'It's Not That Much to Write a Novel': The Root Presents It's Lit! Unlocks the Mystery of Writing With Walter Mosley

Illustration for article titled 'It's Not That Much to Write a Novel': The Root Presents It's Lit! Unlocks the Mystery of Writing With Walter Mosley
Illustration: Angelica Alzona, Photo: Courtesy of MasterClass

Walter Mosley may be best known for writing mysteries—though his bestselling Easy Rawlins series are among the dozens of works across genres that he’s produced in the past 30 years. But the prolific author doesn’t believe there’s any mystery to writing—or any core requirements to become a writer.

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“I think that, you know, because the university has to such a great degree tried to own writing—one, because they teach literature, and two, because they make so much money off writing programs—that you know, they come from a place where “well, we’re educators” and well, you know, maybe you are,” Mosley tells us during this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! “But writers aren’t educated. You know, writers are writers. You know, writers can be hanging out on the street corner in Atlanta. You know, writers are—prisons are filled with writers—people just writing their stories down.”

The poet Etheridge Knight was one such writer—formerly incarcerated and heroin-addicted—and one Mosley credits for inspiring his own career, which didn’t start in earnest until he was in his mid-30s.

Etheridge [said], ‘When I became a poet, I was in the penitentiary. When I was in the penitentiary, I defined myself as a poet. And once I defined myself as a poet, I went to the library to figure out what it was I had become,’” recalls Mosley of the late poet. “And that’s kind of the freedom of writing, you know? Etheridge was right. He was free to write whenever he wanted to write and say whatever he wanted to say. And that’s the thing that I love about being a writer.

“I write about the world. You know, I write about the world I live in, the people I’ve known, where I wanted to go, what I hope for, what I don’t understand,” he later adds.

Mosley has a lot of insight to share about being a writer, much of which is now available to the masses via his recently launched 10-part MasterClass (which is currently offering a 2 for 1 special on memberships). And though he’s written well over 50 books since, he’s not of the commonly held belief that great writers are inherently avid readers. “I don’t necessarily equate writing and reading—I mean, I think they’re two completely different things,” he says. But Mosley clearly is an avid reader, also making a distinction between the power of books and narratives for the screen, despite having his own debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, adapted for film, and currently being a writer and executive producer on FX’s Snowfall (as well as having famously departed the writers’ room of Star Trek: Discovery last year after being censured for use of “the n-word”).

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“I don’t find the fact of watching a movie, growing me intellectually or spiritually, the way reading a book will. Because you make up the book while you’re reading it; the film is telling you everything you should be looking at, what you should be thinking, how people sound, everything...I’m not trying to say it’s useless. But it’s not as, for me, as powerful as the written word.”

Hear more of the enigmatic Walter Mosley on Episode 12 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit: Unlocking the Mystery of Writing, With Walter Mosley, now available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public. Also available is a transcript of this week’s episode.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?

DISCUSSION

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FeministOnFire

I used to love Walter Mosley! Devoured everything he wrote (including that Scifi/Alien stuff [ugh!]). Could not get enough of the world-building populated with a plethora of different personalities of Black men he did with the Easy Rawlins series. Mouse is one of the greatest, most realistic Black characters ever put on a page. And Don Cheadle embodied him, no channeled the ancestors(!) getting excited hearing about then appreciatively eating those neckbones in Devil In A Blue Dress! That remains the realest of real people scenes in any movie that I LOVE!!!

But Walter can’t get no more of my money. His fetishization and idolization of aloof blonde, Euro white women who absolutely despises and disdains Black people except periodic spurts of decency toward a single young boy or the occasional Black peen (but only when both worship and adore her with slave-ish commitment) is infuriating! This character is in every book; she is the muse occupying all the main character’s thoughts, motivations, dogged determination to provide for monetarily and willingness to die for! She is the only wholly virtuous woman in the novel (or at least the only slim, well-appointed, attractive one in anyone’s estimation because the good-hearted, long suffering Black women characters who’d do anything for Easy or Bad Boy Brawley are always fat, wearing house dresses and cooking). Walt needs some intensive therapy about this shit!

And I just can’t support anything about him when, after reading his work, I feel dirty! Like I’m complicit in his take on Black women and paying him to write it or teach it to others. Some Black women called him out on this theme at a book signing a few years ago. I never heard a single, introspective thought from him about their (my) legitimate concerns about the misogynoir and white & biracial fetishization. Not one.