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Updated 2:00 PM February 11, 2005




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  MLK Symposium closing lecture
Author says each person's responsibility is to bear witness

To bear witness by talking, writing or otherwise expressing to other people important truths that you have experienced quite possibly is one of the most difficult things for a person to do, said author Walter Mosley during a Jan. 31 lecture.
Mystery writer Walter Mosley speaks to a Rackham Auditorium audience Jan. 31. Mosley, who closed the University's annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium with his lecture, said bearing witness—speaking of one's experiences to other people—is one of the most difficult things for a person to do. (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)

"I did not want to talk about the topic of bearing witness because, I knew, that in some way it would change me and I don't like to change," Mosley told an audience at Rackham Auditorium.

He was the closing lecturer for the University's 18th annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. His lecture, "Bearing Witness," included discussion about perceptions among individuals of different races of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mosley is a noted fiction writer, best known for his Easy Rawlins series of mysteries that features an African American detective. His work, which includes science fiction, political essay and literary fiction, consistently portrays African American protagonists.

Without fully realizing it, Mosley said, he was bearing witness through his writing. His first works were based on his observations about his father.

"All I wanted was to celebrate Black lives that were never published," Mosley said, explaining that there are few books that feature African American lead characters.

Taking the audience through a sequence of books that he wrote, Mosley showed how he had progressed in his personal journey of bearing witness.

"Every word means something, this is what I know about writing," Mosley said. "That's why I am a fiction writer. It is honest, because it is full of people without a need to lie."

Still, it has been a challenging journey, he said.

"My heart got in the way of their heads and their pocketbooks," he said, referring to how publishers would try to influence what he should or should not be writing about, based on their beliefs of what kinds of books might sell.

This led him to publish his Easy Rawlins prequel "Gone Fishin'" through a small African American publishing house—Black Classic Press.

From his experience, Mosley said that in order to effectively bear witness, one must remember that blaming others is most easy, and one should never forget to do one's own part.

"Truth is the attempt to tell it," he said. "If you do all you can, that can't be taken away."

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