With the publication of his first detective novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley accomplished the difficult feat of bringing a fresh perspective to that genre, the hardboiled detective story, in which few writers have equalled—and none have improved—upon the style as it was as originally fashioned by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The terse prose, sarcastic wit, and tough-guy action that mark their books have served as the yardstick against which all newcomers are measured and most are found wanting. Mosley, however, succeeded in carving out a place for himself within the genre. Although his books are, like Chandler’s, set in Los Angeles, Mosley’s detective is African American and his world is the world of Watts and South Central. That setting may be geographically close to Chandler’s “mean streets,” but it is light-years away from them in every other regard. Mosley’s detective, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, moves within the setting of his creator’s own childhood, and his community is the one in which Mosley was raised.
Born in the Watts district of Los Angeles, Mosley is the son of an African American father, who worked as a school custodian, and a white, Jewish mother, who was employed as a clerk by the Board of Education. Mosley grew up listening to stories of his father’s youth in the South and of his mother’s Russian Jewish family. After graduating from high school, he enrolled first in Goddard College in Vermont and later graduated from Johnson State College. A brief period in graduate school at the University of Minnesota ended when he moved to Boston to continue his relationship with the dancer/ choreographer Joy Kellerman, whom he married in 1987.
While living in Boston, Mosley worked as a caterer and a potter. Following his move to New York with Kellerman in 1982 he switched to computer programming. He had always been an avid reader, but it was only after reading Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple (1982) that he realized for the first time that there was a place in literature for his own experience. He was inspired to try his hand at writing and completed a novella entitled Gone Fishin’ while attending creative writing classes at New York’s City College. In that work, which remained unpublished until 1997, he first used the character who later became the focus of his detective novels, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins.
Based in part on his father’s experiences as a black man from the South who had emigrated to Los Angeles after World War II, the saga of Easy Rawlins is also the history of that city’s African American community. Although the novels’ structure is that of the traditional detective novel, Mosley’s ultimate intent is to chronicle the community in which he was raised and...
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