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INTERVIEWER

Which writers inform your work? Clearly you’ve read Dashiell Hammett. 

MOSLEY

I read a lot of Hammett, Chandler, Ross Macdonald. Macdonald is the best wordsmith, even if all his stories are kind of the same. I do like Doyle, for Sherlock Holmes. And I like Langston Hughes and his Simple stories. I go all over the place with science fiction. I like science-fiction short stories. I like them even more when they’re interrelated. And I like Baldwin—he is one of the great voices of African American writing, though I’m mostly drawn to his nonfiction. He’s so cool in his anger, so smart. Giovanni’s Room is very good. 

INTERVIEWER

Giovanni’s Room is excellent. I’m frequently looking for that sort of overlap in the African American experience, specifically the overlap of race and sexuality, like Baldwin’s experiences as a gay black man. It’s not easily found. 

MOSLEY

I remember talking to a writer about Langston Hughes. She said that Hughes took her to Paris, but then got off the boat and just disappeared. She didn’t see him again until it was time to get on the plane and leave. That’s because his life as a gay man had to be hidden. That’s why the interlocutor in the Simple stories just didn’t have a character, didn’t have a life. It’s hard. Chester Himes wrote an autobiography in which he discusses his time in prison, talking about all of his gay experiences, and I’m thinking, God, I like Himes so much more than Ellison. Ellison just wrote that one novel and, excuse me, but you can get better. But the honesty of Himes, about his life, is just extraordinary.  

INTERVIEWER

Has any of your fiction been inspired by experiences from your own life?

MOSLEY

Probably. Nowadays, a lot of people—I’m sure it was true for some of your classmates at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—are writing about themselves. You know, like, I was in the car and I was driving and we had an accident and I broke my leg and for three weeks I had sex with my sister.

INTERVIEWER

I think I turned that story in once. 

MOSLEY

But I’m writing about a people, about black male heroes. Who writes about black male heroes? Langston Hughes, somewhat. And then, after that, it gets really sparse. I mean, there are a lot of black male protagonists, from Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ellison, Chester Himes. But someone like Easy? Or Mouse or Jackson Blue or Fearless Jones or Paris Minton—the guy you want to go to if you’re in trouble? There are very few people who write about those kinds of heroes. When white people do it, they’re always drinking Dom Pérignon from the neck. It’s bullshit. 

INTERVIEWER

Do you, as a writer, feel a responsibility to write about these black heroes?

MOSLEY

That’s like saying, When you’re having sex with your girlfriend, do you feel a responsibility to make her feel happy? I guess you would say yes, but it’s not really about that. I’m writing about people I love. Your grandmother is sick, you’re going to take care of her. Somebody says, Do you feel a responsibility to go take care of her? It’s my grandmother, she’s sick, man, what the fuck? I got to go there.