Over two decades of diverse and prolific literary achievement, Walter Mosley has become the preeminent African-American man of letters. Refusing to be pigeonholed or limited by genre, he is the critically hailed, award-winning, New York Times - bestselling author of some thirty-eight books to date in genres ranging from the crime novel to literary fiction, nonfiction, political essay, science fiction, young adult, and erotica.
Mosley is a recipient of PEN USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, whose work has been translated into twenty-one languages. His short fiction has appeared in a wide array of publications, including The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire, Los Angeles Times Magazine, and Playboy, and his nonfiction has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, and The Nation. Mosley initiated a new feature for The Nation in 2009 entitled “Ten Things” as a way to make political and social action more accessible. The feature invites a guest expert to tackle an issue and offer a brief list of recommendations for accomplishing a desired political or social end.
He was the founder of the Black Genius lecture series at New York University, as well as the editor of and a contributor to the book Black Genius. He was also the guest editor for The Best American Short Stories of 2003. In addition, he has written for television, film, and the stage, and two major films – Devil in a Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered – have been made from his work. In January 2010, “The Fall of Heaven,” Mosley first play based on his The Tempest Tales, opened in Cincinnati and is scheduled to open in St. Louis in January 2011. A new series based on Mosley’s The Long Fall, the debut novel in his Leonid McGill detective series, is in development at HBO.
In his acclaimed fiction, Mosley has explored the black experience in America over the past seven decades, beginning with the migration of African-Americans from the Deep South to his native Los Angeles in the post-World War II era and through the post-Obama election-era new York City. As David Ulin wrote in The Atlantic Monthly of Mosley’s celebrated Easy Rawlins books, “Mosley has never been a traditional crime novelist; rather, he writes to serve a cultural agenda, and for him the mystery is less a whodunit than a vehicle for exploring a way of life. . . . Read together, the Rawlins books compose a sprawling novel of manners about twentieth-century African-American Los Angeles that owes as much to authors like Dickens and Zola as it does to the aesthetics of noir.”
Other critics have also taken note of the remarkable scope of Mosley’s ambition and accomplishment. Time has described him as “a writer whose work transcends the thriller category and qualifies as serious literature,” and Kirkus Reviews has called him “a significant African-American thinker.” Reviewing Mosley’s 2004 novel The Man in My Basement, Renée Graham wrote in the Boston Globe, “Mosley, who has quietly become one of this nation’s finest writers, has always been closer in literary spirit to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson than to Agatha Christie. Like Wilson’s, Mosley’s works explore what it means to be an African-American through the daily lives of ordinary people. His achievement . . . is to find suspense in the psychological and philosophical motives of his characters as they wrestle with history and heritage, responsibility and redemption.”
Reviewing the same book in The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “Mr. Mosley makes this such a lucid, sinuous book that its big issues are handled with idiosyncratic grace. . . .” In The New Yorker, Ben Greenman called it “a compelling, peculiar exploration of race and identity... . It has a subtle sense of humor that leavens the philosophical inquiry. It’s to be expected that Mosley can manage an investigation... . But he has a special talent for touching upon these sticky questions of evil and responsibility without getting stuck in them.”
As critics recognized, the distinctive qualities of Mosley’s work were evident starting with his first novel, Devil in A Blue Dress, published in 1990. In The New York Times, Herbert Mitgang noted that it marked “the debut of a talented author with something vital to say about the distance between the black and white worlds, and with a dramatic way to say it.” Furthermore, Mitgang wrote, Mosley had portrayed “a black world of slang and code words that haven’t been delivered with such authenticity since Chester Himes created his Harlem detective stories.”
Also in The New York Times, D. J. R. Bruckner wrote, “Crime is the high road to philosophy for Walter Mosley. In fact, what draws him to write mysteries is the chance to attack moral questions, and the novel that has most affected his writing and his outlook is not a crime story but The Stranger by the French existentialist Albert Camus.” In the Los Angeles Times, Digby Diehl wrote that Mosley’s “insightful scenes of black life in 1948 provide a sort of social history that doesn’t exist in other detective fiction... . He recreates the era convincingly, with all of its racial tensions, evoking the uneasy combination of freedom and disillusion in the postwar black community and revealing a tough, fresh perspective on Los Angeles history.”
In his brilliantly reviewed new Leonid McGill series – including the latest installment, Known to Evil – Mosley continues his exploration of the African-American experience in contemporary Manhattan, where he has lived since 1981. Throughout his career, Mosley has consistently given powerful voice to complex African-American male protagonists as few other fiction writers have done – a tradition that continues in both the Leonid McGill mysteries and his most recent literary novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey. In his nonfiction and science fiction, he has provocatively explored the political dimensions of the African-American and working-class experience, as well as the special perspective that African-Americans bring to the understanding of American history and the quest for world peace.
