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Mosley, Walter

Walter Mosley

1952—

Writer

Walter Mosley has broken new ground as a mystery writer by incorporating issues of race into novels that stand on their own as gripping detective fiction. His novels are all written from an African-American perspective. He has also branched out into the areas of science fiction, social commentary, and even erotica.

Critics have praised Mosley's writing for its realistic portrayal of street life in African-American neighborhoods of post-World War II Los Angeles. Sara M. Lomax wrote in American Visions that Mosley has "a special talent for layering time and place with words and ideas." Library Journal's review of A Red Death noted, "As before, Mosley's inclusion of life in Watts, contemporary social attitudes, and colloquial speech contribute to the excellence and authenticity of plot and character portrayal."

Much of Mosley's success has been due to the powerful recurring character of Ezekiel ("Easy") Rawlins, one of the most innovative private investigators to appear in fiction. Unlike many detectives who populate the pages of hard-boiled prose, Rawlins is a multidimensional character who stumbled into his sleuthing career as a means to pay mounting debts. Mosley has used Rawlins to expose the problems of getting by in a world where only a thin line lies between crime and business as usual. As Christopher Hitchens said in Vanity Fair, "Rawlins is more of a fixer than a hustler, a kind of accidental detective who gets pulled into cases because of his reluctantly acquired street smarts and savoir faire." D. J. R. Bruckner added in the New York Times that Easy Rawlins "is trapped into becoming a private detective, and the way he is trapped gives Mr. Mosley an opportunity to raise scores of moral questions in a novel of little more than 200 pages."

Walter Mosley was born in southeastern Los Angeles in 1952 and grew up in Watts and the Pico-Fairfax district. His father was an African American from the deep South, and his mother was a white woman of Jewish descent whose family emigrated from Eastern Europe. This unique African-American/Jewish heritage made prejudice a major topic in the household. An only child, Mosley grew up hearing about the woes of life for African Americans in the South, as well as the horrors of anti-Semitism across the Atlantic. However, he was also regaled by colorful accounts of partying and carrying on among his African-American relatives, along with tales of czars in old Russia.

After earning a bachelor's degree at Johnson State College in 1977, Mosley drifted for a number of years in various jobs, even working as a potter and caterer. He and Joy Kellman, a dancer and choreographer, moved to New York City in 1982 and were married in 1987.

Mosley settled down into a career as a computer programmer in the 1980s, but his work left him unfulfilled. Meanwhile, he read voraciously, including mysteries by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross MacDonald and existential novels such as The Stranger by Albert Camus. This blend of suspense and philosophy served him well in the mysteries he would later write.

Influenced by The Color Purple

According to a profile in People, Mosley's decision to become a writer was strongly influenced by his reading of Alice Walker's The Color Purple. That book rekindled a youthful urge to write that he had lost and made him feel that he could create the same kind of prose. He began writing feverishly on nights, weekends, and whenever he could find time. Intent on devoting himself totally to his craft, Mosley quit his computer programming job in the mid-1980s and enrolled at the City College of New York to study with Frederic Tuten, the head of the school's writing program. While in the program he also received instruction from the writers William Matthews and Edna O'Brien.

In 1989 Mosley showed Devil in a Blue Dress, which he had first written as a screenplay, to his writing teacher. The teacher showed the book to his agent, who sold it to the W. W. Norton publishing company. When the novel came out in 1990, the New York Times said that it "marks the debut of a talented author." Rawlins's reappearance a year later in A Red Death caused Publishers Weekly to theorize that "Mosley … may well be in the process of creating a genre classic." White Butterfly was also greeted by critical acclaim, with Cosmopolitan saying that Mosley "brings it all so thoroughly, sizzlingly to life." The author's reputation soared when Bill Clinton said during his 1992 U.S. presidential campaign that Mosley was his favorite mystery writer.

Affected by His Father's Background

Many characters in the Easy Rawlins novels are based on the experiences of Mosley's father, with similarities between LeRoy Mosley and Easy Rawlins especially apparent. After being treated like a hero abroad during World War II, LeRoy Mosley was dismayed to find that he was still a second-class citizen back in the States. This disillusionment was also felt by the war veteran Easy Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress. However, the war made it clear to Rawlins that the white man was not much different from himself. Early in the novel, the character ruminates, "I had spent five years with white men, and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was."

At a Glance …

Born Walter Mosley on January 12, 1952, in Los Angeles, CA; son of LeRoy Mosley (a school custodian) and Ella Mosley (a school personnel clerk); married Joy Kellman (a dancer and choreographer), 1987. Education: Attended Goddard College, 1971; Johnson State College, BA, 1977; City College of New York, 1985-89.

Career: Worked as a computer consultant for Mobil Oil, and as a computer programmer, potter, and caterer; full-time writer, 1986—; founded publishing degree program at City University of New York; Devil in a Blue Dress, producer, 1995; Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, executive producer, 1998.

Memberships: Mystery Writers of America; National Book Foundation; Poetry Society of America; Manhattan Theater Club; Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, board of directors.

Awards: Winner of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association's Literary Award for RL's Dream, 1996; winner of the Annisfield-Wolf Book Award for Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, 1998; winner of the TransAfrica International Literary Prize; Grammy Award, Best Album Liner Notes for Richard Pryor … and It's Deep, Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings, 2002; PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004; Sundance Institute, Risktaker Award, 2005; City College of the City University of New York, honorary doctorate.

Addresses: Office—c/o Little, Brown, 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

In a commentary in the Los Angeles Times, Mosley asserted that "black soldiers learned from World War II; they learned how to dream about freedom." LeRoy Mosley's dream of freedom took him to California, where endless jobs and opportunities were rumored to be waiting for everyone, including African Americans. In the Los Angeles Times, Mosley described the Los Angeles of Easy Rawlins as "a place where a black man can dream but he has to keep his wits about him. Easy lives among the immigrants from the western South. He dreams of owning property and standing on an equal footing with his white peers. Deep in his mind, he is indoctrinated with the terror of Southern racism. In his everyday life he faces the subtle, and not so subtle, inequalities of the American color line."

