `On hot, sticky days in southern Louisiana, the fire ants swarmed.'
LAMB: Now what brought that on?
Mr. MOSLEY: I don't know. I was...
LAMB: Where were you? Were you sitting at your computer?
Mr. MOSLEY: I was sitting at the computer. I'd been writing code all day long. I was tired of it. It was a Saturday. Nobody else was around. And I just got onto a blank screen, and I wrote that sentence, you know. I--I'm sure that it had something to do with what I was thinking or something somebody had told me or something like that, but I don't remember that. I just remember the sentence.
LAMB: That was when you were 33.
Mr. MOSLEY: Thirty-three, yeah.
LAMB: How old are you today?
Mr. MOSLEY: Forty-eight.
LAMB: And how--how long did you live in Los Angeles?
Mr. MOSLEY: I lived in Los Angeles until 1972, so I was about 20. And then I moved to the East Coast permanently.
LAMB: What was the reason?
Mr. MOSLEY: I don't--you know, I--I--when I look at the map, I must have been trying to get away from my family, because, you know, I moved to Vermont, and it's--it's--it's almost as far as you can get away from Los Angeles, unless you're going to Maine. So I moved there. I was going to school there. But, you know, I didn't go very long; I dropped out. And then I stayed, and I did various things: moved to Boston, moved to western Massachusetts, moved to New York.
LAMB: What school did you go to?
Mr. MOSLEY: I went to a very small state college called Johnson State College. Before that, I went to the radical arts institution called Goddard College in Vermont. I went to the University of Massachusetts for a while, and also, City College of New York for a while. I got a BA from the state college in political science.
LAMB: By the way, you say your mom's Jewish?
Mr. MOSLEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What religion did you pick?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, nobody was, like, religious in my family, so it's just Jewish. But, you know, Jewish--a lot of people say, `Well, your mother's white.' And I say, `No, my mother's Jewish.' You know, I say, `I can tell you that.' I can--I can prove that because there are a lot of people who are Jews who are not religious, you know? And you can't be a Cath--you can't say, `I'm a Catholic,' and not be religious. You know, you have to be a Catholic. But, you know, you--the Jews are--you know, they're a race of people, like black people, like—like many races.
LAMB: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mr. MOSLEY: None. Only child. Only child.
LAMB: So you went to all these schools, and--and you didn't write in those years.
Mr. MOSLEY: No, no.
LAMB: What was...
Mr. MOSLEY: For a while I was thinking about writing a little poetry, but, you know...
LAMB: What were you looking for?
Mr. MOSLEY: I don't know. You know, my father taught me when I was a kid--he said, `There's only two things you have to do in life. First thing you do is you have to pay the rent. And the second thing you do is you d--do what you love.' So I was paying the rent; I'd gotten that. I was a computer programmer. I did OK at it. I had a BA, so I could do something else if I wanted, but I didn't have anything else I wanted to do. And I was looking for stuff. I thought about, you know, doing pottery, which I do. I like doing pottery. I thought about music. I'm not very musical. I thought about painting. I can paint to make myself happy, but nobody else. I thought about being a cook and I like doing that, but it didn't, you know--I didn't like cooking for other people, really. And, finally, I wrote this sentence.
LAMB: Then what?
Mr. MOSLEY: I started writing. I wrote every day. I took a little workshop in a--in somebody's house.
LAMB: You're in New York now?
Mr. MOSLEY: In New York, yeah. I w...
Mr. MOSLEY: New York City.
LAMB: Where do you live?
Mr. MOSLEY: In the West Village. Always lived in the West Village; a little while in Staten Island. Finally I went to City College and was in the writing program up there with the wonderful teachers they have, and around a lot of other people who wrote. And my first book came out--I mean, I--in my head, and I wrote it. You know, "Gone Fishin'," which didn't--I couldn't sell. And then I wrote the mystery.
LAMB: "Gone Fishin'" was not a novel?
Mr. MOSLEY: Oh, it was a novel.
LAMB: It was a novel.
Mr. MOSLEY: It was a novella; it was kind of short. I wrote it, but nobody would--wanted to publish it.
LAMB: And you say nobody. How extensive did you try to...
Mr. MOSLEY: I sent it to many, many, many agents, and I couldn't get past the agents. The agents themselves would say, `Well, you know, it's a good book. It's good writing. But it's not commercial.' Now, of course, when I finally did publish it, I sold 70,000 copies in hard-back, so obviously it was saleable, but, you know, it wasn't saleable at that time. They might have been right. I don't know.
LAMB: A couple years ago I interviewed a man named Paul Coates.
Mr. MOSLEY: Mm-hmm, Paul. Yeah, sure.
Mr. MOSLEY: Paul, my publisher.
LAMB: ...the one thing I remember from that interview: that he's a black man, he lives in Baltimore, he has his own printing operation. He said that you gave him the rights to one of your books after you'd already become successful to help him. Is that right?
Mr. MOSLEY: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, Paul says it in that way, and that's nice. I think it's nice that he thinks of me in that way. I mean, I love Paul. I think he's a great, great man. And I gave the book to Black Classic Press because I think that it's important for--for black writers and black businessmen and women of all types to--to reinvest, you know, their labor into the black community in order to help black people and to help America in general. And so I gave the p--book to Paul. When I say `gave,' he--I told him he didn't have to pay me. Usually they pay you in advance for a book, and I told him, `Well, you don't have to pay me until, you know, you've sold the books.' And that's in--the only thing I gave him, really.
LAMB: Which book?
Mr. MOSLEY: It was "Gone Fishin." It was the first book. I—you know, I had it. I g--I--I gave it to him to read. I said, `Do you think this is worth publishing? Are you interested?' He said, `Yeah, I'm very interested,' and--and we went from there. It was a great experience, really wonderful. He's a good man.
LAMB: Why great?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, it's so easy in America to be kind of befuddled by the notion of success, and the notion of suc—success always kind of breaking down to, `How much money did you get? How much power did you get?' You know, that kind of thing, rather than being really satisfied from the inside, you--you've done something good by yourself, by your community and that it reflects itself and that you--and you see that reflection many times in your life. People come and mention it to you, or you see other people trying to do it, or you see Paul's company, that company, trying to grow--Black Classic Press. And I--it was j--it's a wonderful idea. I have a relationship with Paul now. We're talking about, you know, the future: What can we do? What can he do? And that's really good.