Beyond his own extraordinary body of work, Mosley’s literary activities extend to the realms of education and social activism. With City College of the City University of New York, he has created a new publishing degree program aimed at young urban residents, which is the only such program in the country. He was the first African-American to serve on the board of directors of the National Book Awards, and he has served on the boards of the Full Frame Documentary Festival, the Poetry Society of America, TransAfrica, and Goddard College.
A former president of the Mystery Writers of America, Mosley has opened the door for a generation of African-American mystery writers with his critical and popular success. In 1997, he created a stir within the literary world when he published the prequel to the Rawlins series, Gone Fishin’, with a small black publishing house, Black Classic Press of Baltimore. Mosley felt it was important “to create a model that other writers, black or not, can look at to see that it’s possible to publish a book successfully outside mainstream publishing in New York.”
Yet Mosley’s broad readership transcends racial, class, and gender lines, through authorial intent as well as reader response. Faithful to the truth and texture of the African-American experience, Mosley’s work also includes finely drawn, multifaceted characters of all races, who inhabit the full range from hero to villain. In 1992, President Bill Clinton boosted his burgeoning career to new prominence when he named Mosley as one of his favorite writers. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Mosley said of his work, “I want black people to have a good time. I mean, I want black people to read the book and say, ‘That’s my language, that’s my life. That’s my history. But I want white people to say, ‘Boy, you know, I feel just like that!’”
Mosley is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Anisfield Wolf Award, for works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America. He won the 1996 Black Caucus of the American Library Association's Literary Award for his novel RL's Dream. He was an O. Henry Award winner in 1996 for one of his Socrates Fortlow stories and is featured in Prize Stories 1996: The O. Henry Awards. In 2002, he won a Grammy Award for his liner notes accompanying “Richard Pryor: And It’s Deep Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992).” In 2005, he was honored by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute with a “Risktaker Award” for both his creative and activist efforts. In 2006, he became the first recipient of the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award for his young adult novel 47. He has twice been awarded the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Fiction in 2008 for Blonde Faith and in 2010 for The Long Fall. Mosley was also awarded an honorary doctorate from City College in 2005.
Born in 1952, Mosley was raised in Los Angeles as the only child of an African-American father from Louisiana who worked as a public school custodial supervisor, and a mother of Polish Jewish background who worked as a school administrator. The vivid stories he heard from relatives on both sides of his family, drawn from their rich Southern black and Eastern European cultures, along with his dual identity as both black and Jewish, have continuously informed his work.
After attending Goddard College and graduating from Johnson State College in Vermont, Mosley moved to New York City and worked as a computer programmer for major corporations for more than a decade. Inspired to begin writing by Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, he counts among his other early influences Graham Greene’s The Third Man. In the 1980s, he enrolled in a writing program at City College, where his mentors included Frederic Tuten and Edna O’Brien. O’Brien told him, “You’re black, Jewish, with a poor upbringing; there are riches therein.” Since he began writing at the age of thirty-four, Mosley has written every day since.
Mosley’s forthcoming publications include the third novel in the Leonid McGill series, When the Thrill is Gone, which will be published in March 2011, and Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation, a guide to recovery from oppression, which was published in May 2011. His latest New York Times Bestseller, 2013's Little Green, surprised fans and resurrected his most famous character, Easy Rawlins. NPR says, “[Little Green] takes us back to Devil in a Blue Dress, reminding longtime readers like me how we got hooked in the first place.”
The Works of Walter Mosley
Leonid McGill Mysteries
The Long Fall (2009)
Known to Evil (2010)
When the Thrill Is Gone (2011)
Easy Rawlins Mysteries
Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)
A Red Death (1991)
White Butterfly (1992)
Gone Fishin’ (1997)
Black Betty (1994)
A Little Yellow Dog (1996)
Bad Boy Brawly Brown (2002)
Six Easy Pieces (2003)
Little Scarlet (2004)
Cinnamon Kiss (2005)
Blonde Faith (2007)
Little Green (2013)
The Right Mistake (2008)
RL’s Dream (1995)
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1997)
Blue Light (1998)
Walkin’ the Dog (1999)
Fearless Jones (2001)
Fear Itself (2003)
The Wave (2005)
Fortunate Son (2006)
Fear of the Dark (2006)
The Man in My Basement (2004)
Killing Johnny Fry (2006)
The Tempest Tales (2008)
Workin’ on the Chain Gang (2000)
Life Out of Context (2006)
What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace (2003)
This Year You Write Your Novel (2007)
The Fall of Heaven (2010)
Water Lillies (2013)