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.
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.
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...
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