LAMB: This is a book--small, short, 118 pages, Library of Contemporary Thought, "Workin' on the Chain Gang." What's the--what's this all about?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, this book's interesting. They--you know, Ballantine Press--Peter Gathers' the editor--has this Library of Contemporary Thought. They go to people: Carl Hiaasen, Jimmy Carter, oth--other writers, and they--and they say--or thinkers or--or public figures, and they say, `Write a book about something you think is important--not a book really, but a monograph, 20,000 words, 15,000, 20,000.' And they came to me, they said, `We--we'd like you to do it.' They said, `We'd like you to--to--to write a book like this.' And I said, `OK, fine. I--I'll do that.'
And they said, `What do you want to write about?' And I said, `Well, what do you want me to write about?' They said, `Well, we don't really care. You can write about anything you want.' And I said, `Well, OK. I'll write about race in the next millennium.' And they said, `OK, do that.'
I sat down, I started writing about race in the next millennium, and what I got in my head was this really isn't the major issue of the next century and this--it's a part of it, but it's a small aspect of it, and there are other issues that deal with a lot of other people: elderly people, women of all colors, people of all colors who are in prison, people who are homeless, people who are down below the poverty line, people who are in the middle class who, all of a sudden, find themselves out of job or without--you know, without a paddle. And I said, you know, `I--I have to think about it in a broader sense,' and I did.
And I finally said, `There are certain limitations certainly that black people face, but that other people face in common with them,' all kinds of people from very disparate groups, people who see themselves--I won't so--go so far as say as my enemy, but people who see themselves who have interests that are antithetical to mine. But we all seem to have things in common. And so I--I decided I'd write a book about that. I call it, you know, "Workin' on the Chain Gang," how we're all linked by these chains of--of commerce.
LAMB: Where did you get the title?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, where I get many titles: from songs. You know, that's Sam Cooke's c--song, you know. `That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang,' you know, and that's--I think that's what we hear every day.
LAMB: Did you grow up listening to Sam Cooke?
Mr. MOSLEY: I did, yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: What did--what impact did he have on you?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, I mean, you know, enough to make me want to name my--my son g--after him. I think that that deep feeling of the blues that--you know, that we have; that--you know, that it's--it's the only thing we have, and so we celebrate it, you know. So you're listening to the song, `That's the sound of the men working on the chain gang,' but you don't want to cry; you want to dance, you know. And somehow--so recognizing that which limits us also sets us free, and that's what I was trying to do with the book. I was saying if I can talk about these limitations placed on us, maybe it can kind of lead us into a path toward freedom.
LAMB: `TV is our opium,' Walter Mosley.
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: What do you mean by that?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, I think that, you know, when you--when you look at what television does--I mean, television has great potential. You know, like all technology, it has great potential. But when you look at where it makes its most money, where it has its deepest impact—you have a television show, the "Seinfeld" show, for instance--that it says, `We're--we're a show about nothing,' and--and people looking at it say `Well, it's a show about nothing.' And we love it. We love it that it's a show about nothing. Say, `Well, how could you love that?'
The idea of going home and saying--putting your kids in front of the television, sitting yourself in front of a television, eating in front of a television, doing everything in order to kind of avoid relationships and, also, to ease all that pain that you've experienced during that day, all that work that you've done today and all that work you've got to beat tomorrow, you have a break. You can laugh a little or cry a little, get some news, which is kind of half the news, and, you know, go to bed and go to sleep.
I--it limits us. It stops us from thinking. It stops us from going in other places in our lives. And I--and even though I'm not--I'm not going to go so far as to say I think it's a conspiracy, I do think that it conspires to calm us down and to have us not face many of the issues in our personal lives and, from that, our political and economic lives.
LAMB: What's your own relationship to television?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, I have very many relationships to television. Certainly I was raised on it. When I was a kid, every day you could watch television, watch the Westerns, watch, you know, the comedies, stuff like that. Today I work for television. I made a movie for HBO. I may be making a series for ABC. But I distrust it. I distrust it, especially when you go and you listen to people talk about what they want to do, how they want to do it. Nobody wants to say anything. Nobody wants to get the truth out there. Nobody wants to--you know, to put Amadou Diallo, you know--you know, in—in their--in their television show or Mumia, you know.
And, you know, it--it--the--the--the problem with television, for me, is that it's like a drug; I take it to take away the pain. Most people take it to take away the pain, but I feel like I have to go through that pain in order to try to understand what I can do in my life. You know, you just imagine somebody--in the book I suggest, you know, 12 weeks without television or radio or--or arena sports; only one drink a day. You come home, you tell the kids, `You can't watch television,' they say, `So what are we going to do?' `Well, you have to think of something.' You're sitting there with--with your wife, your husband. You know--you know, you have dinner. Well, what do you do after dinner, you know? What--what is it? You know, do we read? Do we separate? Do we come together? Do I get together with my neighbors and start playing football with them? Do I start talking about things like, `Hey, you know, we really do need a stop--stop sign on this corner, you know, because our kids are crossing the street here, and there's no stop sign. Cars are coming by'? All kinds of stuff can start to grow out of it, you know, when you start to find yourself.
And, you know, one of the problems I--I think that I've had with some people criticizing the book is that I'm not giving these big capital-letter answers. I'm not coming out of the--the—the industrial revolution saying there's some kind of scientific necessity to the answers to these problems. It's--they're human problems, and I'm taking a humanist approach. And in doing that, they seem soft. They say, `Oh, he thinks, you know, not watching television is going to save the problems of the world.' I say no, but I think that it--it's a step toward it, you know. You know, I think there are a lot of steps that we could take; some I know, some I don't.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Mr. MOSLEY: I'm married, but getting divorced. I don't have any children. But, you know, in the kind of social sense, you know, I see--I see my community as my family. So, you know, I feel--I feel related. You know, I feel connected.
