Walter Mosley

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Walter Mosley
Head and shoulders of man with drooping eyelids wearing black fedora, black shirt without a collar, black jacket, and mostly grey short trimmed beard.
Mosley at the 2014 Texas Book Festival
Walter Ellis Mosley

(1952-01-12) January 12, 1952 (age 69)
Alma materJohnson State College, BA
Spouse(s)Joy Kellman (1987–2001)

Walter Ellis Mosley (born January 12, 1952) is an American novelist, most widely recognized for his crime fiction. He has written a series of best-selling historical mysteries featuring the hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins, a black private investigator living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California; they are perhaps his most popular works. In 2020, Mosley received the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, making him the first black male to receive the honor.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Mosley was born in California. His mother, Ella (born Slatkin), was Jewish and worked as a personnel clerk; her ancestors had immigrated from Russia.[2] His father, Leroy Mosley (1924–1993), was an African American from Louisiana who was a supervising custodian at a Los Angeles public school. He had worked as a clerk in the segregated US army during the Second World War. His parents tried to marry in 1951 but, though the union was legal in California where they were living, no one would give them a marriage license.[3][4][5]

He was an only child and ascribes his writing imagination to "an emptiness in my childhood that I filled up with fantasies". For $9.50 a week, Walter Mosley attended the Victory Baptist day school, a private African-American elementary school that held pioneering classes in black history. When he was 12, his parents moved from South Central to more comfortably affluent, working-class west LA.[6] He graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in 1970.[7] Mosley describes his father as a deep thinker and storyteller, a "black Socrates". His mother encouraged him to read European classics from Dickens and Zola to Camus. He also loves Langston Hughes and Gabriel García Márquez. He was largely raised in a non-political family culture, although there were racial conflicts flaring throughout L.A. at the time. He later became more highly politicised and outspoken about racial inequalities in the US, which are a context of much of his fiction.

He went through a "long-haired hippie" phase, drifting around Santa Cruz and Europe. Mosley dropped out of Goddard College, a liberal arts college in Plainfield, Vermont, and then earned a political science degree at Johnson State College. Abandoning a doctorate in political theory, he started work programming computers. He moved to New York in 1981 and met the dancer and choreographer Joy Kellman, whom he married in 1987. They separated 10 years later and were divorced in 2001. While working for Mobil Oil, Mosley took a writing course at City College in Harlem after being inspired by Alice Walker's book, The Color Purple.[8] One of his tutors there, Edna O'Brien, became a mentor to him and encouraged him, saying: "You're Black, Jewish, with a poor upbringing; there are riches therein."[9]

Mosley still resides in New York City.[6]

Mosley says that he identifies as both African-American and Jewish, with strong feelings for both groups.[8]


Mosley started writing at 34 and has written every day since, penning more than forty books and often publishing two books a year. He has written in a variety of fiction categories, including mystery and afrofuturist science fiction, as well as non-fiction politics. His work has been translated into 21 languages. His direct inspirations include the detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett, Graham Greene and Raymond Chandler. Mosley's fame increased in 1992 when presidential candidate Bill Clinton, a fan of murder mysteries, named Mosley as one of his favorite authors.[6] Mosley made publishing history in 1997 by foregoing an advance to give the manuscript of Gone Fishin' to a small, independent publisher, Black Classic Press in Baltimore, run by former Black Panther Paul Coates.

His first published book, Devil in a Blue Dress, was the basis of a 1995 movie starring Denzel Washington, and the following year a 10-part abridgement of the novel by Margaret Busby, read by Paul Winfield, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.[10] The world premiere of Mosley's first play, The Fall of Heaven,[11] was staged at the Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati, Ohio, in January 2010.

Mosley has served on the board of directors of the National Book Awards.

Mosley is on the board of the TransAfrica Forum.[12]

In 2010, there was a debate in academic literary circles as to whether Mosley's work should be considered Jewish literature. Similar debate has occurred as to whether he should be described as a black author, given his status as a best-selling writer. Mosley has said that he prefers to be called a novelist. He explains his desire to write about "black male heroes" saying "hardly anybody in America has written about black male heroes... There are black male protagonists and black male supporting characters, but nobody else writes about black male heroes."[8]

In 2019, after working in the writers room for the series Snowfall, Mosley was hired by Alex Kurtzman for a similar role on the third season of Star Trek: Discovery. After working on the series for three weeks, Mosley was notified by CBS of a complaint made against him by another member of the writers room for Mosley's use of the word "nigger" while telling a story. CBS told Mosley this was usually a fireable offence, but said no further action would be taken and asked that he not use the word again outside of a script. Mosley chose to leave the series, quitting without informing Kurtzman and Paradise and explaining his decision in an op-ed for The New York Times in September 2019. He did not identify Discovery as the series he was working on in the op-ed, but this was confirmed in reports on the op-ed shortly after its release.[13]

Legacy and honors[edit]


Easy Rawlins mysteries[edit]

  • Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)
  • A Red Death (1991)
  • White Butterfly (1992)
  • Black Betty (1994)
  • A Little Yellow Dog (1996)
  • Gone Fishin' (1997)
  • Bad Boy Brawly Brown (2002)
  • Six Easy Pieces (2003)
  • Little Scarlet (2004)
  • Cinnamon Kiss (2005)
  • Blonde Faith (2007)
  • Little Green (2013)
  • Rose Gold (2014)
  • Charcoal Joe (2016)
  • Blood Grove (2021)

Fearless Jones mysteries[edit]