Used Racism Theme

Similar to the canon of Chester Himes, an African-American author who wrote Harlem-based crime novels in the 1940s and 1950s, Mosley's works have consistently addressed social and racial issues. Drawing on his father's life and his own as a close observer of the Watts riots during the 1960s, Mosley shows in his books how racism infects the lives of inner-city African Americans. Double standards abound in Devil in a Blue Dress, in which a white man hires Rawlins to find a woman known to hang out in African-American jazz clubs. Easy was chosen because he was African American and regarded as a bridge into a world where the white man dare not go. In White Butterfly, the police show a keen interest in the case of a murdered white cocktail waitress—after basically ignoring the murders of a series of black waitresses that occurred earlier.

Mosley has also tapped his African-American/Jewish perspective to deal with Jewish suffering as perceived by African Americans. In Devil in a Blue Dress, two Jewish liquor store owners in the ghetto cause Easy Rawlins to remember when his unit broke open the gates of a Nazi extermination camp. This recollection leads to an understanding of similarities in the oppression suffered by African Americans in the United States and Jews abroad.

Mosley has also provided a loud voice on racial strife in the real world. He was particularly angered over the racially motivated riots that occurred in Los Angeles in 1992. The rioting was triggered by the "not guilty" verdicts handed down in the first trial of four white Los Angeles police officers involved in the brutal beating of the African-American motorist Rodney King. Mosley was outraged that racial tensions had led to blatant violence before people started to address the problems in urban African-American communities. As he stated in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, "The rioters sent out a message that is louder than a billion pleas over the past 400 years of beating, burning and death."

Raised Moral Issues Frequently

Mosley's novels have made it clear that morality cannot be judged the same for African Americans as it is for whites. The author wrote in the Los Angeles Times that "Easy tries to walk a moral line in a world where he is not treated equally by the law…. He's a man who, finding himself with dark skin, has decided that he's going to live his life and do what's right, in that order." Mosley has used Easy's moral flexibility to force his hero back into the private-eye business, such as in A Red Death, when Rawlins bought some buildings with stolen money. When the IRS threatened to look into his finances, Easy reluctantly agreed to spy on a suspected Jewish communist for an FBI man in exchange for protection from the IRS. As Mosley said in the Los Angeles Times, "In Easy's world … you have to know what the law is but you also have to understand that the reality might be different."

Mosley found Greenwich Village, a noted haven for people in the arts, to be a good psychological base for him. "It's hard to be conspicuous here," he was quoted as saying in Vanity Fair. While he may not want to be noticed, his writing has certainly put him on the literary map. Mosley is an important voice in a new brand of African-American fiction that has spawned memorable characters and plots. As Charles Champlin wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "Mosley, who … knows Watts like an after-hours bartender, creates characters—men, women and children—who are vivid, individual and as honest as home movies."

In 1994 Mosley published another installment in the Easy Rawlins series, Black Betty. The novel opens with Rawlins facing both the collapse of his real estate business and the fact that his wife and daughter have walked out on him. In the midst of this turmoil, he is asked by a white private eye to find Elizabeth Eady, a seductive former housekeeper who is known as Black Betty. As Rawlins searches for Black Betty, he must also prevent his recently paroled friend, Mouse Alexander, from finding and exacting revenge on those who sent him to prison. The reviews of Black Betty were quite favorable. Kirkus Reviews called Black Betty, "Mosley's finest work yet," while the Publishers Weekly praised the novel's "quietly emotive prose" and an ending that "fully satisfies." Barry Gifford of the New York Times Book Review remarked that "nobody will ever accuse Walter Mosley of lacking heart…. [H]is words prowl around the page before they pounce, knocking you not so much upside the head as around the body, where you feel them the longest."

Departed from Easy Rawlins

Mosley's 1995 novel, RL's Dream, marked a departure from the Easy Rawlins mystery series. This novel tells the story of Atwater "Soupspoon" Wise, an aged and dying blues guitar player who is facing eviction from his New York apartment. He is soon befriended by an alcoholic white southerner named Kiki Waters, who takes Wise into her home and cares for him. Wise longs to relive his glory days and recalls to Waters about his struggles with racism and the time he played with a legendary Delta blues singer named Robert "RL" Johnson. As their friendship develops, the two share their individual stories, relive the pain of the past, and learn to heal their emotional wounds. Digby Diehl of Playboy noted that Mosley's mystery novels "don't prepare you for the emotional force of RL's Dream. Mosley mixes the nightmares of Soup's past with the immediate anguish of poverty, chemotherapy, and aging. The result is harsh, uplifting, and unforgettable."

Following the release of RL's Dream, Mosley published another Easy Rawlins mystery, A Little Yellow Dog, in 1996. In the novel, Rawlins is working as a custodian at a junior high school. One of the teachers at the school, Idabell Holland, asks Rawlins to care for her little dog after Holland's husband allegedly threatens to kill it. After Rawlins and Holland have a brief romantic encounter, she is found murdered in the front seat of Rawlins's car. Holland's husband is also found murdered, and Rawlins discovers that he was part of a drug-smuggling ring. Rawlins is suspected of the murders and is forced to try to clear his name. Kirkus Reviews called the novel's plot "only average for this celebrated series." Bill Ott, writing for Booklist, praised A Little Yellow Dog as "a superb novel in a superb series."

In 1997 Mosley published the novel Gone Fishin'. This novel is a prequel to the other Easy Rawlins novels, which take place during Rawlins's adult years. Gone Fishin' opens in 1939, when Rawlins and his friend, Mouse Alexander, are only nineteen years old. The novel does not have an intricate plot, because it focuses primarily on Rawlins and Alexander as they come of age. Bill Kent of the New York Times Book Review remarked that Gone Fishin' will "disappoint anyone expecting another of his [Mosley's] atmospheric whodunits."

