Walter Mosley Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Walter Mosley was born on January 12, 1952, in Los Angeles, to an African American father and a white Jewish mother. Mosley’s father had moved from Texas to California and had been largely on his own from the age of eight. Both of Mosley’s parents worked in the field of education, and they provided him with a fine formal schooling. His father also shared stories of the migration of many African Americans to California from the South during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Mosley thus grew up steeped in the history that would provide the distinctive foundation for his novels featuring Easy Rawlins, an African American who migrates to Los Angeles after World War II.

In 1970, Mosley left home to attend Goddard College in Vermont. He soon left Goddard but stayed in Vermont, holding various jobs until he enrolled in Johnson State College, also in Vermont. Mosley graduated from Johnson State in 1975 with a degree in political science. After graduation, he worked as a potter, a caterer, and a computer programmer. Moving to New York City in 1981, he continued to work as a computer programmer but eventually decided to become a writer. Enrolling in the City College of New York’s writing program in the mid-1980’s, he achieved success with relative rapidity. His first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), which introduced Easy Rawlins, was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America and received a Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. Other books in the Easy Rawlins series are A Red Death (1991), White Butterfly (1992), Black Betty (1994), A Little Yellow Dog (1996), Gone Fishin’ (1997), and Bad Boy Brawly Brown (2002).

In 1996, Mosley’s blues novel RL’s Dream won the Literary Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. His collection of linked stories about ex-con Socrates Fortlow Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1998) has received critical acclaim, with the story “The Thief” winning an O. Henry Award in 1996. A second collection of Socrates Fortlow stories, Walkin’ the Dog, appeared in 1999. In 1998, his first science-fiction novel, Blue Light, was met with acclaim, and that year he won the TransAfrica International Literary Prize. In 2001, Mosley returned to writing mystery fiction with his Fearless Jones series. The series is set in Los Angeles in the 1950’s and features Paris Minton, a secondhand book store owner, and his friend war veteran Fearless Jones.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Mosley has joined two worthy literary traditions in a fruitful partnership. He employs the form of the hard-boiled detective story to explore important racial themes in a suspenseful and eminently readable manner. His Easy Rawlins series also provides an accessible introduction to the history of Watts and of postwar America in general.

Mosley’s African American novels take up the contributions of blacks in American culture, particularly the blues, but also look at the racial issues confronted by modern African Americans. He depicts these issues realistically, often showing violence as a part of them, but offers an idealistic vision of how such problems can be resolved if the races find ways to get beyond color.

Mosley presents a realistic look at poverty and violence, but he also projects a profound idealism. Mosley does a good job of exposing forms of racism, yet he rejects the temptation to brand all white people as bigots. The strength of his work lies in his refusal to offer simple solutions to the complex issues he raises.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Walter Ellis Mosley was born in January, 1952, and grew up in South Central Los Angeles, which became the setting of many of his novels. Early in his life he became acutely aware of social and political issues, hearing stories from his African American father about life in the American South and from his Jewish mother about anti-Semitism.

Mosley earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Johnson State College in Vermont and then worked as a computer programmer for fifteen years (an experience he puts to good use in his novel Diablerie) before enrolling in a creative-writing program at City College of the City University of New York, where he was taught by Edna O’Brien and other important writers. He had long been a keen reader of detective stories, and it is not surprising that he turned to the genre in his first novel—although the initial inspiration for his work was Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple (1982). One of Mosley’s teachers showed an early draft of Mosley’s first novel to her literary agent, who was able to sell it to the publishing company W. W. Norton.

Mosley’s most famous character, Easy Rawlins, belongs to Mosley’s father’s generation, and many of Rawlins’s experiences are based on stories that Mosley’s father told him about the lives of black people of his generation in both northern and southern areas of the United States. Los Angeles, the main setting of the Rawlins novels, represents the promise and the peril that Mosley’s father found in a wide-open and yet highly stratified society full of opportunity but also dangerous for African Americans.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Walter Mosley was born in Los Angeles, California, on January 12, 1952, to an African American father and a Jewish mother. Mosley’s father, who moved to California from Texas, shared with his son the stories of African Americans moving from the South to California in the 1930’s and 1940’s, which became the background for both of Mosley’s detective series.

In 1970, Mosley entered Goddard College in Vermont. He dropped out of Goddard but later enrolled at Johnson State College, graduating in 1975 with a degree in political science. He moved to New York City in 1981 and, after working at various jobs, enrolled at City College of New York’s writing program in the mid-1980’s. He found success with his first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), and was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America and received a Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America.

Mosley’s literary novel RL’s Dream (1995) was a finalist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Award in Fiction and won the 1996 Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award. Mosley won the Anisfield Wolf Award, given to works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in the United States. His 1996 short story “The Thief,” featuring Socrates Fortlow, won an O. Henry Award and is featured in Prize Stories 1996: The O. Henry Awards (1997). His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire, and other publications.

In 1995, Mosley’s first novel was made into the film Devil in a Blue Dress starring Denzel Washington, and in 1998, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1997) was turned into a Home Box Office (HBO) film starring Lawrence Fishburne.

In 1996, Mosley was named the first artist-in-residence at the Africana Studies Institute, New York University. He has continued to work with that program since his residency, creating the innovative Black Genius lecture series. In 1999, a collection of these lectures, with an introduction and essay by Mosley, was published as Black Genius: African American Solutions to African American Problems. In 2005, Mosley received the Nero Award for Fear Itself (2003).