Prize-winning novelist Walter Mosley talks black science fiction, capitalism

May 16, 2018, 1:03 a.m.

On Tuesday evening, award-winning novelist Walter Mosley spoke with political activist Mia Birdsong about black science fiction, capitalism and technology. The event was sponsored by McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, Continuing Studies, Stanford Storytelling Project and the Creative Writing Program.

Mosley, who commits to writing at least two or three hours every day, has published 56 books, the most well-known being his “Easy Rawlins” series about an army veteran turned private investigator.

Mosley has published a diverse portfolio of detective mysteries, plays, young adult, nonfiction and political essays. However, a common thread that runs through his writing, including his latest book “Down the River unto the Sea,” is the story of the black man’s life in America.

Mosley focused his talk on his science fiction works.

“I wanted to explore the notion of the soul, and … mystery is not going to do that, so I wrote ‘Blue Light,’” said Mosley, referring to his turn from mystery novels to science fiction.

He explained that while many readers view the genre as an escape, it is in fact “one of the foundational building blocks in the creation of the future.”

“If you don’t write science fiction that includes black people in America and elsewhere, then we don’t have a future,” he said. “The future that gets created is one we don’t live in and we don’t imagine and don’t create.”

Associate Director of Sophomore College and Introductory Seminars Dayo Mitchell, who attended the event, said that she was surprised by how funny Mosley was.

Event attendee Hannah Feinstein echoed Mitchell’s sentiments.

“He doesn’t really hold back, he just says what he thinks,” she said. “And I really like that.”

A recurring theme throughout the talk was critique of capitalism. When Birdsong asked Mosley what makes the perspective of a black science fiction writer different from that of a white writer, Mosley responded that it was the experience of slavery.

“[Black people] are the first modern property of capitalism,” he said.

He went on to say that that the experience of having one’s body, life and child belong to someone else made black people understand how certain nations felt when America embarked on military operations abroad in the name of freedom.

When asked which inventor or technology he would eliminate and why, Mosely responded with Edison for his “incredibly capitalistic approach to invention.”

“He made the beauty of scientific discovery into property,” Mosley said. “And that’s how we’re living with it today.”

Mosley also reflected on the connection between capitalism and technology.

He questioned what would happen if people started ”to judge technology not on how much money it makes — which is mostly how we do it — but what kind of human beings it’s making,” adding that humanity changes with every technological advance.

So, what’s next for the prolific writer? It seems that the conceiver of future worlds will be taking a look toward the past. Mosley’s newest book, “John Woman,” is about a deconstructionist historian and the idea that history is changing and being reinterpreted every day. It is scheduled for release in September.

Upon getting her book signed, Mitchell, who is currently teaching a class on slavery in the Caribbean, thanked Mosley for talking so much about history.

“Well,” he responded, “the only way to understand the future is to engage with the past.”


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