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, which was published in late 1997, presented another departure from Mosley's Easy Rawlins series. The book consists of fourteen stories that revolve around the character of Socrates Fortlow. Fortlow is an ex-convict who has been released from prison after serving twenty-seven years for killing two acquaintances. He lives in an abandoned building in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and supports himself by delivering groceries for a supermarket. Throughout all fourteen stories, Fortlow grapples with philosophical questions of morality in a world that is riddled with racism, crime, and poverty. Sven Birkerts of the New York Times Book Review remarked that the book delves into "the implications of moral action in a society that has lost all purchase on the spirit of the law." Birkerts also noted that the book's fourteen stories "incorporate the Platonic dialogues as a kind of ghost melody; signature strains of the classic are vamped up in the rough demotic of present-day Watts." In 1998 the actor Laurence Fishburne starred in a film version of Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned on HBO.

Published First Science-Fiction Novel

Mosley broke new ground in 1998 with the release of his first science-fiction novel, Blue Light. Set in San Francisco during the 1960s, the plot focuses on a group of people who are struck by an extraterrestrial blue light. Some who are touched by the light die or go insane, while others are given supernatural abilities. Those with supernatural abilities are stalked by the Gray Man, an evil entity who seeks their destruction. Critical reviews of Blue Light were mixed. In the New York Times Book Review, Mel Watkins remarked that "for those readers accustomed to the gut-real encounters, sharp dialogue and quirky perceptions that enliven the first-person narrations of Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries … the surreal nature of Blue Light may be a disappointment."

Mosley published the novel Walkin' the Dog in late 1999. This novel signaled the return of Socrates Fortlow, the philosophical ex-convict that Mosley first introduced in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. In Walkin' the Dog, Fortlow is faced with challenges such as being evicted from his home, avoiding confrontations with police, and caring for his two-legged dog, Killer. Even though Fortlow is trying to live an honest life, he remains burdened by the sins of his past. Despite his difficult circumstances, he tries to face each day with determination and hope. Walkin' the Dog received generally favorable reviews. Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Adam Goodheart noted that "in prose as plain and gritty as asphalt, Mosley … adeptly builds a feeling of urgency and suspense around even seemingly ordinary episodes of his protagonist's life."

Voiced Social Concerns

In early 2000 Mosley published the social commentary Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking off the Dead Hand of History. In this book, he challenges the American people to find imaginative and creative solutions to the political, social, racial, and economic problems within society. Among other things, he urges his readers to turn away from rampant consumerism and consumption and cautions against overexposure to mass media. Mosley encourages readers to learn from the lessons and struggles of the African-American experience and envisions a brighter future. Anthony O. Edmonds of the Library Journal called the book "a manifesto" and remarked that Mosley "offers little new or practical." In Booklist, Mary Carroll noted that "free market fanatics will hate this book," but believed that readers who are "receptive to a progressive critique of the religion of the market will value Mosley's creative contribution."

In 2001 Mosley returned to the mystery genre with the launch of the new Fearless Jones series, featuring the war veteran Jones and his pal Paris Minton, the owner of a used book store. The series is set in Los Angeles in the 1950s. Mosley then resurrected the Easy Rawlins series, publishing a Rawlins book each year from 2002 through 2005. In 2002 Mosley received a Grammy Award for his liner notes to the album Richard Pryor … and It's Deep, Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings from Warner Archives/Rhino Entertainment. Meanwhile, he continued his prolific production of short fiction as well. His stories appeared in a number of magazines, including the New York Times Magazine and The Nation, and he was the guest editor of The Best American Short Stories of 2003.

Fearless Jones returned to action in 2003 with the publication of Fear Itself, and again in 2006 with Fear of the Dark. In 2005 Mosley published his first novel for young adults, 47, about a slave boy working on a plantation in Georgia. Even during this highly productive period, Mosley found time to work with the City University of New York to establish a publishing certificate program aimed specifically at young urban residents, the only program of its kind in the nation. Books outside the mystery genre continued to flow from his pen. In 2007 Mosley published Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel and This Year You Write Your Novel, a nonfiction guide intended to inspire would-be authors to get moving on the book they have inside of them waiting to be set free. October of 2007 brought the publication of Mosley's tenth Easy Rawlins novel, Blonde Faith, the appearance of which prompted speculation in a number of magazines that this would be the final installment of the Rawlins series.

Walter Mosley has demonstrated a willingness to expand his horizons beyond the Easy Rawlins mystery series into the realms of science fiction, social commentary, and other nonfiction areas. He has actively used his popularity and influence to address the economic and social concerns of the day. As Emory Holmes II said in the Los Angeles Magazine, Mosley has become "a rich and increasingly strident voice in publishing."

Selected writings

Devil in a Blue Dress, Norton, 1990.

A Red Death, Norton, 1991.

White Butterfly, Norton, 1992.

Black Betty, Norton, 1994.

RL's Dream, Norton, 1995.

A Little Yellow Dog, Norton, 1996.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, Norton, 1997.

Gone Fishin', Black Classic Press, 1997.

Blue Light, Little, Brown, 1998.

Walkin' the Dog, Little, Brown, 1999.

Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking off the Dead Hand of History, Ballantine Publishing Group, 2000.

Fearless Jones, Little, Brown, 2001.

Futureland, Warner Books, 2001.

Bad Boy Brawley Brown, Little, Brown, 2002.

Six Easy Pieces: Easy Rawlins Stories, Atria Books, 2003.

Fear Itself, Little, Brown, 2003.

The Man in My Basement, Little, Brown, 2004.

Little Scarlet, Little, Brown, 2004.

47, Little, Brown, 2005.

