Chapter & Verse Blog
The Manchester Literature Festival Blog
Review: Walter Mosley at Cornerhouse
It’s a classic Manchester autumn evening; urgently blowy, with rain threatening. Oxford Road is suddenly dark at 6pm. All of which make the deep red cinema seats in the Cornerhouse seem like a well-cushioned refuge. Host Jerome de Groot introduces Walter Mosley, and the tone to come; the author's subject matter comprises a thrilling list: “gangsters, dope smuggling, violence…”. Mosley has written 37 novels. So, precise, yet prolific.
Mosley opens with two chapters from Little Green, his newest novel featuring longtime hero Easy Rawlins. He references the length of his chosen reading almost in apology as he knows that in the book trade “the shorter you read, the more books you sell”. A quick, decisive aside this may be, but it foreruns his style. There is no fat to trim here.
I like to think that Mosley writes like he reads, words spilling out, with the occasional void in which to take stock. De Groot applauds his “control and movement between the past and present. How do you do that?” Mosley replies that 90% of art is unconscious. “I write every day… the rest of the day, it grows”. He has written this way nearly every day, for 25 years. And he started writing at 34, another reassuring point for a shy beginner.
When Mosley started, he said, “I was already a failure… and no matter what happens in your life, you’re still a failure”. Later, in response to an audience question, he elaborates. His life was filled with dope smoking, alcoholism, being thrown out of college. He stopped this to become a computer programmer but was “waiting for inspiration… living a happenstance life”, and then “I found writing, I loved it, and I was good at it”.
Belonging, and lack of, is a theme in his work, as you would expect from someone writing about a black hero in mid 20th century America. As to why this book puts Easy in the context of the 60s hippie movement, Mosley states “if your people aren’t in literature you don’t exist”. There is a mission here, which lends further urgency to his work. On to the audience questions, which Mosley answers each directly to the questioner, interested in their reasons for asking, and then moving on. No fat here either. To one question, he replies that “reading is one of the only things that helps people’s minds grow”. Again he hints at his purpose and the value of the act of writing for him.
And like that, the session is over. It feels short, but has been an hour. He is a wonderful speaker, with a spare and entrancing style. I am keen to go and consume Little Green, with my reader's ability to stop, start and read again, to catch all of his meaning in my own time. He finishes with typically concise and meaning-filled words about his work: “I do what I do, and I hope that people like it – and that the right people don’t.
About the writer: Jennie Shorley Carling is an Enterprise Fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University, working in and studying university-society relationships. She loves reading and writing, and harbours ambitions of dog ownership.