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Finding a Way Home

Finding a Way Home: A Critical Assessment of Walter Mosley's Fiction

Owen E. Brady
Derek C. Maus
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Finding a Way Home
    Book Description:

    Essays by Owen E. Brady, Kelly C. Connelly, Juan F. Elices, Keith Hughes, Derek C. Maus, Jerrilyn McGregory, Laura Quinn, Francesca Canadé Sautman, Daniel Stein, Lisa B. Thompson, Terrence Tucker, and Albert U. Turner, Jr.

    In Finding a Way Home, thirteen essays by scholars from four countries trace Walter Mosley's distinctive approach to representing African American responses to the feeling of homelessness in an inhospitable America. Mosley (b. 1952) writes frequently of characters trying to construct an idea of home and wrest a sense of dignity, belonging, and hope from cultural and communal resources. These essays examine Mosley's queries about the meaning of "home" in various social and historical contexts. Essayists consider the concept--whether it be material, social, cultural, or virtual--in all three of Mosley's detective/crime fiction series (Easy Rawlins,Socrates Fortlow, andFearless Jones), his three books of speculative fiction, two of his "literary" novels (RL's Dream,The Man in My Basement), and in his recent social and political nonfiction.

    Essays here explore Mosley's modes of expression, his testing of the limitations of genre, his political engagement in prose, his utopian/dystopian analyses, and his uses of parody and vernacular culture.Finding a Way Homeprovides rich discussions, explaining the development of Mosley's work.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-335-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. IX-XXIV)
    Owen E. Brady and Derek C. Maus

    Home is one of the great themes and tropes of the African American literary tradition. Writers from Frederick Douglass to W. E. B. Du Bois to Walter Mosley have made clear their desire for a place to be somebody, a place to feel at home, respected, secure, and comfortable. Certainly any catalogue of those who prominently engage this theme in the post–World War II period alone include Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison.¹ Situating home exclusively in terms of its desirability tropes it as a normative ideal; however, the discourse in African American writing reveals home...

  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. XXV-2)
  6. Walter Mosley’s RL’s Dream and the Creation of a Blutopian Community
    (pp. 3-17)
    Daniel Stein

    RL’s Dream(1995), Walter Mosley’s first non-Easy Rawlins novel, begins with bluesman Soupspoon Wise’s grueling crawl from an old man’s shelter to his Lower East Side apartment. Soupspoon is in agony—cancer causes “[p]ain [that] moved up . . . [his] hipbone like a plow breaking through hard sod”—but he is driven “toward home” by his desire to leave the shelter with its “disheveled . . . gibbering and farting men calling out to people who weren’t there.” By “imagining being home again” and by embracing his pain as a “new music,” he finds the strength to make it...

  7. Socrates Fortlow’s Odyssey: The Quest for Home and Self
    (pp. 18-29)
    Owen E. Brady

    Using the trope of the house to signify the more encompassing concept of home, Walter Mosley participates in an American literary tradition that has given central place to the image of the house.¹ Mosley’s entire corpus from his Easy Rawlins mystery series (begun in 1990) to his more recentThe Man in My Basement(2004) to his nonfiction such asBlack Genius(1999),Workin’ on the Chain Gang(2000), andWhat Next(2003) may be read as an extended reflection on this theme of home as the site for self-fashioning and rebuilding a sense of community.² Like Emerson, Mosley uses...

  8. Walter Mosley, Socratic Method, and the Black Atlantic
    (pp. 30-43)
    Keith Hughes

    In “The American Dream and the American Negro” (1965), one of his many essays on the difficulty of merelybeinga black American, James Baldwin identifies a systemic and historical resistance in American culture to the African American’s right to belong: “It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and identity has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you. . . . You are 30 by now and nothing you have done has helped you escape the trap. But what is...

  9. Devil with the Blue Eyes: Reclaiming the Human against Pure Evil in Walter Mosley’s The Man in My Basement
    (pp. 44-57)
    Francesca Canadé Sautman

    Walter Mosley’sThe Man in My Basement(2004) begins with the simplest of questions: “Mr. Blakey?” (3). Intoned by Anniston Bennet at the door of Charles Blakey’s family home on Sag Harbor, Long Island, that question, filled with sinister undertones, seems familiar to the reader of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series; the less-than friendly white man, peering at the hero-narrator from his doorway, announces trouble. A small white man endowed with a substantial bank account, a mysterious profession, and undisclosed power, Bennet pressures Blakey to rent him the basement of his three-story home for the summer for an unusually large sum...

  10. Easy Women: Black Beauty in Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins Mystery Series
    (pp. 58-69)
    Lisa B. Thompson

    In the summer of 2006, HBO Films shocked many by casting Jeffrey Wright as Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins in their film adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novelLittle Scarlet(2004) instead of Denzel Washington who originated the role on the big screen in 1995.¹ Also of note was their replacement of Don Cheadle with Mos Def as Easy’s friend Raymond “Mouse” Alexander. African American actors seek these roles because Mosley creates complex, strong black male characters that are a rarity in American cinema. Yet I found myself equally compelled by the question of which actresses the studio planned to cast in the...