Cinnamon Kiss, Little, Brown, 2005.

The Wave, Warner Books, 2006.

Fortunate Son, Little, Brown, 2006.

Fear of the Dark, Little, Brown, 2006.

Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel, Bloomsbury, 2007.

Blonde Faith, Little, Brown, 2007.

This Year You Write Your Novel, Little, Brown, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

American Visions, April-May 1992, pp. 32-34.

Booklist, May 1, 1996, p. 1469; January 1, 2000, p. 840.

California, August 1990, p. 115.

Cosmopolitan, July 1991, p. 28; July 1992, p. 30.

Detroit Free Press, November 17, 1991, p. 6.

Ebony, October 2007, p. 42.

Essence, January 1991, p. 32; October 1992, p. 50.

Jet, January 7, 2008, p. 32.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1994; April 15, 1996.

Library Journal, June 1, 1991, p. 200; March 15, 1992, p. 68; February 1, 2000, p. 105.

Los Angeles Magazine, November 1998, p. 32.

Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1992, pp. B7, E1, E5; May 14, 1992, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 14, 1991. pp. 1-2, 9.

New Statesman & Society, April 19, 1991, p. 37.

Newsweek, July 7, 1990, p. 65.

New York Magazine, September 18, 2005.

New York Times, September 4, 1990, pp. C13, C16.

New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1990, p. 29; June 5, 1994; January 26, 1997; November 15, 1998; November 7, 1999.

People, September 7, 1992, pp. 105-106.

Playboy, October 1995, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1991, p. 57; April 25, 1994; December 31, 2007, p. 25.

Vanity Fair, February 1993, pp. 46, 48, 50.

Online

"Meet the Author," Walter Mosley, http://www.waltermosley.com (accessed May 29, 2008).

"Walter Mosley, Uneasy Street," Powell's Books, http://www.powells.com/authors/mosley.html (accessed May 29, 2008).

—Ed Decker, David G. Oblender,
and Bob Jacobson

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Mosley, Walter 1952–

Walter Mosley 1952

Author

At a Glance

Alice Walker Novel Triggered Interest in Writing

Fathers Background a Major Influence

Racism an Ever-Present Theme

Moral Issues Raised Frequently

Selected writings

Sources

Walter Mosley has broken new ground as a mystery writer by incorporating issues of race into novels that stand on their own as gripping detective fiction. His books Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death, and White Butterfly were all written from a black perspective. Ebony made the point clearly in its review of White Butterfly, saying that the novel had a decidedly Black American point of view that greatly distinguishes it from any other work in the genre.

Critics have praised Mosleys writing for its realistic portrayal of street life in black neighborhoods of post-World War II Los Angeles. Sara M. Lomax wrote in American Visions that Mosley has a special talent for layering time and place with words and ideas. Library Journals review of A Red Death noted, As before, Mosleys inclusion of life in Watts, contemporary social attitudes, and colloquial speech contribute to the excellence and authenticity of plot and character portrayal.

Much of Mosleys success has been due to the powerful recurring character of Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins, one of the most innovative private investigators to appear in fiction. Unlike many detectives who populate the pages of hard-boiled prose, Rawlins is a multidimensional character who stumbled into his sleuthing career as a means to pay mounting debts. Mosley has used Rawlins to expose the problems of getting by in a world where only a thin line lies between crime and business as usual. As Christopher Hitchens said in Vanity Fair, Rawlins is more of a fixer than a hustler, a kind of accidental detective who gets pulled into cases because of his reluctantly acquired street smarts and savoir faire. D. J. R. Bruckner added in the New York Times that Easy Rawlins is trapped into becoming a private detective, and the way he is trapped gives Mr. Mosley an opportunity to raise scores of moral questions in a novel of little more than 200 pages.

Walter Mosley was born in southeastern Los Angeles in 1952 and grew up in Watts and the Pico-Fairfax district. His father was an African American from the deep South, and his mother a white, Jewish woman whose family emigrated from Eastern Europe. This unique black/Jewish heritage made prejudice a major topic in the household. An only child, Mosley grew up hearing about the woes of life for blacks in the South, as well as the horrors of anti-Semitism across the Atlantic. However, he was also regaled by colorful accounts of partying and carrying on among his black relatives, along with tales of czars in old Russia.

At a Glance

Born January 12, 1952, in Los Angeles, CA; son of LeRoy (a school custodian) and Ella (a school personnel clerk) Mosley; married Joy Kellman (a dancer and choreographer), 1987. Education: Attended Goddard College, 1971; Johnson State College, B.A., 1977; attended writing program at City College of New York, 1985-89.

Worked as a computer consultant for Mobil Oil, and as a computer programmer, potter, and caterer; became full-time writer, 1986.

Awards: John Creasey Memorial Award and Shamus Award, both for outstanding mystery writing; Devil in a Blue Dress was nominated for an Edgar for best first novel by the Mystery Writers of America, 1990.

Addresses: HomeNew York City. Publisher W. W. Norton & Co.,Inc., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110.

After earning a bachelors degree at Johnson State College in 1977, Mosley drifted for a number of years in various jobs, even working as a potter and caterer. He and Joy Kellman, a dancer and choreographer, moved to New York City in 1982 and were married in 1987. The parents of Kellman, who is white and Jewish, reportedly didnt speak to their daughter for five years after meeting Mosley.

Mosley settled down into a career as a computer programmer in the 1980s, but his work left him unfulfilled. Meanwhile, he read voraciously, including mysteries by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross MacDonald and existential novels such as The Stranger by Albert Camus. This blend of suspense and philosophy served him well in the mysteries he would later write.

