Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Walter Mosley in Orlando

This past weekend was the weekend of CAMEX. I work for the National Association of College Stores and our yearly tradeshow is called CAMEX. This year the event took place in Orlando. Most of CAMEX would probably not be of much interest to you, but if you remember back to last year at this time, I wrote about the Book and Author Breakfast that is a part of CAMEX. This year was especially exciting for me because the three guests were Dwayne Betts, author of the memoir A QUESTION OF FREEDOM, Dave Isay, author of LISTENING IS AN ACT OF LOVE, and...WALTER MOSLEY!!! Yes, I typed that correctly, Walter Mosley attended our CAMEX Book and Author Breakfast this year.

I was thrilled beyond belief to have the opportunity to escort him from the hotel to the conference center. Bless his heart, he asked questions about the blog. And I happily filled him in. We also talked a little about bookstores.

All three authors had wonderful presentations for the audience. Dwayne Betts is a young man whose life was changed when he started reading in jail. He spoke about an anonymous person who slid THE BLACK POETS under his cell door when he was in isolation. Dwayne pointed out that an author requires a witness, that the author's words aren't complete until someone witnesses them. Many times it requires an intermediary to get those words to their witnesses. And someone sharing THE BLACK POETS with him was the only way he would have learned about it; that anonymous person changed his life and turned him into a witness. His statements were directed at the booksellers of course, but I also took a little away from that. I took away a sense that this hobby may make a difference to someone down the line; a difference I may never know anything about. It was encouragement for me to continue talking about books that I enjoy, books that mean a lot to me. And reinforcement that there should only be room here on the blog for the books I like. The important role is the one where I encourage a person to pick up a book; not the role where I encourage a person to avoid a book.

The next author to speak was Dave Isay. Dave Isay is the founder of a project called StoryCorps. If you listen to NPR you may know about this project as they play some of the stories on Friday mornings. The objective is to record people's stories, all people's stories, everyday people's stories. I think it is such an amazing idea. As Dave spoke I thought about all the people who should be participating in this project. It's also a reminder of something we all should be doing to save the stories of our families. He included some audio of people's recordings, including a husband and wife who had been with Martin Luther King, Jr. the night before he was assassinated. A pair of cousins who spoke about a neighbor of their grandmother's, Ms. Devine, who caught them lying. A man who related the story of his father, a chauffeur, staying up all night to teach himself algebra in order to be able to teach it to his son. Dave also played an animation of an interview done by a twelve-year-old with Asberger's Syndrome with his mother. The stories were funny and emotional and all worthy of being recorded for all time.

Walter Mosley wrapped up this year's program. He started off his presentation talking about the fact that he's uncomfortable trying to sell his book to people. It was very much his way of saying he didn't intend to stand up and try to talk people into buying his book. Instead, he shared some wonderful stories. The audience loved his stories; they loved him. He was animated, warm, funny and sincere.

Walter's first story tied back to Dwayne Betts. Dwayne had mentioned Etheridge Knight's influence on him as a poet. So Walter talked about a poetry convention he attended when he first thought he wanted to be a writer. Three poets spoke of stories that discourage Walter from wanting to pursue a life of writing, but Etheridge Knight opened Walter's heart to the possibilities of writing. Then Walter turned his story to a reference from Dave Isay's presentation, and he spoke about a story Studs Terkle told him about a young man burglarizing his home.

The Walter went on to talk about people who truly love books. These people create a world that allows people like Walter to survive and even thrive. True booksellers create an environment and an atmosphere where books can live, a place where people's lives can be changed.

And possibly my favorite part of Walter's presentation was the end when he spoke about his new series character Leonid McGill. You may have read my review of his first book, THE LONG FALL, and the second Leonid McGill novel, KNOWN TO EVIL will be released later this month. Walter sees Leonid McGill as a representation of America. For years Leonid has been on the wrong side of the law doing very bad things. Now he is trying to change, and that change is not a simple decision. We (America) have been doing wrong all over the world, doing wrong to people in prisons, elderly people, sick people...we do all kinds of things wrong, and now just a tiny bit we want to try and do things right. Walter says this is almost and impossible task and that's why he enjoys telling Leonid's story so much.

Following the presentations, the authors all held court and signed books. I was honored (and tickled pink) to assist Walter with his signing. He was convivial and personal, but still quick, allowing everyone to get their book signed. We even ran out of books.

Afterward, Walter posed for this picture with me. I'm going to have it enlarged to lifesize and hung in my living room! Just kidding. But it is a very precious prize to me.

Finally, I was afforded the opportunity to walk Walter back to his hotel. And I managed to almost get us lost twice. Mind you the hotel was across the street from the convention center! But we had a wonderful time chatting about everything from comic books to James Joyce. Then, Walter gave me a kiss! I plan to never wash my cheek again!

But seriously, he is an amazing man. He's funny and smart and generous and kind. Walter Mosley is the stuff heroes are made of. I am so incredibly honored to have had the chance to meet him and talk to him. I will treasure this day forever! Thank you for letting me share it with you.


Naomi Johnson March 16, 2010 at 8:42 AM  

Even now Keith Rawson is gnashing his teeth over your post as he tries to nail down an interview with Walter Mosley...

Wonderful recap, Jen.

Kaye Barley March 16, 2010 at 8:54 AM  

Jen - this is just wonderful. And you know what? I'll bet Mr. Mosley will remember the event - because of you - as fondly as you do.

and about that picture?! Priceless!!!


rhapsodyinbooks March 16, 2010 at 9:37 AM  

How lucky you were! I love Mosley's comments about Leonid McGill. I hadn't seen that when I read The Long Fall (I was too busy imagining Denzel Washington in the lead).

Bradford March 16, 2010 at 12:21 PM  

Great posting and story. Can you share any of your conversation with Walter about comic books? Very curious.

Jen Forbus March 16, 2010 at 8:40 PM  

Thanks everyone. Glad you enjoyed the recap. I loved reliving it while I wrote it.

Bradford, I'd be more than happy to tell you what we talked about as far as comic books go, but I know very little, so the names he was throwing out didn't mean anything to me and I didn't remember them. We were discussing the MegaCon that was going on right next to CAMEX,though. I mentioned that there was a Ghostbusters car there and he told me Ghostbusters was very much a crossover-type movie. And we were taking notice of some folks in fatigues, wondering if they were soldiers or dressed for the convention. Sorry I don't have more detail to share with you than that.

Pop Culture Nerd March 17, 2010 at 2:55 AM  

Great report of what sounds like a fantastic weekend. You got to be Mosley's escort! Didn't you have Elizabeth Gilbert one year as a speaker? Nice gig you have there.

And why were you kidding about blowing up that picture and hanging it in your living room? Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

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