My Afternoon with Walter

21 Mar

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Last Sunday I spent a lovely afternoon on the stage of the Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick interviewing, chatting, kibitzing with Walter Mosley.  I had a great time. Walter said he did too.  The audience of college professors, many from Rutgers, long-time Crossroads subscribers, teachers, lawyers, actors, retirees, friends, my husband and children, all (except probably my 12-year-old) seemed quite engaged.

Walter and I were each seated in an arm chair turned slighty toward each other, each with a hand-held microphone, a table with water and bright theater lights beaming down on us. Our conversation was free ranging, even though I had prepared 10 questions just in case our conversation lagged. It didn’t and I didn’t think it would, but you can’t ever be too prepared. Walter is a raconteur, he is hilarious, he is honest and he is smart.

I asked him about his process–if he outlined his novels before getting started.

He does not. 

He has written in many genres, which form does he prefer?

He loves it all.

“I can’t imagine doing anything other than being a writer.”

He has a play, White Lillies, opening at Crossroads in May.  The play features Mouse and Etta Mae from his Easy Rawlings series. 

Walter and I know each other but hadn’t seen each other in maybe 6, 8 years. (Neither of us could remember). I do, however, remember one of the last things he said to me. We were standing in the lobby of a building in Manhattan, Chelsea maybe, waiting for the elevator to take us to a party to celebrate Tavis Smily’s new imprint with Hay House publishing.

While we were waiting, Walter said to me what all writers say to each other as a form of greeting: What are you working on?

“Nothing,” I announced.

“What do you mean nothing. You need to get outta the suburbs. I know what goes on there, kids hang out at the 7-11. You need to be writing.”

“I know, I know, I just have…”

Before I could finish pleading my distracted by motherhood case the elevator came and about 300 people got in. After a sweaty ride, the doors opened into a large loft space and we tumbled out. Walter and I were immediately ushered into a photo being taken by 10, 20 photographers all yelling, “over here, here, Iyanla, Tavis…”

From what I can remember, which isn’t much, (I am menopausal. I should make a t-shirt), The line-up of writers lineup was: 

Tavis, Iyanla Vanzant, Cornell West, Susan Taylor, Jill Nelson, Terry McMillian, my Essence BFF Linda Villarosa and Harriette Cole.

It was one of those amazing nights, the kind that used to happen regularly in the 90s when book publishers spent big money for nice parties with good champagne for all kinds of writers, not just the ones who write blockbusters; when magazines used to have cover parties. Soon as the paparazzi moment was over, Linda and I inhaled the passed cocktails and caught up on publishing gossip.

Last Sunday, was the first time Walter and I had seen each other since that night. Back then he was still writing the Easy series, of which he’s written 11. Now, he’s up to 41 books, two movies and two plays. 

“You’re like the Black male Joyce Carol Oats,” I told him on Sunday.

“Yeah, but she’s written more books than I have.”

“Only because she started earlier.”

 I’m completely envious of his output.

In my opening comments, I told the audience what Walter had said to me that night long ago. I told them that when I was asked by my husband to host (via Marshall Jones, Producing Artistic Director of Crossroards) I only agreed to do it because I had a recently finished a book. I knew my self-esteem wouldn’t have been able to handle seeing him, if I hadn’t had a new book. Now I know Walter probably doesn’t care if I’m writing or not, but it’s a matter of the fraternity. If you’re a writer, you need to be writing.

So before our interview began, I told the audience that in my new book, Welcome to My Breakdown, I’ve written some about my hiatus. 

Walter and I did our interview, I asked him about pressure to bring Easy back and if his upcoming book Little Green, is a response to it.  

“There’s always pressure, but really publishers just want you to keep writing….I had stopped writing Easy because I wanted to write about other things.”

Easy, played by Denzel Washington in the movie by the same title, Devil in a Blue Dress, was believed to be killed off in the last book. But he comes back in Little Green.

“I didn’t mean to have him go off that cliff,” Walter said of writing Easy’s car accident scene.

The audience laughed, but I knew what he was saying wasn’t meant to be amusing. To writers things happen to our characters that we often don’t plan. They are as real to us as a next door neighbor. When we talk about them as such, civilians (what I call non-writers), often just think we’re weird or funny. 

He has written non-fiction, science fiction, novels with titles like, Debbie Doesn’t Do it Anymore and All I Did was Shoot My Man. He obviously has an appreciation for the outrageous. He’s just the kind of person I like.

 

The audience’s questions were all over—creative, personal, political.

 One question, I don’t remember what it was, but it spawned this answer:

Many Black people are angry and don’t know why. 

The difference between Black folks and other folks is we don’t have a story.

“We are angry because we don’t have a story.”

We weren’t just stolen from our land.

“They stole our story.”

His words struck me as profound, as true.

Maybe that’s why he writes so many stories. Maybe that’s why I do and maybe if we all just keep writing we’ll get to something that looks like home.

I wrote it down. 

 
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4 Responses to “My Afternoon with Walter”

  1. Rochelle March 21, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    I love this blog! Every entry validates my ambition to write my story. But as a recently turned 40 year old, who has not published at all, I know the distraction of suburban motherhood. Thank you for being you, Benilde. And thank you for encouraging me to be the full me just because you’ve shown it’s possible with your full “youness.”

    • Benilde Little March 21, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

      Thanks Rochelle for your beautiful comment. I’m so happy to hear my posts are touching something inside you. Much love and support on this journey.

  2. Otis Lee March 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    Thanks for sharing. I have been struggling with the question “Why are we so angry?”. Isn’t socio-economic? Am I passing this baggage to my son? Walter’s comment gives me another perspective to consider…

  3. Benilde Little March 25, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    Dear Otis,
    I think there’s always other perspectives to consider. As Blacks, we were stolen from Africa brought to the Americas (the Caribbean and other places) to provide free labor and our original narrative was lost. We began life here three hundred years ago in shackles and brought here in the packed, filthy, hot, dirty hull of a ship. These are facts. How each of us has dealt (deals) with the facts I’m sure is as individual as we are.
    For me, being angry ultimately only hurts me. I choose to acknowledge our American history and the strength that was required to survive; not all people could’ve done so. For me (and I think for Walter) this is where our stories begin. This is why we write.

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