LAMB: When do you get the maddest watching television?
Mr. MOSLEY: I think I get the--the angriest watching the news, and when yo--when I see the news and I--and I--I realize, `This could just be lies. This could not be true. I don't know if I can trust what these people are saying.' Like in Panama when--you know, the day after we, you know, attack Panama, kidnap their ruler, brought him here, you know, put him on trial, I'm looking at the news, and it--and I'm seeing Panamanians celebrating it, jumping up and down and celebrating. And so I got the idea, `So, OK, the Panamanians are behind this. They want us to come in here and take out their president. OK,' you know.
I didn't know that we destroyed, you know, six or seven city blocks. I didn't know that we killed somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 people. I didn't know that many of those people were civilians. I didn't know that we made a concerted attack against the army because we were worried about the Panama Canal. I didn't know any of that stuff, you know. And I didn't find it out till much later, you know. And so I--the--the--the--those arteries of television, which are supposed to be bringing me the truth, are really lying to me.
After that, commercials bothered me. The art--I love the art of commercials, but I think that they spend a lot of time telling me things that aren't true, trying to, you know, get my money, get my interest, distract me from--from things which are important to me.
LAMB: Do you think that people on television knowingly lie?
Mr. MOSLEY: I don't think there's any way that they can't know, but I think that there's ways for them to believe that they aren't. I think that they know, `Yes, the system is wrong, but I'm trying to do the right thing in the system.' And what they do is they--they--they--they look at things that they're trying to do the right thing about.
But, you know, the problems, of course--one of the things that—you know, this is a--one of the things you could say about this book: It's an attack on capitalism. But it's not like a Marxist attack on capitalism. It's not like I'm saying, `Mr. Moneybags is my enemy.' I understand that capitalism is a system. It's the system that I'm struggling with, not the individuals who are involved. You know, people get involved, there's no way for them to know everything. You're--you're ignorant about most things. I'm ignorant about most things that I see. But I think that once you understand that there's a flaw in the system, that there's an onus on you to do something about that, to say something about that, to question it: Is this really true?
You know, the Army tells me that these are the p--the only people I can see because it's dangerous out there because of possible Noriega snipers. OK, fine. I'm just taking pictures of the--the--the happy, smiling Panamanians. But a week later I could come back and--and, you know, say, `Are you still happy?' You know, just to check up on it. Or, `Maybe you thought about it since the last time we were here,' you know. And maybe people do that, but I didn't see it on the news. Editors decide, `Well, no, we don't ha--really have time.' Somebody else decides, `Well, we can't really do this,' you know.
LAMB: I'm interested, why did you pick Panama?
Mr. MOSLEY: I just--Panama's a--it's something that I've been aware of lately, I've been reading about it. I've seen a couple of documentaries on it, been talking to people about it. But, you know, there are, I mean, all kinds of places. You know, I could talk about Rwanda. I can say, well, you know, a couple of years before Rwanda happened, we knew what was going on. I was talking to Randall Robinson before Rwanda blew up, and he was saying, `Well, people are coming to me, telling me to try to do something.' He said, `But I don't know how to--how to do it. I don't know how to get to the president. I don't know how to get to the Congress to'--he knows how to get to them, but he doesn't know how to force them to take an action.
You know, things are happening all over the world, and because of pressures or lack of pressure, we're not pushed into it. You know, there are things that we need to know, and we need not to be--we need not to hide from it. And I think that a lot of--our attention—I think a lot of this weight goes on the American people. `I don't want to know. I don't want to know that the atmosphere's killing me. I don't know--want to know that North Korea has the atomic bomb. I don't want to know that my army murdered 4,000 people in Panama. I don't want to know. It makes me scared. It makes me uncomfortable. I get angry.'
LAMB: When are you the happiest?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, personally, I'm the happiest when I'm writing. What I enjoy...
LAMB: Where do--where do you do your writing?
Mr. MOSLEY: Hm? I do it at home in the morning--or, actually, I do it anywhere I am in the morning.
LAMB: What time?
Mr. MOSLEY: Whenever I wake up. I usually wake up early, 6:00, 7:00. But if I wake up at noon, I write from noon to 3.
LAMB: And how often are you writing?
Mr. MOSLEY: Every day. Every day. I write all the time. I don't--hardly ever miss. This morning I've been very busy, so I haven't been able to get to it this morning, but I'll get to it this afternoon.
LAMB: Five, six, seven days a week?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, between five and seven.
LAMB: And what kind of things are you--are you writing only novels, plus this nonfiction book?
Mr. MOSLEY: Oh, yeah, I do a lot of stuff. I--novels--you know, I write very fast. I could only publish one novel a year, and so I could write three. So I'm writing screenplays. I'm writing a play that I'm going to put on in Hartford in September. What else am I doing? I'm writing short stories--a lot of short stories. And then I--I might just write anything, just sit down and write out an idea.
LAMB: Is this how you make all your money?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, all my money is made by writing.
LAMB: Now how have you changed in this capitalist world since you've done six...
Mr. MOSLEY: I've become much more successful. I've become much more successful, though I could be even more successful, I suppose, if I only wrote mysteries. But my heart won't let me only write mysteries,so I write a literary novel, I'll write, you know, a book like this. I--my life has changed inasmuch as I've been given more time that I can think and that I can wonder and I can take actions that are more important to me. And the way I would like my life to change and the thing that I would love the most is to live in a great nation. This is my idea. My dream is to live in a great nation. I--much more than being, you know, a multimillionaire, the idea that living in a nation that I think does its best for its own citizens and for the world would be wonderful.
And I don't believe that I do. L--I live in a powerful nation, a rich nation and a beautiful nation. So I have all the elements of greatness, but without greatness.
LAMB: What are a couple of things that would have to happen here to make it a great nation?
Mr. MOSLEY: I think that there's only one thing. A great nation produces--it does--it has moral acts which are either equal to or greater than their wealth and power. That's what I think; that if—if our moral acts--like, for instance, 5,000 people a day are dying in sub-Saharan Africa of AIDS. We need to stop--to--well, we need to think we're going to stop it. We may be--not be able to stop it, but we could really have a major impact--say, `This is im--this is impossible. This is the worst holocaust in the history of the world. You know, we got to stop this thing.'
