Author Wes Moore answers audience questions during his author talk at Politics and Prose. Photo credit: Heather Mongilio
by Heather Mongilio
Raised by a single mother in Baltimore, author and Rhodes Scholar Wes Moore’s life could have turned out very differently.
He was born in a rougher area of Baltimore and had difficulties in school. His mother eventually sent him to military school at age 13 and his life started to turn around.
Moore enlisted in the Army at age 16, though he did not see combat, he said. He graduated from Valley Forge Military College in 1998 and from Johns Hopkins University in 2001. He then went on to study in Oxford, England as part of the Rhodes Scholar program. When he went to write his second book, his publishers suggested he write about success, but Moore said he did not know how yet to define success.
“One of the things I learned and that I realized is people are always going to give you advice on how and thoughts as to how you should navigate and the things you should do,” Moore said at an author talk at Politics and Prose on Jan. 26.
Moore’s life was guided by useful suggestions from professors and friends, but ultimately he decided how to lead his life, he said.
Moore’s life after receiving his Rhodes Scholarship, including his deployment, work as a White House fellow and experience as a Wall Street Banker, is the subject of his latest book, “The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters.”
The book is almost like a sequel to Moore’s first book, “The Other Wes Moore,” which looked at the differences between Moore and another Baltimorean also named Wes Moore, Moore said. While Moore is now an accomplished author, the other Moore is currently serving a life sentence in Jessup Correctional Institute in Jessup, Maryland.
Politics and Prose owner Lissa Muscatine, who also sat on Moore’s Rhodes Scholar selection team, joined Moore to ask him question about his new book. Other members of the section team were in the audience, as well as Moore’s friends and mother.
After Moore finished “The Other Wes Moore,” his publishers told him that many readers questioned the abrupt ending, he said. It was intentional because he tried to give equal weight to each life, both his and the other Moore’s. After Moore’s incarceration in 2000, Moore (the author) felt he could not maintain the equal weight.
“I could write about Wes’s life in the past 14 years in one paragraph,” Moore said.
Moore still visits the other Moore in Jessup Correctional Institute, he said, but he knows that others do not care for his decision.
He is aware Moore committed a crime, and he does not make excuses for Moore’s actions, he said. But a person’s actions do not separate him or her from humanity, Moore (the author) said.
“And if we’re not willing to understand Wes’s life or lives like Wes’s, then we’re just doomed to keep repeating them,” Moore said. “I just think that the worst possible takeaway from tragedy is when we act like tragedy didn’t happen because when you act like tragedy didn’t happen then tragedies keep happening.”
Understanding and spreading other people’s story is one of the reasons why Moore included stories in “The Work,” he said.
“But I do know, and I do hope, that the impact of people being able to hear these stories,” Moore said, “whether it be in a middle school in Bethesda, [Maryland], or rather it be a church group in Luxy or whether it be on legislators in Albany, I want people to know these stories because I want people to know what we’re talking about here. “
Among these stories was the tale of John Gallina and Dale Beatty, two veterans who served together. They were oversees when their jeep hit a bomb. Beatty lost his legs in the accident while Gallina suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt. Beatty was the only one to notice Gallina’s PTSD, Moore said.
After returning from service, Beatty told Gallina he wanted to build homes. Gallina noted that he had no legs and questioned how he would build homes.
“And Dale says, ‘but you do,’” Moore said.
The two created Purple Heart Homes, which helps veterans returning from oversees reach financial stability and be able to afford a home, according to the organization’s website.
“So I wanted to include these people because I thought a, they were representative of so many different ways people are making differences and how service really has become a catalyst in how they make a difference,” Moore said. “But also I wanted to include all these people because each and every one of them have been personal motivations for me as I try to discover what my worth was.”