Alice Walker Novel Triggered Interest in Writing

According to a profile in People magazine, Mosleys decision to become a writer was strongly influenced by his reading of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. That book rekindled the youthful urge to write that he had lost and made him feel that he could create the same kind of prose. He began writing feverishly on nights, weekends, and whenever he could find time. Intent on devoting himself totally to his craft, Mosley quit his computer programming job in the mid-eighties and enrolled at the City College of New York to study with Frederic Tuten, head of the schools writing program. While in the program he also received instruction from writers William Matthews and Edna OBrien.

Mosleys first book, a short psychological novel entitled Gone Fishin that introduced the character of Easy Rawlins, was turned down by 15 agents. In 1989 Mosley showed Devil in a Blue Dress, which he had first written as a screenplay, to his writing teacher. The teacher showed the book to his agent, who sold it to the W. W. Norton publishing company.

When the novel came out in 1990, the New York Times said that it marks the debut of a talented author. Rawlinss reappearance a year later in A Red Death caused Publishers Weekly to theorize that Mosley... may well be in the process of creating a genre classic. White Butterfly was also greeted by critical acclaim, with Cosmopolitan saying that Mosley brings it all so thoroughly, sizzlingly to life. The authors reputation soared when Bill Clinton said during his 1992 U.S. presidential campaign that Mosley was his favorite mystery writer.

Fathers Background a Major Influence

Many characters in the Easy Rawlins novels are based on the experiences of Mosleys father, with similarities between LeRoy Mosley and Easy Rawlins especially apparent. After being treated like a hero abroad during World War II, LeRoy Mosley was dismayed to find that he was still a second-class citizen back in the States. This disillusionment was also felt by veteran Easy Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress, However, the war made it clear to Rawlins that the white man was not much different from himself. Early in the novel, the character ruminates: I had spent five years with white men, and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was.

In a commentary in the Los Angeles Times, Mosley asserted that black soldiers learned from World War II; they learned how to dream about freedom. LeRoy Mosleys dream of freedom took him to California, where endless jobs and opportunities were rumored to be waiting for everyone, including African Americans. In the Los Angeles Times, Mosley described the Los Angeles of Easy Rawlins as a place where a black man can dream but he has to keep his wits about him. Easy lives among the immigrants from the western South. He dreams of owning property and standing on an equal footing with his white peers. Deep in his mind he is indoctrinated with the terror of Southern racism. In his everyday life he faces the subtle, and not so subtle, inequalities of the American color line.

Racism an Ever-Present Theme

Similar to the canon of Chester Himes, a black author who wrote Harlem-based crime novels in the 1940s and 1950s, Walter Mosleys works have consistently addressed social and racial issues. Drawing on his fathers life and his own as a close observer of the Watts riots during the 1960s, Mosley shows in his books how racism infects the lives of inner city blacks. Double standards abound in Devil in a Blue Dress, in which a white man hires Rawlins to find a woman known to hang out in black jazz clubs. Easy was chosen because he was black and regarded as a bridge into a world where the white man dare not go. In White Butterfly, the police show a keen interest in the case of a murdered white cocktail waitressafter basically ignoring the murders of a series of black waitresses that occurred earlier.

Mosley has also tapped his Black/Jewish perspective to deal with Jewish suffering as perceived by blacks. In Devil in a Blue Dress, two Jewish liquor store owners in the black ghetto cause Easy Rawlins to remember when his unit broke open the gates of a Nazi extermination camp. This recollection leads to an understanding of similarities in the oppression suffered by blacks in America and Jews abroad.

The author has provided a loud voice on racial strife in the real world as well. He was particularly angered over the racially motivated riots that occurred in Los Angeles in 1992. The rioting was triggered by the not guilty verdicts handed down in the first trial of four white Los Angeles police officers involved in the brutal beating of African American motorist Rodney King. Mosley was outraged that racial tensions had led to blatant violence before people started to address the problems in urban black communities. As he stated in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. The rioters sent out a message that is louder than a billion pleas over the past 400 years of beating, burning and death.

This concern over the degeneration of black neighborhoods has been traced in Mosleys novels, each of which moves Easy Rawlins further into the future to confront changing racial and societal conditions. Nine novels in all have been planned for the Rawlins series, the final one bringing the protagonist into the early 1980s.

Moral Issues Raised Frequently

Mosleys novels have made it clear that morality cannot be judged the same for blacks as it is for whites. The author wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Easy tries to walk a moral line in a world where he is not treated equally by the law.... Hes a man who, finding himself with dark skin, has decided that hes going to live his life and do whats right, in that order. Mosley has used Easys moral flexibility to force his hero back into the private eye business, as in A Red Death when Rawlins bought some buildings with stolen money. When the IRS threatened to look into his finances, Easy reluctantly agreed to spy on a suspected Jewish communist for an FBI man in exchange for protection from the taxman. As Mosley said in the Los Angeles Times, In Easys world... you have to know what the law is but you also have to understand that the reality might be different.

Mosley has found Greenwich Village, a noted haven for people in the arts, to be a good psychological base for him. Its hard to be conspicuous here, he was quoted as saying in Vanity Fair. While he may not want to be noticed, his writing has certainly put him on the literary map. Walter Mosley is an important voice in a new brand of African American fiction that has spawned memorable characters and plots. As Charles Champlin wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Mosley, who ... knows Watts like an after-hours bartender, creates charactersmen, women and childrenwho are vivid, individual and as honest as home movies.

Selected writings

Devil in a Blue Dress (novel), Norton, 1990.

A Red Death (novel), Norton, 1991.

White Butterfly (novel), Norton, 1992.

Also author of the screenplay Devil in a Blue Dress.

Sources

American Visions, April/May 1992, pp. 32-34.

California, August 1990, p. 115.

Cosmopolitan, July 1991, p. 28; July 1992, p. 30.

Detroit Free Press, November 17, 1991, p. 6.

Ebony, September 1992, p. 21.

Essence, January 1991, p. 32; October 1992, p. 50.

Library Journal, June 1, 1991, p. 200; March 15, 1992, p. 68.

Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1992, pp. B7, E1, E5; May 14, 1992, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 14, 1991. pp. 1-2, 9.

New Statesman & Society, April 19, 1991, p. 37.

Newsweek, July 7, 1990, p. 65.

New York Times, September 4, 1990, pp. C13, C16.

New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1990, p. 29.

People, September 7, 1992, pp. 105-106.

Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1991, p. 57.

Vanity Fair, February 1993, pp. 46, 48, 50.

Ed Decker

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Mosley, Walter

Walter Mosley, 1952–, African-American author, b. Los Angeles. He was a computer programmer until his first novel, the best-selling mystery Devil in a Blue Dress (1990; film, 1995), was published. A noirish tale of the search for a missing blonde in a seedy, corrupt 1948 Los Angeles, it introduces Mosley's smart, decent, and streetwise black detective, Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a World War II veteran with a jaundiced view of the racist, money-fueled justice system. Mosely's subsequent mysteries move Rawlins forward in time; they include A Red Death (1991), Black Betty (1994), the short stories of Six Easy Pieces (2003), Little Scarlet (2004), and Cinnamon Kiss (2005). A versatile and prolific author, Mosley has written other mysteries, e.g., Fearless Jones (2001); literary fiction, e.g., RL's Dream (1995) and Fortunate Son (2006); science fiction, e.g. Blue Light (1998) and Futureland (2001); and nonfiction, e.g., Workin' on the Chain Gang (2000) and Life Out of Context (2006).

See C. E. Wilson, Jr., Walter Mosley: A Critical Companion (2003).

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Mosley, Walter

MOSLEY, Walter

Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 1952. Education: Attended Goddard College; received degree from Johnson State College; attended City College of the City University of New York, beginning 1985. Family: Married Joy Kellman. Career: Formerly a computer programmer; writer. Lives in New York. Awards: Shamus Award (Private Eye Writers of America), 1990. Agent: c/o W. W. Norton, 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10110, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Devil in a Blue Dress. New York, Norton, 1990.

A Red Death. New York, Norton, 1991.

White Butterfly. New York, Norton, 1992.

Black Betty. New York, Norton, 1994.

RL's Dream. New York, Norton, 1995.

Gone Fishin': An Easy Rawlins Novel. Black Classic Press, 1996.

A Little Yellow Dog: An Easy Rawlins Mystery. New York, Norton, 1996.

Blue Light: A Novel. Boston, Little, Brown, 1998.

Walkin' the Dog. Boston, Little Brown, 1999.

Short Stories

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned: The Socrates Fortlow Stories. New York, Norton, 1997.

Other

Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking off the Dead Hand of History. New York, Ballantine, 2000.

Contributor, Los Angeles in Fiction: A Collection of Essays, edited byDavid Fine. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Contributor, Mary Higgins Clark Presents The Plot Thickens.Thorndike, Maine, Center Point Publishers, 2000.

Introduction, The Stolen White Elephant and Other Detective Stories by Mark Twain. New York, Oxford University Press, 1996.

Introduction and editor, with others, Black Genius: African American Solutions to African American Problems. New York, Norton, 1999.

*

Film Adaptations:

Devil in the Blue Dress, 1995; Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, 1998.

Critical Studies:

Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora: Panel Discussions and Readings Exploring the African Diaspora through the Eyes of Its Artists (sound recording), Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1995.

* * *

Although Walter Mosley first gained attention as the author of a series of detective novels featuring an African-American private eye in the Raymond Chandler tradition, in light of subsequent works it is now apparent that he is more than simply a genre writer. For example, though Easy Rawlins, Mosley's private detective, was introduced to readers in 1991 with the publication of Devil in a Blue Dress, followed in quick succession by four more appearances, Rawlins's first appearance was in a non-mystery novel, Gone Fishin', written in 1988, though not published until 1997.

Gone Fishin' is a coming-of-age story centered around a trip made in 1939 by nineteen-year-old Easy Rawlins and his childhood friend Raymond Alexander (known as Mouse) from Houston to the Texas bayou town of Pariah. Childhood innocence gives way to painful lessons about mortality, friendship, and the heavy burden of guilt as Easy helplessly stands by and watches Mouse murder his stepfather, and then keeps quiet about it. At the end of the novel, Easy leaves Houston for a new life in Los Angeles, though his life there will continue to be complicated by the continuing presence of the recklessly dangerous Mouse.

Devil in a Blue Dress is set in 1948. Easy has just lost his job. When a white gangster offers him $100 to find a missing woman whom he believes is hiding somewhere in Watts, Easy, who needs the money to pay his mortgage, accepts the job. Trouble begins when friends of the missing woman begin turning up dead and Easy becomes a prime suspect in their murders. Easy, however, proves to be an effective detective, getting to the bottom of the mystery. He also discovers that being his own boss gives him a newfound confidence as a manespecially an African-American man in postwar America. In this and in subsequent novels in the series, Mosley also paints a colorful picture of Easy's world, taking his readers to places (e.g. neighborhood bars, local brothels, and community barbershops) heretofore largely absent from mainstream mystery fiction.

A Red Death picks up Easy's story five years later. Although he now owns three apartment buildings, Easy feels compelled to hide his ownership, posing instead as the maintenance man. But his ruse doesn't fool the IRS, who is after him for back taxes. When an FBI agent offers to fix his tax problems in return for whatever information he can uncover about a suspected Communist organizer working in a local black church, Easy once again finds himself in the role of detective.

As the series continues, life continues to grow more complicated for Easy. In White Butterfly, set in 1956, Easy, now married and the father of two (one of them a mute Mexican boy he saved from a life of child prostitution), still straddles the line between middle-class respectability (he now owns seven buildings, a secret he keeps even from his wife) and outlaw (he's jailed on suspicion of trying to extort money from his employer). Once again, though, he demonstrates his mettle as a detective, solving the case of the murder of a young white woman living in Watts. But his detective work takes its toll on his personal life, as his wife leaves, taking their daughter with her.