  11. The Visible Man: Moving Beyond False Visibility in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins Novels
    (pp. 70-83)
    Kelly C. Connelly

    Both Ralph Ellison and Walter Mosley explore the predicament of the black man¹ struggling to define his identity, to find a home within his community, by making himself visible as an individual. In attempting to locate their own place in the world, the narrator ofInvisible Man(1952) and Easy Rawlins, the protagonist in Mosley’s most popular series of detective novels, try on various disguises that the black man has hidden behind in order to survive in America. These disguises have offered safety to the black man, by masking his individuality and rendering him nonthreatening to the white community. Both...

  12. Fearless Ezekiel: Alterity in the Detective Fiction of Walter Mosley
    (pp. 84-96)
    Jerrilyn McGregory

    In his work Walter Mosley has created a diverse cast of African American male characters that oppose a prevailing essentialist view of identity. Two of the most powerfully counteractive characters in this vein are Tristan “Fearless” Jones and Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins.¹ Mosley reveals Fearless “out” in all his rage and fury, whereas Easy chiefly operates on the “downlow,” protective of his home and hearth. Easy typifies the folkloric trickster archetype and Fearless functions as the quintessential “badman” vernacular hero. Although they represent different character types, Fearless and Easy each exist as examples of the Other from the perspective of mainstream...

  13. American Negroes Revisited: The Intellectual and The Badman in Walter Mosley’s Fearless Jones Novels
    (pp. 97-108)
    Terrence Tucker

    When asked byPublishers Weeklywhether he sees the post-WWII moment as “a particularly seminal time for America or African Americans,” Walter Mosley argued that the period is “an important time that hasn’t gotten much play in the media. Back then, black people migrated in great droves out of the south, went north and tried to create a new life for themselves. And those migrations haven’t been talked about very much in history, much less fiction” (Hahn 54). Much has been made of what is called “The Great Migration,” which spans 1910 to 1930, as African Americans escaped the Jim...

  14. At Home on “These Mean Streets”: Collaboration and Community in Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins Mystery Series
    (pp. 109-120)
    Albert U. Turner Jr.

    In the Easy Rawlins mystery series, Walter Mosley employs many devices common to conventional hard-boiled detective fiction. This nine-text series features trenchant autodiegetic narration, a forbidding and alienating cityscape, and a full complement of transgressive tough guys, femme fatales, crooked cops, and amoral elites. Furthermore, Mosley’s construction of Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins as a hard-boiled protagonist links detection and philosophical inquiry into the nature of human evil. At base, these elements of Mosley’s detective fiction evoke the hard-boiled writing of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and John D. MacDonald—authors Mosley identifies as significant influences on his early artistic efforts (Wilson 26)....

  15. The Mouse Will Play: The Parodic in Walter Mosley’s Fiction
    (pp. 121-132)
    Laura Quinn

    In “Parody and Detective Fiction” (1997), Janice MacDonald claims, “There are reasons to believe that parody is at work within the genre of detective fiction.” Among the reasons are these: detective fiction “creates the context necessary for audience recognition of parody” since readership tends to be habitual, even addictive; additionally, the formulaic specificity of the genre, its repetitive conventionality, has inherent parodic potential (63). As an element of the formula itself, parody is “designed both to foster credibility and to generate new material within the highly mechanical formula” (68). According to MacDonald, it achieves both goals in the detective novel...

  16. Shadows of an Imminent Future: Walter Mosley’s Dystopia and Science Fiction
    (pp. 133-147)
    Juan F. Elices

    Scholars and critics of Walter Mosley have tended to focus primarily on his detective fiction, the work for which he is most acclaimed. His Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones series stand among the best mystery novels that have been published in recent decades, mostly because Mosley does not purport to write stereotypical hard-boiled narratives but to examine the deeply rooted racial components that underlie contemporary society. Race clearly informs and nurtures Mosley’s writing, and his works are embedded in the longstanding traditions of African American history and literature. However, his science fiction (hereafter, SF) has passed comparatively unnoticed both among...

  17. Cyberfunk: Walter Mosley Takes Black to the Future
    (pp. 148-160)
    Derek C. Maus

    Walter Mosley is not a writer whose career has found him predominantly working in the genre of speculative fiction. With his collection of stories entitledFutureland(2001), however, Mosley returned to the genre in which he previously found critical and commercial success with his novelBlue Light(1998). Numerous reviewers compared Mosley’s speculative stories of the near future with the “cyberpunk” novels of such writers as William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, and, to be certain, parallels of characterization, theme, and aesthetics do abound. Folio Johnson, Mosley’s streetwise, technologically enhanced private eye—cleverly refashioned as “the Electric Eye”—is a descendant...

  18. Epilogue: Whither Walter? A Brief Overview of Mosley’s Recent Work
    (pp. 161-176)
    Owen E. Brady and Derek C. Maus

    Time and Walter Mosley wait for no critics, a fact that greatly complicates the task of presenting a thorough overview of his work. During the three years in which we were assembling this volume, Mosley continued his published exploration of the myriad meanings of home at a rate that makes the seemingly brisk pace of his early career seem almost slothful. Between May 2005 and May 2008, he published an astonishing eleven book-length works: the young-adult novel 47 in May 2005;Cinnamon Kiss, the ninth installment of the Easy Rawlins series, in September 2005; a memoir/political essay entitledLife Out...

  19. Works Cited
    (pp. 177-188)
  20. Contributors
    (pp. 189-192)
  21. Index
    (pp. 193-196)