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 started writing at 34 and has 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 foregoing 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.Mosley has served on the board of directors of the National Book Awards.Mosley is on the board of the TransAfrica Forum. Former literature professor Harold Heft argued for Mosley’s inclusion in the literary canon of Jewish-American writers. In Moment (magazine) 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 Paradise and explaining 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.
Mosley was born in California. His mother, Ella (born 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. He 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, Walter Mosley 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 more comfortably affluent, 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 politicised and outspoken about racial inequalities in the US, which are a context of much of his fiction.
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