Walter Ellis Mosley was born on January 12, 1952 in Los Angeles, California. He is an American author and novelist who is widely recognized for his works of crime fiction. His best-selling historical mysteries feature the hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins, who is a black private investigator as well as World War II veteran currently living in the Watts neighborhood located in Los Angeles, California. Mosley himself was born in California and his mother Ella was Jewish and a personnel clerk while his father Leroy was an African American originally from Louisiana who was a custodian at a Los Angeles public school. He was a clerk in the US army during World War II, the army still segregated at the time. His parents attempted to marry in 1951. Although marriage was legal in California, they were refused a marriage license.
Mosley was an only child that had a vivid imagination that he describes as fantasies to fill up his childhood emptiness. He attended a private elementary school for African Americans at the Victory Baptist day school. His parents moved out of South Central when he was twelve to the more affluent and working class west Los Angeles. Mosley graduated in 1970 from Alexander Hamilton High School. He describes his father as a storyteller and deep thinker, while his mother gave him encouragement to read European classics. Mosley also held a great love for Gabriel García Márquez and Langston Hughes. His family was non-political but there were racial conflicts going on in Los Angeles at the time. Mosley went on to speak about racial inequalities in the United States, which is incorporated into much of his writing.
Mosley went through a hippie phase, traveling through Santa Cruz and Europe. He dropped out of the liberal arts college Goddard College in Vermont and then went on to graduate from Johnson State College with a degree in political science. He began programming computers and in 1981 moved to New York. There he met the choreographer and dancer Joy Kellman. They got married in 1987. Ten years later they separated and got divorced in 2001. Mosley worked for Mobil Oil and took a writing course in Harlem at City College when he was inspired by the book The Color Purple. Edna O’Brien, one of his tutors, became his mentor and encouraged him to write, citing his deep roots and upbringing,, saying “there are riches therein”. Mosley says he identifies as both African American and Jewish, and still lives in New York City.
Mosley started writing when he was 34 and since then has written every day. He was written over forty books and commonly publishes two books each year. His works span different genres, from non fiction politics to afrofuturist science fiction and mystery. His books have been translated into 21 languages. Bill Clinton named Mosley as one of his favorite authors in 1992. Mosley gave up an advance in 1997 to give his Gone Fishin’ manuscript to a small independent publisher in Baltimore run by an ex-Black Panther, Paul Coates at Black Classic Press. His first play, The Fall of Heaven, was held at the Playhouse in the Park in January 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is on the Board of Trustees at Goddard College and has served as part of the board of directors for the National Book Awards. He is also a member of the board of the TransAfrica Forum.
Mosley describes his desire to write about black male heroes, citing that hardly anyone in America has done so. He explains that there are protagonists and supporting characters that are black males, but nobody else “writes about black male heroes”. Mosley has said that he prefers to be called a novelist as opposed to a black author. He has won the Anisfield Wolf Award, Finalist for NAACP Award in Fiction, won the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award for “RL’s Dream”, the O. Henry Award, Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Album Notes for the Richard Pryor album “And It’s Deep Too!”, the Sundance Institute’s “Risktaker Award”, the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award, was inducted to the New York Writers Hall of Fame, and received an honorary doctorate from the City College of New York.
Fearless Jones is a crime series set in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Fearless Jones matches Easy Rawlins with a strong new protagonist. The main character is not actually the Fearless Jones but Paris Minton, a small second hand bookstore owner. When Minton is beat up severely and his store burned down to the ground for reasons that are at best ambiguous, Minton asks for the help of Fearless Jones. Jones begins to follow up on the past of a beautiful woman who seems to be involved. The more he investigates, the more a dark mystery begins to unfold. The crime is there in full force, and Mosley adds a layer of socio-political commentary and the book includes the theme of the plight of the black man in 1950’s L.A.
Paris Minton minds his own business and his used bookstore, not wanting any trouble. But it’s Los Angeles in the 1960’s, and sometimes it comes looking for him. When the richest woman in L.A.’s nephew goes missing, she hires Jefferson T. Hill to find him. He goes missing too, and she draws Fearless Jones as well as Paris into picking the case up where Hill left off. Paris goes into the world of the black bourgeoisie, and it’s full of deceit and corruption. As the case takes twists and turns, it’s going to take everything Minton has just to stay alive.
Books Made Into Movies
His book Devil in a Blue Dress, was made into a 1995 movie starring Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Don Cheadle, and Jennifer Beals. Set in 1948 in Los Angeles, the movie features Mosley’s signature character Easy Rawlins, an African American detective and World War II veteran that is hired to find Daphane Monet, engaged to the wealthy Todd Carter, a favorite for the mayoral race, believed to be hiding out in the black community. Rawlins finds himself mixed up with crooked cops, political scandal and murder before he knows it. The movie was well received.
Mosley’s book Always Outnumbered was made into a movie in 1998. It starred Lawrence Fishburne as Socrates Fortlow, an ex-con who tries to find work in Los Angeles and fights for a position. He touches the lives of many around him, from a young married couple, an older man who is dying of cancer, and a young boy who is about to get in trouble with the street gangs.
Books in order of publication by series:
Easy Rawlins Books
|Devil in a Blue Dress||(1990)|
|A Red Death||(1991)|
|A Little Yellow Dog||(1995)|
|Bad Boy Brawly Brown||(2000)|
|Six Easy Pieces||(2003)|
Socrates Fortlow Books
|Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned||(1997)|
|Walkin’ the Dog||(1999)|
|The Right Mistake||(2008)|
Fearless Jones Books
|Fear of the Dark||(2006)|
Leonid McGill Books
|The Long Fall||(2009)|
|Known to Evil||(2010)|
|When the Thrill is Gone||(2011)|
|All I Did Was Shoot My Man||(2012)|
|And Sometimes I Wonder About You||(2015)|
|Trouble is What I Do||(2020)|
Chronological Order of Leonid McGill Books. Karma is a prequel in the Leonid McGilll series
Crosstown To Oblivion Books
|Gift of Fire||(2012)|
|On the Head of a Pin||(2012)|
|The Man in My Basement||(2004)|
|Killing Johnny Fry||(2006)|
|The Tempest Tales||(2008)|
|The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey||(2010)|
|Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore||(2014)|
|Inside a Silver Box||(2015)|
|Down the River unto the Sea||(2018)|
|Whispers in the Dark||(2000)|
|Archibald Lawless, Anarchist at Large||(2016)|
Short Story Collections
|The Best American Short Stories 2003||(2003)|
|Working on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History||(1999)|
|What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace||(2003)|
|Life Out of Context||(2006)|
|The Year You Write Your Novel||(2007)|
|Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation||(2011)|
|Jack Strong: A Story of Life After Life||(2014)|