At forum, writer will talk about 'bearing witness'

April 04, 2005|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,Sun Staff

Novelist and social commentator Walter Mosley wants you to place your feet in the shoes of those who currently walk along war-torn Iraqi soil. Then he wants you to bring those shoes home: If America, he wonders, were ruled by an oppressive regime, would we want a foreign nation to come to our rescue, and would the end result of democracy justify both their means and our casualties?

The author of acclaimed works Devil in a Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned wants you to take your response to that question to tonight's humanities forum at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he will discuss the Iraq war and other provocative issues as a means of hammering away at what he calls the practice of "bearing witness."

"Some people think that writers are educators, but I look at writers as people who open dialogue to questions," said Mosley, 53, who will speak at a forum that features professionals in contemporary philosophy, history, culture, language and literature in an opendiscussion format.

He will speak at the Daphne Harrison Lecture, named in honor of a professor emeritus and former chair of African- American studies at UMBC.

"I want to open a dialogue for bearing witness and what that entails in our everyday lives," said Mosley. "What does it mean to bear witness and how difficult it is. How people respond is up to them and that's how I want it."

Mosley has published 19 books that have been translated in 21 languages over 15 years, but tonight, he intends to read from a work that has never gone to press, which he said he occasionally does when he seeks to delve into the business of truth-telling.

"Bearing witness is everything from telling the truth to saying you see in a more complex fashion," he said, adding because of the emotions often tied to current events "it's almost impossible to do that."

And that's why Mosley said that he does not intend to speak from a position of authority, adding that he often struggles with the process of bearing witness as much as anyone else.

What is important, he says, is making a genuine attempt to discuss some of the more controversial issues of the day in an open forum with as much objectivity as possible.

"It's a very [complex] problem talking about bearing witness," he said. "One of the things is that we're very limited beings and our knowledge of the truth is sometimes an emotional thing and not objective.

"I would like to discuss if we in America feel that the proportion of people being killed [in Iraq] would be worth one of our elections, and if it was, would we like an external force to make that decision.

"I personally would worry about that. But you have to bring such issues to the forefront before you can make that decision.

"We listen to people say that countries have weapons of mass destruction, they bore witness and they're wrong. We're not making decisions together. We're letting others make decisions for us, and they're making mistakes."

Mosley has tackled many genres and issues throughout his literary career.

He earned fame with the 1990 Blue Dress, a mystery that was a springboard to several novels revolving around the character Easy Rawlins.

That book was made into a 1995 movie of the same name that starred Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals.

Mosley's literary fiction Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned became the film production Always Outnumbered that starred Laurence Fishburne, Natalie Cole and Cicely Tyson.

In 2002, he won a Grammy award for his liner notes accompanying Richard Pryor ...And It's Deep Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992).

But Mosley has also received acclaim for his efforts to draw attention to social problems. He has won the Anisfield-Wolf Award, an honor given to works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America.

Meanwhile, as a novelist, Mosley continues to bear witness to the notion that writers write. Mosley said he now writes "two new books a year," and he finished his latest novel last week.

His earlier works in the Easy Rawlins series were published by the Baltimore-based Black Classic Press in 1997. Mosley said he opted to go to the small publishing house to show writers that it's possible to publish a book successfully outside of New York's mainstream houses.

A Los Angeles-born writer who lives in New York, Mosley said that any writer with a dream of becoming a novelist must begin by simply putting thoughts on paper.

"There is no way you can sit down and plan a creative act," he said, "but when you're writing is when characters are created."


What: The Daphne Harrison Lecture, Bearing Witness with novelist and social commentator Walter Mosley

When: 7 tonight

Where: University of Maryland, Baltimore County, University Center Ballroom

Cost: Free

Call: 410-455-6798

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