  • Fearless Jones (2001)
  • Fear Itself (2003)
  • Fear of the Dark (2006)

Leonid McGill mysteries[edit]

  • The Long Fall (2009)
  • Known to Evil (2010)
  • When the Thrill Is Gone (2011)
  • All I Did Was Shoot My Man (2012)
  • And Sometimes I Wonder About You (2015)
  • Trouble Is What I Do (2020)

Science fiction[edit]

Socrates Fortlow books[edit]

For young adults[edit]

  • 47 (2005)

Other novels[edit]

  • RL's Dream (1995)
  • The Man in My Basement (2004)
  • Walking the Line (2005), a novella in the Transgressions series
  • Fortunate Son (2006)
  • The Tempest Tales (2008)
  • The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (2010)
  • Parishioner (2012)
  • Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore (2014)
  • Inside a Silver Box (2015)
  • John Woman (2018)
  • Down the River unto the Sea (2018), a standalone mystery
  • The Awkward Black Man (2020)


  • Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel (2006)
  • Diablerie (2007)


  • The Fall of Heaven, Samuel French, 2011
  • Lift, World Premiere at Crossroads Theatre Company on April 10, 2014.

Non-fiction books[edit]

  • Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking off the Dead Hand of History (2000)
  • What Next: An African American Initiative Toward World Peace (2003)
  • Life Out of Context: Which Includes a Proposal for the Non-violent Takeover of the House of Representatives (2006)
  • This Year You Write Your Novel (2007)
  • Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation (2011) ISBN 978-1-56858-642-7

Graphic novel[edit]

Crosstown to Oblivion[edit]

  • The Gift of Fire / On the Head of a Pin, Tor Books, 2012
  • Merge / Disciple, Tor Books, 2012
  • Stepping Stone / The Love Machine, Tor Books, 2013

Films and television[edit]

Criticism and scholarship[edit]

  • Berger, Roger A., "'The Black Dick': Race, Sexuality, and Discourse in the L.A. Novels of Walter Mosley", in African American Review 31 (Summer 1997): 281–94.
  • Berrettini, Mark, "Private Knowledge, Public Space: Investigation and Navigation in Devil in a Blue Dress", in Cinema Journal 39 (Fall 1999): 74–89.
  • Brady, Owen E., ed., Conversations with Walter Mosley (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011).
  • Brady, Owen E. and Maus, Derek C., eds, Finding a Way Home: A Critical Assessment of Walter Mosley’s Fiction (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008).
  • Fine, David, ed., Los Angeles in Fiction: A Collection of Essays from James M. Cain to Walter Mosley (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1995).
  • Frieburger, William, "James Ellroy, Walter Mosley, and the Politics of the Los Angeles Crime Novel", in Clues: A Journal of Detection 17 (Fall–Winter 1996): 87–104.
  • Gruesser, John C., "An Un-Easy Relationship: Walter Mosley's Signifyin(g) Detective and the Black Community," in Confluences: Postcolonialism, African American Literary Studies, and the Black Atlantic (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 58–72.
  • Lennard, John, Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007 [Genre Fiction Sightlines]).
  • Larson, Jennifer E., Understanding Walter Mosley (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016).
  • Wesley, Marilyn C., "Power and Knowledge in Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress", in African American Review 35 (Spring 2001): 103–16.
  • Wilson, Charles E., Jr., Walter Mosley: A Critical Companion (Westport, CT, & London: Greenwood Press, 2003 [Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers])


  1. ^ a b "Walter Mosley to receive honorary National Book Award". AP NEWS. September 10, 2020. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  2. ^ "Author Walter Mosley on Writing Mystery Novels, Political Revelation, Racism and Pushing Obama". February 27, 2012. Retrieved October 20, 2013.
  3. ^ Walter Mosley Biography; accessed March 3, 2010.
  4. ^ PBS interview The Chain Gang, April 6, 2000. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  5. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (18 August 2002). "Time for a new Black Power movement". The Observer. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c Jaggi, Maya (September 6, 2003). "Socrates of the streets". The Guardian. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  7. ^ "Mystery Writer Remembers His Days at Hamilton High". Los Angeles Times. June 18, 1997. Retrieved October 1, 2013. Mystery writer Walter Mosley, whose 1990 novel, 'Devil in a Blue Dress,' was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington, is a 1970 graduate of Hamilton High School.
  8. ^ a b c Johanna Neuman (September–October 2010) "The Curious Case of Walter Mosley", Moment Magazine.
  9. ^ Walter Mosley biography Archived October 20, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Royce Carlton incorporated.
  10. ^ "Listings – The Late Book: Devil in a Blue Dress". Radio Times. No. 3766. April 1, 1996. p. 109.
  11. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (January 26, 2010). "A Crime Novelist Takes on St. Peter". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2012.
  12. ^ Walter, Mosley (April 23, 2000). "Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History". Booknotes (Interview). Interviewed by Brian Lamb. Washington, D.C.: C-SPAN. Archived from the original on June 13, 2012. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  13. ^ Goldberg, Lesley; Real, Evan (September 6, 2019). "Author Walter Mosley Quits 'Star Trek: Discovery' After Using N-Word in Writers Room". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on September 7, 2019. Retrieved September 15, 2019.
  14. ^ "CCNY Honors Noted Alum Walter Mosley, '91MA". The City College of New York. September 24, 2014.
  15. ^ Bosselman, Haley (March 28, 2021). "NAACP Image Awards 2021: The Complete Televised Winners List". Variety.

External links[edit]