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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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"Black America is America," he writes. No longer will Black Americans be exempt  from

condemnation or criticism when talk of American arrogance and indifference comes up.



Books by Walter Mosley

What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace  / Life Out of Context / Devil in A Blue Dress / Fear of the Dark  (audiobook )

 Little Scarlet (An Easy Rawlins Novel)  / Cinamon Kiss (audiobook) / This Year You Write Your Novel  /  Fortunate Son


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A Naïve Political Treatise

A Review of Walter Mosley's Life Out of Context

By Rodney D. Foxworth, Jr.


Of the canonized American literary works, James Baldwin's exquisite, provocative The Fire Next Time is one of the few that have left an indelible impress upon both my heart and mind. Essay compilation was assigned reading for my 12th grade English Literature class, alongside other works produced by African American authors considered essential reading—Invisible Man, Native Son, Black Boy, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, The Bluest Eye and Their Eyes Were Watching God included.

 Of course, as a 17-year-old high school student, I was unable to appreciate the poetic beauty and biting tongue of Baldwin's pen. It wasn't until a year later while on leave from university that I discovered the magnificence of Baldwin's talents, which are on full display in what is easily one of his most popular works.

 It can then be reasoned that comparing Walter Mosley's latest monograph, Life Out of Context , to The Fire Next Time—as Mosley's publisher has done—is a bit overzealous, as Baldwin stands as one of the most memorable African American memoirists and essayists of the 20th century. Of course, had Nation Books not made the comparison many others would have done so for them—it is simply a comparison that is too difficult not to make.

Mosley is America's most recognized and praised black male writer and social critic, and Baldwin occupied that very same position during Civil Rights America. The similarities end here, however. Baldwin's prose is enthralling and explosive; Mosley's is layman like, direct and to the point. And while The Fire Next Time nags at one's conscience and forces one to question their own reality, Life Out of Context acts as a sort of naïve political treatise crafted in the hopes of extinguishing the next time fire that has arrived.

Mosley begins this svelte book—only 104 pages long—with meditations on the space he occupies as an artist and his identity as a writer. Mosley describes this self-indulgent interrogation as necessary in his quest to realize his "own feelings and therefore [his] chances for liberation." Mosley relishes in this emancipatory act, concluding "The contexts of other writers' lives are closed to me. I don't associate with them. I don't do work that would get me access to their clubs. There's nothing else to say about it."

Content with his lot in life, Mosley moves into a sweeping discussion that touches on issues of racism, politics, generational conflict, and globalism.

"They [white slave owners and whites in general] oppressed us," laments Mosley, writing on behalf of Black America. But Mosley does not end with this lament; instead, he further pushes the boundary.

"How can we call ourselves victorious in a real sense when people live in virtual economic slavery in so many parts of the globe?" asks Mosley, in reference to the gains made by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Mosley holds a mirror to Black America, and the image reflected back might be shocking: "We are becoming what we have fought so bravely against, and in becoming our enemy, we stumble and fall."

Here, Mosley directs a finger toward Black America, alleging that Black America is culpable, too, for many of the world's inequalities and suffering. "Black America is America," he writes. No longer will Black Americans be exempt from condemnation or criticism when talk of American arrogance and indifference comes up. Instead, Mosley demands that Black Americans take a moral stand and accept the responsibility that comes along with being an American.

"We became members of the society, no matter how much that society might vilify us. And our membership carries with it responsibility, not only for our own suffering but also for those that suffer because of us and in spite of our victories."

And how might we carry out our responsibility? Mosley takes the role of lay political philosopher, arguing for a Black Political Party. Having discredited the Republican and Democratic Parties, Mosley lays forth his ideas of a distinct Black Political Party. "As long as you vote Democrat," writes Mosley "as long as you vote Republican, you will be ensuring that true democracy has no chance of existing."

 None of this is particularly innovative thinking. Political theorists and activists have espoused this position for some time. And Mosley's proposal for a Black Political Party is no new idea, though the concept has been absent from both public and political discourse for some time now. Perhaps Mosley will breathe life into the debate, though this is unlikely. While The Fire Next Time grabbed America by the jugular, Life Out of Context  has failed to make headways in the mainstream media.