But we don't, and we have reasons. People say, `Well, this is very complex. This is very complex, these reasons.' Well, they're complex reasons, but we could still do it. All we have to do is decide. I tell people--I say, `Listen, 5,000 people die every day of AIDS in Africa,' and it hasn't--it has no real effect on them. You know, black people, white people--it doesn't matter. And the reason it does, I think, this is--you know, because things like television, things like the news--you know, continually kind of bombarding us with all these kind of tragedies and atrocities and, you know, all of this, you know, made-up stuff. And so we don't have time to have the feeling, `Me with the event, the 5,000 people a day.'
LAMB: But aren't you making stuff up, too?
Mr. MOSLEY: When I write fiction? Sure. Certainly. I write fiction. When I write the movies, I write television shows--I mean, I'm part of this system. And one of the things in the book--you know, one of the things is like you--you find people will say something—you find, like, maybe a leftist white person will say, `The issue is class; that's the issue of America's class.' And you find a black nationalist over here saying, `The issue is race; that's the issue. I can--I can explain it. I can explain it.' Woman comes up and says, `The w--the issue is gender. Women are the people who suffer the most in both of these situations.'
And the truth is that it's a little bit of everything. The truth is that we all have something in common. We all have valid arguments and that we should be able to bring them together. I'm not trying to get rid of capitalism. I would love to, but I don't think that we can. I want to work with it. You know, I want to start to change things. And so, like, when I make a movie, I make a movie--for instance, "Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned" for HBO, it's a movie about a man who is a--his name is Socrates Fortlow. He's out of prison. He lives way down below the template of justice. He's collecting bottles for a living. I'm talking about how he gets from collecting bottles to working in a grocery store, right? You know, just putting food in--in bags, how--how this is a--an in--an incredible act on his part, you know. And so I think it's valuable, you know.
I'm not writing, you know, some kind of crazy--you know, like—you know, Wall Street broker guy, you know, who's snorting cocaine and, you know, has all these women, but--then learns that he can be even richer if he's a good person, you know. And that's not the kind of stuff I'm doing.
LAMB: You said that if you could, you'd get rid of capitalism. What would you replace it with?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you see, the thing is I have no idea. In other words, the reason is--I said I'd love to get rid of it. I can't—I think the thing that you need to get rid of--that is we all have to imagine working together for a common cause that's important to most of us--not all of us, but most of us. We don't have that in this world today. W--people work for themselves. They work for survival. They work so they don't, you know, end up homeless in the streets. This is America. And as long as that's true, as long as tho--those--those forces are true, there's no way to imagine something beyond it. Maybe we could evolve into it, but we can't do it now. And, you know, I'm not fighting it.
LAMB: You--I--tell me if I'm wrong. You float in and out of different worlds. I mean, you could go to the Jewish world or the white world or the black world. And do you do that?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, I'm me. I'm Walter Mosley, you know. And any real relationship I have is Walter Mosley with someone else. A lot of people accept me. A lot of people know who I am. A lot of people want to hear what I have to say. And this is different groups of people. I don't necessarily identify with these groups. I—I just--I just go there. My ideal is just to be with people who—who deal with you one-on-one, who you are, what you are, where you're going. I identify myself as a black man in America because that's how America identifies me.
I was in Beverly Hills two days ago and I had three experiences. I went to a jewelers with my mother because my mother needed to do something with a ring. I walked in and they looked at me and I said, `Who do I talk to?' And they said, `What do you want?' It's a jewelry store. What else would I want? You know, but I--I got over that and we did this thing. And then I went into a bookstore, and a woman came up to me and says, `What do you want?' So I said, `It's a bookstore. What do I want?' And she followed me until I asked her could I sign my book? And then she stopped following me and she let me sign my book. And finally, I went to a restaurant at night, and I was stopped going into the restaurant. And they said, `What are you doing here?' I--I'm coming to meet somebody. You know? And, I mean, you know, it happened to be somebody that they knew. And so then they were nice to me.
My experience in America is that I'm a black man in America and that I get stopped, you know? It's not as bad as it used to be. But it's still--you know, people--at first, they wonder--they say, `Well, we don't recognize you here,' you know? And so there--therefore, I'm a black man in America, but they define me, not me. You know, my definition is I'm Walter Mosley.
LAMB: When are you the most comfortable? In--in any of those particular groups?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, no. The most comfortable I feel is with people who I know and who know me, that I love and who love me back. And that could be any race, any gender, any nationality. But in America, especially lately, I've found a com--camaraderie among black men. Black men who I do work with, who I know. I work with Manthia Diawara and Clyde Taylor at New York University; Randall Robinson and Danny Glover at TransAfrica; Paul Coates at Black Classic Press, people who I work with a lot, who I know very well and who seem to share my feelings about wanting change in the world and also about wanting to be accepted as who they are.
LAMB: What are you doing at New York University?
Mr. MOSLEY: I--I've--you know, I have a very funny relationship with New York University. I don't--I'm not--they don't pay me. I'm not a part of anything. But I was once an artist in residence. And since then, I've worked--we came out with a book together called "Black Genius," where we got various speakers--Stanley Crouch, Angela Davis, Spike Lee and myself, Melvin Van Peebles--to talk about how black people can solve their own problems in America. How far they can go in doing that. And I've worked with other things. Jayne Cortez has done some wonderful events there that I've been tangentially a part of. And I just go and I make suggestions and I talk about stuff.
LAMB: What's your relationship with TransAfrica and what does TransAfrica do?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, I'm on the board of TransAfrica. TransAfrica's one of the--the few black organizations in America that pays attention to black issues outside of America and brings them to the attention of Congress. It's a lobby--lobbyist organization. You know, Randall, who--who runs it, was very instrumental in--in causing the embargo on South Africa and therefore freeing Mandela. And also he went on a hunger strike when Clinton refused to allow the Haitian--the Haitians who were leaving Haiti--to come into America. Now those Haitians who were coming here, many of them were killed when they went back to Haiti. And, you know, Randall almost died on that hunger strike in letting them in. So TransAfrica wants to get information about the diaspora, we'll call it. The black people around the world and what's going on with them.