It's 1961, Kennedy's in the White House, Martin Luther King, Jr. is beginning to organize marches, and hope for black people is on the rise in Black Betty. But Easy's personal problems continue to weigh him down. He has to try to prevent Mouse from killing whoever sent him to jail, plus untangle an impossibly complicated mystery. The strain shows, and Easy's gloomy mood makes this the darkest novel in the series. At the end, he vows never again to get involved with the problems of others.

A Little Yellow Dog picks up Easy's story two years later, when he seems to have kept his promise: he's happily employed as head custodian at Sojourner Truth Junior High School and trying to raise his two adopted kids. But a sexual encounter with one of the school's teachers changes all that: her brother and his twin turn up dead, followed shortly by her own murder. Easy is left with her dog and a case that leads to more death and more pain. At the end of the novel, as the country grieves over the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Easy is left to grieve over the shooting of his friend Mouse and to agonize over his own guilt in that affair.

In the detective tradition established by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the private eye is usually portrayed as a loner working outside the system of organized law enforcement. But a black private detective like Easy is doubly marginalized, both by his profession and by his race. Race complicates his life in that the demands of justice are often at odds with the demands of his community, and though he often finds himself working for the police, he is never fully accepted by themand his efforts on their behalf threaten his standing in his community. Mosley succeeds in expanding the bounds of the mystery genre by creating an unusual detective hero who is shown struggling with himself and with racial and class prejudices to make his place in the largely white world.

Ultimately, Easy has as much in common with a character like John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom as he does with the private eyes he's usually compared with. Like Updike, Mosley chronicles his hero's personal development in the context of the changing times. Also like Updike, Mosley is as interested in the slice of American life he portrays as he is in his hero. Easy is no simple hero; he's a flawed man in a flawed world. Mosley's genius is in creating believable portraits both of that man and of his world.

Mosley created a second series character, a tough ex-con named Socrates Fortlow, featured in two collections of stories, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Walkin' the Dog. Socrates spent twenty-seven years in an Indiana penitentiary for double murder. Out of prison for eight years and now living in a tiny apartment in Watts, his needs are few and his aims simple: after a lifetime of doing evil, he now wants to be a good man. Like his Greek namesake, Socrates is a philosopher in the fundamental sense of questioning how to live with dignity and integrity, even though circumstances and his troubled past sometimes make that effort difficult.

Written in simple and straightforward prose, perfectly matched to the character of Socrates, the stories display Mosley's skill in portraying realistically the demanding world of a down-and-outer like Socrates. They also celebrate the basic humanity of this fascinating fifty-eight-year-old supermarket bag boy seeking to atone for the past by striving against all odds to live a principled life.

Mosley's other two novels are also departures from the mystery genre with which he had first been identified. RL's Dream is a meditation on the blues. It tells the story of Atwater Wise, a blues guitar player known as Soupspoon. Fifty years ago, he played with legendary blues man Robert ("RL") Johnson. Now dying of cancer in New York City, he strikes up an improbable friendship with an alcoholic white woman named Kiki. She rescues him from homelessness and helps him record his memories of the past. The best parts of the novel are Soupspoon's recollections of his early days in the Mississippi Delta juke joints where he learned to play the blues. By bringing to life those memories of a lifetime spent both living and singing the blues, Mosley celebrates the heartache and the poetry of the music of a people who, as he writes, "carried the whole world on their shoulders and when they sighed it came out blues."

An even more radical departure for Mosley is Blue Light, a science fiction novel that is his least successful book. Set in San Francisco in the 1960s, the novel is populated with otherworldly blue lights, graphic murders, and an evil presence known as Gray Man. Largely absent from this novel, however, is the one quality that has proven to be the hallmark of Mosley's best work: the realistic depiction of ordinary people struggling to live ordinary lives.

In his fictional portraits of a wide range of African Americans, Mosley chooses not to focus primarily on racism as a dominant theme. Rather than portraying black people in relation to whites, in other words as victims of racism, he is more interested in showing blacks simply living their lives, working hard, raising their children, trying to pay the bills. Out of such ordinary lives as these, Mosley has crafted some extraordinary American fiction.

David Geherin

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Mosley, Walter 1952–

Walter Mosley 1952

Author

At a Glance

Novel Triggered Interest in Writing

Fathers Background a Major Influence

Racism an Ever-Present Theme

Moral Issues Raised Frequently

Departed From Easy Rawlins

Published First Science Fiction Novel

Voiced Social Concerns

Selected writings

Sources

Walter Mosley has broken new ground as a mystery writer by incorporating issues of race into novels that stand on their own as gripping detective fiction. His novels are all written from an African American perspective. He has also branched out into the areas of science fiction and social commentary.

Critics have praised Mosleys writing for its realistic portrayal of street life in African American neighborhoods of post-World War II Los Angeles. Sara M. Lomax wrote in American Visions that Mosley has a special talent for layering time and place with words and ideas. Librarys Journals review of A Red Death noted, As before, Mosleys inclusion of life in Watts, contemporary social attitudes, and colloquial speech contribute to the excellence and authenticity of plot and character portrayal.

Much of Mosleys success has been due to the powerful recurring character of Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins, one of the most innovative private investigators to appear in fiction. Unlike many detectives who populate the pages of hard-boiled prose, Rawlins is a multidimensional character who stumbled into his sleuthing career as a means to pay mounting debts. Mosley has used Rawlins to expose the problems of getting by in a world where only a thin line lies between crime and business as usual. As Christopher Hitchens said in Vanity Fair, Rawlins is more of a fixer than a hustler, a kind of accidental detective who gets pulled into cases because of his reluctantly acquired street smarts and savoir faire. D. J. R. Bruckner added in the New York Times that Easy Rawlins is trapped into becoming a private detective, and the way he is trapped gives Mr. Mosley an opportunity to raise scores of moral questions in a novel of little more than 200 pages.