Along with his proposal for a Black Political Party, Mosley's most heartfelt appeal is to his own generation, those blacks formed by the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power, whom he feels have led the present crop of African Americans astray.

"[The young people] express their frustration in music and we criticize them for it," writes Mosley.

"We say, 'You are disrespectful and self-hating.'"

"'We are your children,' they reply."

Mosley demands that younger Black Americans be heard, not merely criticized. "We should edit out all cynicism and derogatory notions from our voices and words," he writes.  "These young people are our only hope. We have to liberate them where we can, decriminalize them when necessary, detoxify them if possible—but most important we have to hear what they're telling us and make way for their leadership."

Mosley's effort is a necessary work and America needs his voice, but any comparisons to The Fire Next Time should end immediately: The Fire Next Time is an invaluable contribution to American letters never to be forgotten, while Life Out of Context is a work that might never be remembered.

Rodney D. Foxworth, Jr.
Associate Editor, LiP magazine
cultural journalist & freelance writer
Ronald E. McNair Scholar
Ph.: (410) 978-0045

"I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they came all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil."W.E.B. Du Bois

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Walter Mosley on Writing

I didn’t start off writing detective novels. The first thing I wrote was Gone Fishin’, which is Easy Rawlins and Mouse, but it wasn’t a detective novel. I sent it out, and everybody said to me, "Well, it’s good writing, but who’s going to read this?" And I go, "What do you mean?" Said, "Well, you know, white people don’t read about black people. Black women don’t like black men. And black men don’t read. So who’s going to read your book?" And so, you know, I accepted it. A lot of people, their first book, don’t get published.

So I went back, and I wrote another book about Easy and Mouse, but this time it was a mystery. And everybody was like, "Wow! That’s great! A black detective!" One guy actually said, "But, you know, there already is a black detective." And I said, "Well, you know, there’s a whole bunch of white detectives." And he goes, "I don’t see what you mean by that." But that worked.

And then it worked in ways that I didn’t expect, because everybody reads mysteries, and they don’t care who the detective is. They care about the mystery itself. And then a world gets revealed throughout that. You know, that starts with Sherlock Holmes. You know, he kind of reveals the whole empire through those short stories. And so, I just said, "Wow! This is really great. This is working. I’m getting all kinds of people to read this book." And, you know, and that’s really wonderful. . . .Well, you know, I’ve always been really bad in school. I can’t study anything I’m not interested in, or that I don’t—I can’t see a direct reason for studying it. And that was always a really bad thing. I always tell people that, you know, if you—well, if you come to, like, a young black woman and she’s going to be a writer, she’ll say—you’ll say, "Who influenced her?" And she’ll say, "Well, Phillis Wheatley and Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat and Zadie Smith." She’ll say names to you that will make you put her in higher esteem. You know, you’re going to be like Toni Morrison.

The truth is, you learn how to read when you’re a kid. Who influenced you was Nancy Drew, right? If you read Beloved at the age of eight, you would either kill yourself or your mother, right? You know, I mean, you’d say, "Mom, I read this book, and I don’t buy it. You know, so one of us has to go." I mean, that’s what you would say. You have to be an adult. But when you learn how to read, you’re a child. You love literature. It’s real. You really experience it. Your imagination is the most powerful it will ever be. You’re closer to your unconscious than you will ever again be. So you read these things that are not great literature, as E.M. Forster talks about in his book about writing. But you take the things that you love, and you make them into something.

So, like I’m really influenced by the stories my father told about his childhood. I’m very influenced by comic books: Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and Marvel Comics really kind of structured my life. Later on, you know, I read Gabriel García Márquez and Albert Camus and André Malraux, and they influenced me. But the big thing was, you know, the Fantastic 4 when I was a kid.—DemocracyNow

posted 3 March 2006 

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

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#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
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#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
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#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

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#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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update 22 April 2012




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Related files:   Devil in a Blue Dress and Cinnamon Kiss   What Next     A New Black Power     Responses to "A New Black Power"   A Naïve Political Treatise     Parameters of a Black Political Party

School Daze   A Depravity of Logic    A Report on a Gathering  at Red Emma's    Urban Legends