Fiction, Race, and Representation

Walter Mosley

Lesson time 10:47 min

Representation in fiction is a reflection of our culture. Walter explains the importance of existing in literature and what inspired him to create his most famous protagonist: Easy Rawlins.

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Topics include: If You Don’t Exist in Fiction, You Don’t Exist in History · Representation Matters · Seeing Yourself in Fiction · Creating the World of Easy Rawlins · Tell Me a Good Story


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Fiction, which is the seat of desire, is what tells us what our world is like, what we wish our world was like, what it had been, and what we wished it had been. When you read western fiction-- and it's probably true of everywhere else, too-- you'll find that before 1920, as a rule, there were no women outside of certain roles in fiction. There were no people of color out of certain roles in history. They didn't really have a history. They were supporting characters to a broad white male story. Those people, those characters, nobody imagined that a woman could be strong enough to knock out a man because no woman was written about like that. Nobody could imagine that a Black man could understand the theory of relativity because nobody had written about that. Nobody could imagine a sophisticated, sensitive Indian, Native American. If you want to be in the culture, in the history of the culture, considered in that history, then you have to exist in the fiction. If you don't exist in the literature of that country, your people don't exist. People are not going to read history. They're not going to study. They're not going to think about-- newspapers aren't going to cover your people. So I wanted to write about Black people living in Los Angeles, now along Central Avenue, and what their lives are like, and where they came from, and what they were thinking, and what they were eating, and what music they were listening to and making and creating, and what kind of trouble they got into. And if I could write about that, then other people could read about it and say, hey, wow, my life is a lot like their lives are. And then you're a part of history. [MUSIC PLAYING] When I'm thinking about the history of literature, of film, of theater, it becomes so difficult to wonder if it's all been a conspiracy because it kind of feels like a conspiracy because what happens is, if everything that you see and read has nothing to do with the people you know and love, then you begin to think that you and your people are in some way lesser. I remember reading "Treasure Island". I love "Treasure Island", you know. And I wasn't thinking about race, so it wasn't that there all these white people, except at the very end, Long John Silver escapes. And he escapes because his Negress had rowed a boat up the thing, and she helped him into the boat and then rode away with him. And I went, Negress? What's that? Like it sounds like Negro. I guess it was Black. And I kind of liked seeing a Black person. And then I kind of like-- but it pointed out that I hadn't seen any so far. You know, from the beginning of the 19th century, there were lots of people of color all over because, you know, they owned the world. People came from Africa, from India, from China, you know, from the New World, and they lived in England. But in the costume dramas, there's only white people. It's a lie. It's a lie about how the world existed. So I have two...

About the Instructor

Walter Mosley, bestselling author and recipient of the National Book Award’s Lifetime Achievement Medal, has written more than 60 books over his 30-year career and is celebrated for fiction that addresses our culture’s racial divides. Now he’s sharing the elements of storytelling that have helped him along the way. Learn how to choose the right words, structure, genre, and characters to create the novel that’s in you.

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Walter Mosley

In his MasterClass, Walter Mosley teaches you how to rethink genres and the “rules” of fiction and how to approach writing your own novel.

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