LAMB: You also talk in your book about something called `a margin of profit.'
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah. The margin of profit. You and me, we're the margin of profit, all of us. You know, capitalism is this funny thing. It's--it's not limited by national borders so much anymore. It can go anywhere, it can do anything and it lives, it survives by competition. You know, I have a business, you have a business. I'm--I'm squeezing $100 an hour out of my laborers, you're squeezing $100 an hour out of yours. All of a sudden--all of a sudden you can squeeze $104 out of your laborers so I've got to squeeze mine more. I'm going to go out of business. You're going to put me out of business right away if you can make, you know, $4 more per unit of labor. So I've got to do it, too. Well, where do we get the money from? We get it primarily from the--from our laborers. They give it to us. One way or another, we take it from them.
And we become that margin of profit. People in America work more than anybody else in--you know, in this--you know, industrialized world. We--we make much more money than we used to in the '50s but we don't seem to be able to buy as much, you know. And when I was a kid—you know, I'm 48--when I was a kid, I didn't need medical insurance to go to the doctor, to go to the dentist. You know, I might have needed it if I got hospitalized. Certainly, you know, you had one parent working in the '50s who can really, you know, buy a car and send a kid to college and do all this stuff.
Today sending--if you have two or three kids, sending them to a good college, how you going to do it? You know, middle class—upper middle-class people struggling. So somehow the money we make, the labor we expend goes away from us. You know, rather than trickling down, as Mr. Reagan used to say, it seems to trickle up.
LAMB: What do you think of our political system?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, I think that the Democratic and Republican parties are not political institutions but influence monopolies. That you--they--they have influence and you pay them and they—and they--and they use their influence for you. Or you vote, but it's like a ticket going to a show. You know, you're going to go into "The Rocky Horror Show," you know--you know, you buy your ticket, you go in, you know what you're going to get.
The idea of--of individuals having impact on the politics of the nation through these parties is minimal. One of the ways that I see that is that--you know, if you live in a democracy--I think we're kind of like in a plutocracy. But if you--if you live in a democracy, how can you explain that the president has to be white, male, Christian, heterosexual, married, between 35 and 60, belonging to one of those parties, tall, good voice, rich, can't have any, like, cleft palate or paralyzed hand or whatever. You know, this is like 1 percent of the country. How can that be a democracy? How could we find the best possible leader of this country in 1 percent of the population? It's beyond me to understand.
LAMB: So you don't know how it's happened.
Mr. MOSLEY: I don't know w--how anybody could confuse that with democracy.
LAMB: How do you think it's turned out this way?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, I think that ever since America started--you know, it was white, male land owners who could vote. They'd get together. The women would stay where they were, the Indians were out there someplace, the slaves were where they were, the poor whites were—you know, were away. So we--how we going to vote? You don't even own a farm. You know, `We'll make the decision and we'll tell you what it was.' And that's always the way it's been in America.
LAMB: Do you vote?
Mr. MOSLEY: I do. Yeah, I do. I vote. But you know, I'm--I'm—my idea--I've been thinking that we need a third party. I wa--I'm going to start--I was thinking today I want to start a third party called Factor Three. This is what I want to do. I want to start a third party called Factor Three.
LAMB: What's it mean?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, it's that third factor. It's like that unknown factor. It's that--it's that--it's that thing which--which you need to solve the equation. I think it's so important to have another alternative. And people feel it in America, which is why--you know, which is why you have this kind of turmoil in the Republican Party. You know, it's--it's--it's people feel like--they say, `Well, I want somebody who represents my ideas. I want somebody who--who's different.' You know, you find most people--it's not just black people in America or Hispanics in America, poor working-class white people in America think, `These people don't represent me. They don't care about me.' If you ask them--say, `Do they care about you?' Say, `No.' Say, `Are you going to vote for them?' `Yes.' Say, `Why?' `Because I don't have any other choice.' So the vote is--actually becomes meaningless one way or the other, whether you do or whether you don't.
LAMB: What do you think the motivation is for people who get into politics?
Mr. MOSLEY: You know, I think there are psychological needs, that people get into politics. People who need--they--they--they—they need to have people believe in them and they need to--to see their own self-worth in their ability to help others. I think that's a lot of--about political leaders. And it--it's a weakness. An--and so you have people like George Wallace, who in the '60s says, `Segregation yesterday, segregation today, segregation forever.' In the '90s he's hugging black people saying, `We need to all come together.' I think he did both for the same reason. He needed people to love him and to care about him and to--and to give him power one way or another. I think that after a while, though, the mechanics of it is raising money, making sure that the most powerful people are happy and somehow fooling the large amount of people into thinking that you care about them when really you have to care about somebody else.
LAMB: Have you ever really liked a politician, trusted a politician, worked for a politician?
Mr. MOSLEY: No. No.
Mr. MOSLEY: No. You know, I mean, when I was a kid, you know, I liked Kennedy. Everybody liked Kennedy. Because later on I thought, `Well, maybe I wouldn't like him so much.'
LAMB: What changed your mind?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, h--his--his hawkishness. His--his i—immoral behavior. Where he came from. You know, how he--how he got there. But I'm not in--so interested in political leaders. I don't think that you have to love political leaders. You don't even have to like them. This is a job. I mean, the presidency is a job. The--being a senator, being a representative, it's all a job. What we have to—the important thing is not so much who they are, it's who we are. If we know what we want, the American people, or a large percentage of us do say, `This is what we want'--if we have a piece of paper and we say, `These are the 10 most important things that we want in this country,' then--then you look at it and you look at your political leaders. Say, `Well, does he do 10 of them?' `No.' `Does he do five of them?' `No.' `Well, then we have to look at somebody else.'
