I stopped at the Valley Bookseller yesterday and bought a copy of Gordon Park’s Choice Of Weapons. I’ve been engrossed with the book and finished it today. Park’s non-fictional autobiography is strikingly similar to the fiction of Walter Mosley. The experiences and histories of Easy Rawlins and his friends and family are similar to those of Gordon Park’s. Both relate the African-American experience in twentieth-century America. I now realize that Mosley does not exaggerate to give his stories impact. He describes in his fiction an actual world; a world that for me, who grew up in a lily-white city in the upper Midwest, was completely invisible. The only way I know about it is through reading, whether fiction like Mosley or non-fiction like Park’s or Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth Of Other Suns.
There are lessons in Choice of Weapons about creativity and success. Park studied his craft. He studied photos of the greats and read their works. When he decided on photography, he jumped right in without giving way to self-doubt or fears. He took risks, sometimes great risks that put himself and his family at risk of financial ruin. He built strong relationships that often were extremely helpful to him. For example, one early friend and owner of a camera shop extended credit and helped Park get the equipment he needed. He was fearless. When he was still a teenager he took a gig playing piano at a house of ill repute even though he had never played in public before. He had the nerve to approach a bandleader at the St Paul Hotel to tell him that he wrote music. He worked hard and practiced his craft. And, he probably had a naturally good eye for photography. When he sent his very first roll of film into a shop for developing, the people at the shop were impressed enough to offer to help him set up a show. All and all, I think that what impressed me most was Park’s lack of fear or doubt.
P.S. There are currently two exhibits in Minneapolis of Park’s work, one at the Mill City Museum and one at Juxtaposition Arts. Choice Of Weapons is also the current selection for the Minneapolis Reads program. I didn’t know any of this before I bought the book yesterday. Then, on the evening local news I saw a story about the exhibit at Mill City.