Barry Moser grew up in Chattanooga during the Jim Crow era when, as he was taught, "the black race was, in all but a few cases, a people who were lazy, dishonest, shiftless, smelled bad and needed to know and stay in their place — hat in hand, preferably."
"We had family members who were Klansmen," he recalls. "We were taught that white, Southern, Christian people were superior to everybody else. Our family hated Jews as much as they did black people, and they were mighty distrustful of Roman Catholics, too."
That oppressive racism is one of the main reasons Moser, an award-winning artist, left after graduating in 1962 from the University of Chattanooga (now University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). He now lives in New England.
But he returned to those memories for his newly published memoir, "We Were Brothers." He'll speak Tuesday at UTC about the book and his childhood.
"Both Moser's talk and the memoir itself will interest a wide audience of readers," says Verbie Prevost, professor of American literature at UTC, "those who appreciate Moser's outstanding art; those interested in a memoir of a Chattanooga native who became painfully aware of the racism surrounding him in his childhood, and those intrigued by a poignant story of brotherly estrangement and reconciliation."
The book details Moser's turbulent relationship with his late brother, Tommy. The brothers fought a lot and rarely spoke to each other as adults. It was only after an argument just eight years before his brother's death that they finally decided to make peace.
The book, which includes Moser's own illustrations, was difficult yet therapeutic to write, he says.
"One doesn't approach the subject of a nettled brotherhood whimsically. One doesn't expose his jugular with mirth," he explains.
Moser says he and his brother were "polar opposites" in everything from politics to religion to food. Trying to understand why they were the way they were is what drove Moser to write the memoir.
"What I hoped to do was to find out why that happened. What dynamics were at play that often turned our brotherhood into a maelstrom of violence? I am not sure I ever found the answer. But that doesn't matter. What matters are the questions," he says.
"The book was written over a period of several years. So the feelings and remembrances of early and late childhood would erupt in 'Aha!' moments, then settle in and, in time, recede and then take their places as established family history."
The Moser boys grew up on Shallowford Road in the Eastdale community.
"I went to Sunnyside School on Germantown Road and later attended Baylor from 1952 to 1958. From there I went to Auburn but came back and attended University of Chattanooga, graduating in 1962," he says.
Though Moser's career focuses mostly on art, he has illustrated or designed more than 300 books, including an illustrated version of the King James Bible. But he has written seven children's book, a collection of essays and a study on wood engravings, among other publications.
If you go
› What: Artist/writer Barry Moser talks about his memoir, “We Were Brothers.”
› Where: UTC Library, Fourth Floor, 600 Douglas St.
› When: 6 p.m. Tuesday.
› Cost: Free
"Writing is not exactly a new thing for me," he says. "I don't see a lot of difference between making images and writing. It's all about putting disparate elements together to form a coherent and harmonious composition."
But it's "We Were Brothers" that's bringing him back to Chattanooga this week. He's traveling throughout the South on a book tour.
Moser says he often thought about his relationship with his brother while raising his daughters.
"My three daughters had their trials in their teen years, but their troubles were not lifelong," he says. "They got over their teenage angst and as adults are pretty close.
"I don't see anything in my grandchildren's relationships with each other or my brother's sons and grandkids that has any resemblance to the kind of friction that marred the relationship my brother and I had. And I envy all of them."
While Moser's work is collected in libraries, art galleries and by numerous people worldwide, the largest single collection, including a limited edition copy of the King James Bible, is housed at UTC. The university library will exhibit some of his work during his visit to UTC.
Moser says he looks forward to visiting his hometown.
"I couldn't be happier anywhere more than I am here in New England. It's my home," Moser says in a news release. "But my heart's home is still somewhere near Missionary Ridge."
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396.