Walter Ellis Mosley
January 12, 1952
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||Johnson State College (BA)|
|Notable work||Devil in a Blue Dress|
|Spouse||Joy Kellman (1987–2001)|
|Awards||National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters|
Diamond Dagger, 2023
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 man to receive the honor.
Mosley was born in Los Angeles, California. His mother, Ella (née Slatkin), was Jewish and worked as a personnel clerk; her ancestors had immigrated from Russia. 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.
Mosley 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, he 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 the more comfortable, working-class west LA. He graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in 1970. 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 politicized and outspoken about racial inequalities in the US, which are a context of much of his fiction.
Mosley went through a "long-haired hippie" phase, drifting around Santa Cruz and Europe. He 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. One of his tutors there, Edna O'Brien, became a mentor and encouraged him, saying: "You're Black, Jewish, with a poor upbringing; there are riches therein."
He says that he identifies as both African-American and Jewish, with strong feelings for both groups.
Mosley started writing at 34 and claims to have 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 nonfiction 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. Mosley made publishing history in 1997 by forgoing 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. The world premiere of Mosley's first play, The Fall of Heaven, was staged at the Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati, Ohio, in January 2010.
Former literature professor Harold Heft argued for Mosley's inclusion in the literary canon of Jewish-American writers. In Moment magazine, Johanna Neuman writes that black literary circles questioned whether Mosley should be considered a "black author". 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."
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 about his experience with a police officer who had used the slur. 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 explained 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.
Awards and honors
- 1996 – Black Caucus of the American Library Association's Literary Award for RL's Dream
- 1996 – O. Henry Award for a Socrates Fortlow story
- 1998 - Anisfield Wolf Award, for works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America
- 2001 – Grammy Award for Best Album Notes for Richard Pryor's …And It's Deep Too!
- 2004 – Honorary doctorate from the City College of New York
- 2005 – "Risktaker Award" from the Sundance Institute for both his creative and activist efforts
- 2006 – First recipient of the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award for his young adult novel 47
- 2007– NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction, for Blonde Faith
- 2009– NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction, for The Long Fall
- 2013 – Inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame
- 2014 – NAACP Image Award-nominated for Outstanding Literary Work, Fiction, for Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery
- 2014 – Langston Hughes Medal from the City College of New York
- 2016 – Named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America (see Edgar Award)
- 2019 – Edgar Award for Best Novel for Down the River Unto the Sea
- 2020 – National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
- 2021 – NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Fiction, The Awkward Black Man
- 2023 – Crime Writers' Association Diamond Dagger – for lifetime achievement
- RL's Dream (1995)
- Blue Light (1998)
- Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World (2001)
- The Man in My Basement (2004)
- Walking the Line (2005), a novella in the Transgressions series
- The Wave (2005)
- 47 (2005)
- Fortunate Son (2006)
- Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel (2006)
- Diablerie (2007)
- 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), short stories
- Every Man a King (2023)
Easy Rawlins mysteries
- 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
- Fearless Jones (2001)
- Fear Itself (2003)
- Fear of the Dark (2006)
Leonid McGill mysteries
- 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)
Socrates Fortlow books
- Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1997)
- Walkin' the Dog (1999)
- The Right Mistake (2008)
Crosstown to Oblivion
- The Gift of Fire / On the Head of a Pin (2012)
- Merge / Disciple (2012)
- Stepping Stone / The Love Machine (2013)
- Maximum Fantastic Four (2005, with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)
- The Thing: The Next Big Thing (2022, with Tom Reilly)
- The Fall of Heaven (2011)
- Lift (2014)
- 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
- Elements of Fiction (2019)
Films and television
- Fallen Angels: Fearless (1995) (TV)
- Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
- Always Outnumbered (1998) (TV)
- "Little Brother", episode of Masters of Science Fiction (2007) (TV)
- Snowfall (TV), consulting producer, episode writer: "Prometheus Rising" (2018)
- Star Trek: Discovery (2019) (TV)
- The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (2022), executive producer
- Justified: City Primeval (2023) (TV), consulting producer
- "Walter Mosley to receive honorary National Book Award". AP NEWS. September 10, 2020. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
- "Author Walter Mosley on Writing Mystery Novels, Political Revelation, Racism and Pushing Obama". Truthout.org. February 27, 2012. Retrieved March 26, 2023.
- Walter Mosley Biography. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
- PBS interview, The Chain Gang, April 6, 2000. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
- O'Hagan, Sean (August 18, 2002). "Time for a new Black Power movement". The Observer. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
- Jaggi, Maya (September 6, 2003). "Socrates of the streets". The Guardian. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
- "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.
- Johanna Neuman (September–October 2010) "The Curious Case of Walter Mosley", Moment Magazine.
- Walter Mosley biography Archived October 20, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Royce Carlton incorporated.
- "Listings – The Late Book: Devil in a Blue Dress". Radio Times. No. 3766. April 1, 1996. p. 109.
- Lee, Felicia R. (January 26, 2010). "A Crime Novelist Takes on St. Peter". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2012.
- 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.
- 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.
- "CCNY Honors Noted Alum Walter Mosley, '91MA". The City College of New York. September 24, 2014.
- Bosselman, Haley (March 28, 2021). "NAACP Image Awards 2021: The Complete Televised Winners List". Variety.
- "2023 Dagger Award Winners Announced". The Crime Writers’ Association. Retrieved July 10, 2023.
- 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).
- Freiburger, 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.
- Larson, Jennifer E., Understanding Walter Mosley (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016).
- Lennard, John, Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress (Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007).
- 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)
- Official website
- Walter Mosley at IMDb
- Powell Books interview of Walter Mosley
- Johanna Neuman (September–October 2010). "The Curious Case of Walter Mosley". Moment. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
- New Yorker profile. "Covering Mosley: The books of Walter Mosley: 19 January 2004
- A radio interview with Walter Mosley Aired on the Lewis Burke Frumkes Radio Show on 2 April 2011.
- Appearances on C-SPAN