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Author Walter Mosley can't be pigeonholed as a writer.
The widely successful writer of crime novels and mysteries that resemble the feel and cadence of film noir movies has penned books in every literary genre. From young adult books, erotica to science fiction and graphic novels, Mosley has seen success rare to Black writers.
His newest endeavor is as playwright. Mosley has penned "The Fall of Heaven," a play based on his latest tome "The Tempest Tales." The book recounts the conflict that arises when Tempest, while standing at the Pearly Gates of Heaven, renounces Archangel Peter's condemnation of his soul. The play is produced by Congo Square Theater Company and will run Feb. 25 through March 24 at the Beacon Street Theater Building, 4520 N. Beacon.
With wit, humor, and wisdom, Mosley spoke about his collaboration with the theater company during a Jan. 17 discussion at the Harold Washington Library Center downtown.
The bestselling author shared insights on his writing process, the state of the literary world and teased the audience with an excerpt of his upcoming Easy Rawlins' book, Little Green, out in May.
Mosley's Chicago appearance was part of a series of special events to cap off Congo Square Theater Company's 2012-13 season. It was in partnership with the Chicago Public Library, and the city's Department of Cultural Affairs.
Mosley's success came from his first Easy Rawlins novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, which was turned into a movie featuring actor Denzel Washington. Many of Mosley books depict California black life in the early 1940s and '50s, an era often not seen through a black perspective.
"Nobody reads history books, you know, because they are kind of boring," Mosley told a crowd of nearly 300. "You learn your history from hearing peoples stories either fiction or fictionalized …."
While recognized for his crime fiction, Mosley's endeavor, in what he calls Afro-futuristic science fiction, came out of necessity. He said reading science fiction or watching sci-fi movies may leave people to believe blacks don't exist in the future.
"If you watch something like Star Wars … there are no black people," said Mosley, who has authored nearly 37 books including the graphic novel Maximum Fantastic Four and the sci-fi book Futureland."
"There are always white people and aliens in the future," he added. "In writing science fiction, we are creating the future, and if we leave that up to them, we won't exist."
But the world of self-publishing is changing that. E-books and the Internet have diminished barriers preventing black authors from getting their works out. But Mosley was critical of the pushback "street lit" authors get from more established writers, who don't see the literary value in those works.
"I have a lot of street lit friends but they are much smarter than me," said Mosley, who also published an e-book called Parishioner, a crime novel where church parishioners embody every evil known to man.
"They write the book. They print the book, take the photography and do the sales and make a life," he added. "People read these books. As long as people are reading, it is a good thing. And young people are reading more today than when I was a kid."
Even with the success of Easy Rawlins and his other crime mysteries like Fearless Jones, Mosley plans to take a break from the black private detective. His next book after Easy Rawlins' series focuses on women, called "Debbie Doesn't do it Anymore," a play on words from the adult film of a similar name.
It's a departure for Mosley, who contends he wrote Easy Rawlings as a black male protagonist because that image in literature rarely exists.
"Black women have a million writers in America writing about black female heroes and black men have very few who write about black male heroes. That is why I do it," Mosley said.
But Debbie Doesn't do it Anymore, is Moseley's' first book where women are the central characters and the "men are kind of inept."
"My editor had a hard time with it, and it proves that I had written the book correctly," Mosley quipped.