You know, we have to know, we have to come together, we have to—to work to understand what it is that we want in this country. If we can do that--now you have to understand this book is a layman's book. I'm not an expert. I've studied political theory, but I'm not an--I'm not an expert at all. But the thing is--is that we're not experts, that we're a social group of people. We're people who have to come together. We have to think together and if we can do that, then we can begin--we can ben--begin to--to change the--the nation. I suggest people--people come to me and they say, `Well, what do you think we should do?' I say, `Well, I sa--I think if you know four or five people who you like and respect but have different ideas and—every two weeks have dinner. Cook dinner at somebody's house, sit down and discuss a major issue.'
LAMB: Do you do it?
Mr. MOSLEY: I do, yeah. I do do that. I don't do that exactly, but, you know, I belong to political groups in which--you know, we come together often without an agenda set out in front of us to say, `Well how can we--how can we affect this?' It just comes up. `How can we affect this?' And we begin to do it. And things have changed in my life. I've done things. You know, this "Black Genius" project came out of that.
LAMB: Now did you ever do the 90 days without television?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah, I have.
LAMB: Ninety days without radio?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: Did you do 90 days without a newspaper?
Mr. MOSLEY: No. I've never done 90 days without a newspaper. And...
LAMB: Have you done 90 days without sports?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah. Yeah. Because I don't--I'm not that interested in sports so that's an easy thing. You know, but I've done--I've done it. And I think it's--you have to understand, I'm not trying to tell people what--you know, television is an important part of our lives. The Internet, computers are an important part of our lifestyle. You know, we can't just abandon that. That's not going to happen. But I think that it's important to understand the effect that it has on you and what comes about when it's not affecting.
LAMB: How did you change over 90 days?
Mr. MOSLEY: I started reading more. I started in--when--when I did it, it was before I was a writer, so what I did was I started writing but it was do--I would be writing ideas. I'd be kind of--I started exploring my own mind. And I--certainly I became more social. I had more contact with other people. I did more things with them. Part of leaving the media is leaving the Internet. So I mean, it's like, you know--it's like--I--I don't think I said it in the book, but certainly I don't--I don't mean for somebody to leave television and go to another television screen and start doing things like that. I think it--it--it refocused me on--on the society that was around me.
LAMB: What's the impact of sports?
Mr. MOSLEY: I think sports is a great thing. You know, sports is a wonderful thing.
LAMB: Professional sports.
Mr. MOSLEY: No. Sports, period. Any sports.
LAMB: But I meant what's the impact of the money in sports.
Mr. MOSLEY: I understand. The--I understand. The money in sports I don't know. I mean, the--you know, it--to me, the money in sports is probably negligible really. I mean, it--it sounds like a lot of money but it isn't. You know, it's not like tanks. It's not like oil, you know. But I think that--that to have sports, like--like to have, like, you know, national teams--baseball teams, football teams, basketball teams, tennis players, golfers--it allows us to experience something without doing it. And to a great extent I don't think that's good for us. In Rome, they had the circus. The circus in Rome was gladiators or it was feeding Christians to the lions. Little midget gladiators and Amazon gladiators fighting it out in the thing.
And people w--used to see this. They called it bread and circus. We give you some bread, you look at the circus and you're satisfied. You don't worry about everything else that's going on. You don't worry about the new tax that I'm levying. You don't worry that, you know, we've taken your three sons and sent them off to a war, you know, somewhere against barbarians and they're dead. You fe--because you have something that--that distracts you. I think that--that these major national sports distract us. I don't think that they shouldn't exist. But if you love baseball and for 12 weeks you can't go to a baseball game, maybe you'll start playing with your neighbor. That would be a good thing. And maybe, you know, start--you know, maybe just with your kid if your neighbors don't want to do it.
I was--you know, Amiri Baraka--LeRoi Jones, the poet, we were talking--or he was talking. He was giving a speech one day and he said--he said, `I love jazz.' He said, `I love jazz.' He'd say, `Used to be they used to play jazz in my neighborhood.' He said, `But now I got to go to another man's neighborhood and pay him to find out what I have on my own mind.' Same thing with sports. You know, there's a—it gets removed from your experience. You know, OK, you can't play as well as, you know, these guys, you know, on these teams. It doesn't matter. I mean, nobody is the best. There's always somebody better. There's always something better. But it's the--it's the activity of the sports that interesting, that's wonderful, that teaches you.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier about--you want this to be a great nation.
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: Is there a great nation in the world?
Mr. MOSLEY: You know, I don't know. I really don't know. You know, there--there are nations who--who perform amazingly under incredible pressure. Israel performs amazingly under incredible pressure and has for a long time. Cuba, same thing. The fact that they're run under our embargo is amazing. But I don't think that any country in the world has the power and the riches to put behind it that we have. We could actually make a difference in the world. We could actually make a--a difference in history. I mean, this could be a pivotal moment in the history of the human race.
LAMB: Well, go to Factor Three, your new political party, and your 10 things that you mentioned. Start listing...
Mr. MOSLEY: See, this becomes very difficult. One of the things is--is that when I start talking about listing things, I'm talking about individuals.
LAMB: Yeah, but I want you to list things that you think are important.
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, there are th--the things that I think are important that happen--there are some things that are pretty immediate. For instance, medical care. I think that the government should insure doctors, because--I believe this. The government should insure doctors. Can't sue a doctor--you know, you've got to come up with your complaint to the government and they have to settle—settle that complaint.
LAMB: OK. Now say--now say that's one.
Mr. MOSLEY: That's one thing.
LAMB: What's two?
Mr. MOSLEY: The next thing still--is still in medicine. I think we need about six times as many doctors as we have. And--and this—this goes to other things. I think we should go to poor neighborhoods and that we should say, `Any kid'--tell all the kids there--any kid who has a 3.5 or better, `We will send you all the way through school to become,' you know, a variety of things. One being a doctor, another maybe being a geneticist, another maybe being, you know, a something--a data processor. `If you do--if you--if you do your part, your 3.5, you've got it.' Not by race, not by gender, anybody. And we have to be very clear, anybody who can do it, you know, in these neighborhoods.
LAMB: OK, three.
Mr. MOSLEY: The third thing. I--well, you know, the--it b—becomes larger and more attractive--I think that--that we need a living wage. I think that people need to be able to know that they can survive in spite of what happens to them.
