Biography of Walter Mosley (1952-)
Walter Mosley was born on January 12, 1952 in Los Angeles, California, where his Easy Rawlins novels are set. He grew up in the Watts and Pico-Fairfield districts of the city, the only child of a mixed-race marriage. Mosley's father was an African-American man from the Deep South, and his mother a Jew whose parents immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. Mosley's unique racial and ethnic heritage provided him with a multifaceted understanding of prejudice as well as the importance of cultural tradition. Both of these topics find outlets in Mosley's writings in various genres, most famously his Easy Rawlins mystery novels, beginning with Devil in a Blue Dress.
Mosley earned his bachelor's degree from Johnson State College in Vermont in 1977, after which he tried various jobs, including computer programming. In 1982 he moved to New York City with his future wife, Joy Kellman, a white Jewish woman. They were married five years later, in 1987. During this time, Mosley rekindled his love of reading and writing, which came to a height when he read The Color Purple, Alice Walker's iconic novel about the African-American experience. He stopped working in order to attend the City College of New York and focus on literature. Mosley recounts that one day he was inspired to write a sentence about black people sitting on a porch in Louisiana. Writing this sentence so roused him that he decided to devote his life to being an author.
Mosley owes a portion of his talent for narrative as well as his inspiration to his father, LeRoy Mosley. The elder Mosley was a World War II hero who became disenchanted with the American experience when he returned home to face racial prejudice and disrespect. Walter Mosley draws many of Easy Rawlins's experiences of war and prejudice from his father's stories. Mosley also attributes his deftness at weaving a narrative to the storytelling traditions of his father's black relatives; the influence of these family members is evident in Mosley's use of Southern African-American dialects as well.
After Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley turned the trials of Easy Rawlins into a series, including: A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, A Little Yellow Dog, Big Boy Brawly Brown, Six Easy Pieces, and 2005's Little Scarlet. Yet Mosley has not limited himself to writing about Easy Rawlins; he has published two novels about another protagonist, Fearless Jones, as well. Mosley has also forayed into "novels of ideas," science-fiction, and non-fiction writing, including several incisive political essays. His latest publications are a science fiction novel called The Wave and Fortunate Son. Of Mosley's books, Devil in a Blue Dress and Always Outnumbered have been adapted for the screen. The former stars legendary African-American actor Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins. Since Mosley's first publication, Devil in a Blue Dress, his writing has been translated into 21 languages.
Mosley has received numerous awards during his career, including an honorary Doctorate from the City College of New York, a Sundance Film Festival "Risktaker" award, and a Grammy award for his liner notes in the comedy album "Richard Pryor...And It's Deep Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992)" from Warner Archives/Rhino Entertainment. In addition, Mosley received public attention in 1992 when Bill Clinton named him as one of his favorite authors. But Mosley has never been one to let his achievements distract from one of his favorite causes, supporting and creating opportunities for small African-American organizations and African-American youth. He has been a supporter of Baltimore's Black Classic Press, and recently collaborated with the City College of New York to found a groundbreaking publishing degree program for young New York City residents.
No doubt in tribute to the mystery genre, Mosley dons a fedora and trench coat in photographs. He resides in New York City, where he teaches English at New York University.
Photograph by Ann Weathersby. Published in New York Magazine, September 26, 2005.