LAMB: Is that subsidized by the government or is that a minimum wage?
Mr. MOSLEY: And I--see, I don't know how that--how I would work--this is--this is, you know, one of my problems not being an expert. I think that--you know, I think that there's a great deal of money in the system and that we should get--there should be an—an ability for people to survive no matter what they're going through. Now would it--should it be like in Cuba where they have--beans and rice and milk are the basic--basic costs? You know, you--you--you pay for what it costs to produce them, nothing more. Or less actually. You know, the government subsidizes it. Or should it be a minimum wage based on, you know, how much it costs to live. Should there be government housing? I don't know the--I don't know the particular answers to these things.
LAMB: What about school? What about education? How much should you get either free or how much guaranteed schooling?
Mr. MOSLEY: Oh, I think all--all education should be free. Maybe, like in Germany, after you get your first, you know, degr--degree in college, you got to pay for your second one. But I think you should be able, certainly, to get your first master's degree for free and all the way through. And, of course, I think our schools should be much better. I think they should be year round. I think that we—you know, because our greatest resource is our children.
LAMB: What about the military?
Mr. MOSLEY: The military is an interesting thing. This is--this is something that I--I would like much more research on. You know, 'cause I know how much we're told that we have to protect ourselves from all of these aggressors. Or how much I'm told that these people are going to attack and fight and kill us. And I know, you know, the human race has a history of wars. And so I'd like us to be able to protect ourselves, but I'm wondering how much is necessary. Really wondering how much is necessary and I don't really know. This is one of those things that I'd like to find out. I don't believe what I'm told. But I think some parts of it are probably true, you know.
LAMB: What do you believe the most in this society: television, radio, newspaper, professors, politicians?
Mr. MOSLEY: I believe the--the--the naked truths that we see. And it's almost a pun when I say that. So when you see--when you can find 50 women who want to parade half-nude in front of a man simply because he's a multimillionaire and are willing to marry that man, if he says so--they've never seen him before, don't know anything about him—I think--I believe that that desperation and that hunger exists in my country.
LAMB: This book--is this your first non-fiction book?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: And you said earlier, people have argued with you about the--the conclusions you have in the book.
Mr. MOSLEY: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: What kind of reaction have you gotten?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, it's interesting, a lot of young people
are very happy to read it. Like--you know, again, I'm not the expert, I'm not a Henry George, you know, who wrote a great book. You know--What is it called?--"Poverty and Progress," 100 years ago. I'm not Freud or Marx or Kamo or the--the labor movement. I'm not Malcolm X. But I talk a lot about the problems that we're facing today and I find that a lot of young people agree with it. A lot of people who have been radical thinkers and are--continue to be radical thinkers looking for, you know, new answers. I find very conservative people, you know, because it--I really believe in democracy. I really believe that--us getting together and making the changes. When I tell people, `No, I don't like Marx because Marx has a dictatorship with the proletariat.' `No, I don't like Plato because he has a dictatorship of the educated elite,' you know. A lot of--of, you know, Republicans, conservative thinkers, are--are very excited about that.
But I find some people who are--who are--who are caught up in that notion of science, that notion, `Well, what is the answer'--you know, the--it's a Christian notion. It's a scientific notion. I--I don't know the answer. We can sit together, we can work out this answer. Let's start talking about it. Because the talking about it, the believing that I can impact the nation, that my power can say something, is the most important thing. So when my friend Randall Robinson writes his book, "The Debt," and he talks about reparations, he agrees that the most important thing about reparations is to understand and realize what you've lost. Then you know what it is you need to repair.
LAMB: One of the other things you talk about is looking in the mirror.
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: Well, now when you stand and look at the mirror--in the mirror every day, what do you see? What--what does Walter Mosley look like to you?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, that--I think I see something that so many other people see. Rather than seeing a race, a gender, a name, a nationality, you see a person, an identity, somebody that you know. Somebody who reflects people in your family. Somebody that reflects life itself. It's all--you see all of your history or parts of your history. You see things, you remember things, you notice things. I think that one of the problems that individuals have, that we have—I look at you, I said--well, somebody said, `Well, who did you see?' `Well, I saw this white guy standing there.' I say, `Oh yeah, I saw the--a woman, a pretty woman standing there.' Whatever. But I just notice the surface, you know. And that's how we--we deal with each other, is we deal with other as surfaces. Of course, that in itself is a lie. Every one of us is--is deep and has--has a great history, has a lot of knowledge and experience that they can--that they can share with you or not, you know. And when we look at people, we have to look at them the same way that we look in the mirror. Or at least remembering what it was like looking in the mirror.
LAMB: What are your own goals now?
Mr. MOSLEY: What are my own goals in--in reference to my book, in reference to life in general?
LAMB: Yeah. Let's say you're 47. Let's say you live another 40 years, what do you want to do in those 40 years you haven't done?
Mr. MOSLEY: Mmm. Well, my goals personally, you know, have to do with writing. And--and, you know, and--and--and increasing my ability as a writer and my--not--not necessarily my success in an economic way but my success as a writer, having people recognize and understand what I'm writing about, to get better. I think certainly one of my goals is to live in a great nation. I'm a--you know, I work hard with TransAfrica and I work with other people. I--I'd like to make the world a better place not only for me but for other people who--who I'm with. Those two goals are more than enough in a--in a whole life. You know, if I could do a little bit of each one, I'd be really happy.
LAMB: Where do you want to live?
Mr. MOSLEY: Huh, where do I want to live? I live in New York City and I really like New York. But, you know, where I want to live has so much to do, you know, with the great nation thing. It has to do with the people around me, how people are living. You know, you live in New York--I know a lot of people that move out of New York. I say, `Why?' They say, `Well, because of the homeless people.' And I say, `Well, you didn't help them by moving out.' And then they say, `Yeah, but I just can't stand to see them.' And I understand that feeling. I don't like seeing it either. I would like not to see it, you know. So...
LAMB: Do you want to have a family?
Mr. MOSLEY: I don't know. I don't know. You know, that's an interesting thing. I know a lot of people really want children, they want to be married, they want to have children. And I might, but I haven't--I haven't experienced it yet. You know, I haven't experienced the relationship of the moment where I want that to happen.
LAMB: Do you want to write novels or do you want to write non-fiction?
Mr. MOSLEY: I'm definitely going to write novels. And there's no question about that. And--but you have to understand. There--there's a thing I feel about fiction and non-fiction. You ask most people, they'll say, `What's the difference.' I say, `Well, fiction is not true and non-fiction is true.' I look at it like this. Fiction is the truth and non-fiction is usually a lie. Non-fiction is usually trying to convince you of something by leaving things out, by saying things which are half true or not true, by stacking the deck.
You know, books of history, books of philosophy, books of biography. You read these books and you read--and you--like you--you knew this person. You say--you know this isn't true, you know, but it's non-fiction. It--it pretends it's the truth. I would like to--hopefully in--in--in "Workin' on the Chain Gang," I've written a book that is as true as it can be. It means to say I speculate, I ask questions, I wonder. I make suggestions which I say may or may not work. That's the--the highest form of non-fiction I can imagine. I'd like to write a couple more books like that.
LAMB: Speaking of the mirror, when you stand in front of a all-black audience and talk about the book--or any of your books--and in front of an all-white audience and talk about your books, what do you see different?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, you know, it's interesting 'cause there's different groups to this. Young audiences, like at colleges...
LAMB: Well, throw that in there, too.
Mr. MOSLEY: Colleges--young people in colleges are struggling the most with the information. Because, you know, there's--there's—they come from a place--you know, they were just--they were just kids not so long ago and there's absolute. There's absolute good, there's absolute evil. There's true, it's not true, etc. And so the--the--the vicissitudes, the complexities--you know, I say, `I'm not an expert,' they say, `Well, if you're not an expert, why are you standing up in front of me? You know, I need the expert.'
Black audiences--especially when I start talking about history--when I say, `The reason that white people are upset with black people is not because they think black people are trying to take their money or cheat them or hurt them even in general, it's because white people ha--are--have a mistaken notion of their own history. As mistaken as we are in our history, that history that's been robbed from us, white people are also mistaken because they don't understand how our history is their history and vice versa.'
And so the notion of this history is important to disabuse. Both sides of their histories is important. Black audiences are very happy to embrace that notion, to understand that there's a truth somewhere that hasn't been gotten to yet and that truth has to do with what happened before. White people, I find, are more wondering about it. They're--they're concentrating. They say, `You mean the history I think is true is not true,' you know.
Well, you talk about Abraham Lincoln, who was a madman. I mean, had his son disintered twice and brought to the White House because he couldn't bear the thought of losing a son. You know, really that's--that's an action of insanity. I mean, who could do that today? But, you know, they don't know that. But they also don't know who I am in their history. They don't know what black people have done for their history. When they go to the rotunda in Washington, DC, as Randall talks about, and they see--they see this panorama of American history and all they see is white faces, they believe it.
But it's not true. It can't possibly be true. What happened to the Native Americans? What happened to the black people who built the rotunda, you know? This is--this is what--what's--what has to be changed. And so I have different reactions. Probably the most powerful, happy response from a black audience, but I think a very considerate response from white audiences.
LAMB: You wrote earlier in your book--you said, `On the one hand, the images are the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the strongest, the bravest and the most evil are shown 24 hours a day on TV shows, in movies, on magazine covers and even in the news.'
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: `The most intelligent, the strongest, the bravest and the most evil are shown 24 hours a day.'
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah. I think so. You know, every magazine cover you see--you know, big strong people, beautiful people. You know, maybe Albert Einstein on a cover.
LAMB: How does this impact us?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, what it does is it--it--it m--it creates an image that we know that we're not part of because the second part of that is at the same time we have--we have children are illiterate, you know? So you show somebody something and you don't prepare them at all to reach for it. You know, you say, `You're--you're an illiterate laborer, that's what you are. But here's all of this possibility. Here's all of this wonder. Here's all this amazing, you know, pageantry. And--but you can't have it.'
LAMB: On the front cover of your book...
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: ...is this--this eye right up here of what appears to be a black person.
Mr. MOSLEY: Yep.
LAMB: Black man and then you turn it around and there's a white person?
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah.
LAMB: Do you know they are?
Mr. MOSLEY: I don't--I don't know them personally. I don't know their names. I know that one guy is a black guy and one guy's a white guy and they are, in ways, eye to eye.
LAMB: Was this your idea?
Mr. MOSLEY: Well, th--a big discussion came on how we were going to make the cover of the book and th--this was the final thing. To say it was my idea would be--wouldn't be true, though it is the idea of the book. But, you know, the--the people who worked on designing it, you know, came up with many things and this was the--the best one that we saw.
LAMB: What do you think of this experience with the Library of Contemporary Thought?
Mr. MOSLEY: It's been a lot of fun. I've--I've really enjoyed it, you know. And--and I--I--you know, one thing that I think is—is that, you know, being black in America my father wanted to be able to write books and it was impossible for him. He couldn't do it. He couldn't find the road in. He tried. He just couldn't--he couldn't do it. I can. And because I can, I should be doing it. This is my 12th book and I--I--you know, and I've got my 15th waiting to come out--I mean, my--my 13th, 14th and 15th waiting to come out.
Mr. MOSLEY: Yeah. Yeah. One of them isn't done but two of them are. And I'm--I'm working hard. I'm working really hard to--to get stuff out there, to do stuff, to--to be allowed by the--the Library of Contemporary Thought to do this is wonderful. At the same time, there are no Hispanics in the Library of Contemporary Thought, there are no other black people in the Library of Contemporary Thought. I've met with the editors and said, you know, `Got to push that, too, because you can't just stop.' They're just--you know, I don't want to be the only one. I'm saying--well, you know--because, you know, it's easy to say, `Well, Walter Mosley did it so,' you know. But there are other people out there who have--who have, you know, really important things to say.
LAMB: Our guest has been novelist Walter Mosley. You can see the cover there on the screen. "Working' on the Chain Gang," his first non-fiction book. We thank you very much.
Mr. MOSLEY: Thank you.
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