Walter Mosley was born in southeastern Los Angeles in 1952 and grew up in Watts and the Pico-Fairfax district. His father was an African American from the deep South, and his mother a white woman of Jewish descent whose family emigrated from Eastern Europe. This unique African American\Jewish heritage made prejudice a major topic in the household. An only child, Mosley grew up hearing about the woes of life for African Americans in the South, as well as the horrors of anti-Semitism across the Atlantic. However, he was also regaled by colorful accounts of partying and carrying on among his African American relatives, along with tales of czars in old Russia.

After earning a bachelors degree at Johnson State

At a Glance

Born January 12, 1952, in Los Angeles, CA; son of LeRoy (a school custodian) and Ella (a school personnel clerk) Mosley; married Joy Kellman (a dancer and choreographer), 1987. Education: Attended Goddard College, 1971; Johnson State College, B.A., 1977; attended writing program at City College of New York, 198589.

Career: Worked as a computer consultant for Mobil Oil, and as a computer programmer, potter, and caterer; became full-time writer. 1986.

Awards: John Creasey Memorial Award and Shamus Award, both for outstanding mystery writing; Devil in a Blue Dress, was nominated for an Edgar for best first novel by the Mystery Writers of America, 1990; winner of the Black Caucus of the American Library Associations Literary Award for RLs Dream. 1996; winner of the Annisfield-Wolf Book Award for Always Outnum-bered, Always Outgunned, 1998; winner of the Trans-Africa International Literary prize.

Member: TransAfrica; National Book Foundation; Poetry Society of America; Manhattan Theater Club.

Addresses: Home New York City. Publisher W. W.Norton & Co., Inc., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110.

College in 1977, Mosley drifted for a number of years in various jobs, even working as a potter and caterer. He and Joy Kellman, a dancer and choreographer, moved to New York City in 1982 and were married in 1987. The parents of Kellman, who is white and Jewish, reportedly didnt speak to their daughter for five years after meeting Mosley.

Mosley settled down into a career as a computer programmer in the 1980s, but his work left him unfulfilled. Meanwhile, he read voraciously, including mysteries by Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ross MacDonald and existential novels such as The Stranger by Albert Camus. This blend of suspense and philosophy served him well in the mysteries he would later write.

Novel Triggered Interest in Writing

According to a profile in People magazine, Mosleys decision to become a writer was strongly influenced by his reading of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. That book rekindled the youthful urge to write that he had lost and made him feel that he could create the same kind of prose. He began writing feverishly on nights, weekends, and whenever he could find time. Intent on devoting himself totally to his craft, Mosley quit his computer programming job in the mid-eighties and enrolled at the City College of New York to study with Frederic Tuten, head of the schools writing program. While in the program he also received instruction from writers William Matthews and Edna OBrien.

In 1989 Mosley showed Devil in a Blue Dress, which he had first written as a screenplay, to his writing teacher. The teacher showed the book to his agent, who sold it to the W. W. Norton publishing company. When the novel came out in 1990, the New York Times said that it marks the debut of a talented author. Rawlinss reappearance a year later in A Red Death caused Publishers Weekly to theorize that Mosley may well be in the process of creating a genre classic. White Butterfly was also greeted by critical acclaim, with Cosmopolitan saying that Mosley brings it all so thoroughly, sizzlingly to life. The authors reputation soared when Bill Clinton said during his 1992 U.S. presidential campaign that Mosley was his favorite mystery writer.

Fathers Background a Major Influence

Many characters in the Easy Rawlins novels are based on the experiences of Mosleys father, with similarities between LeRoy Mosley and Easy Rawlins especially apparent. After being treated like a hero abroad during World War II, LeRoy Mosley was dismayed to find that he was still a second class citizen back in the States. This disillusionment was also felt by veteran Easy Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress. However, the war made it clear to Rawlins that the white man was not much different from himself. Early in the novel, the character ruminates: I had spent five years with white men, and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was.

In a commentary in the Los Angeles Times, Mosley asserted that black soldiers learned from World War II; they learned how to dream about freedom. LeRoy Mosleys dream of freedom took him to California, where endless jobs and opportunities were rumored to be waiting for everyone, including African Americans. In the Los Angeles Times, Mosley described the Los Angeles of Easy Rawlins as a place where a black man can dream but he has to keep his wits about him. Easy lives among the immigrants from the western South. He dreams of owning property and standing on an equal footing with his white peers. Deep in his mind, he is indoctrinated with the terror of Southern racism. In his everyday life he faces the subtle, and not so subtle, inequalities of the American color line.

Racism an Ever-Present Theme

Similar to the canon of Chester Himes, an African American author who wrote Harlem-based crime novels in the 1940s and 1950s, Mosleys works have consistently addressed social and racial issues. Drawing on his fathers life and his own as a close observer of the Watts riots during the 1960s, Mosley shows in his books how racism infects the lives of inner city African Americans. Double standards abound in Devil in a Blue Dress, in which a white man hires Rawlins to find a woman known to hang out in African American jazz clubs. Easy was chosen because he was African American and regarded as a bridge into a world where the white man dare not go. In White Butterfly, the police show a keen interest in the case of a murdered white cocktail waitressafter basically ignoring the murders of a series of black waitresses that occurred earlier.

Mosley has also tapped his African American \ Jewish perspective to deal with Jewish suffering as perceived by African Americans. In Devil in a Blue Dress, two Jewish liquor store owners in the ghetto cause Easy Rawlins to remember when his unit broke open the gates of a Nazi extermination camp. This recollection leads to an understanding of similarities in the oppression suffered by African Americans in America and Jews abroad.

The author has provided a loud voice on racial strife in the real world as well. He was particularly angered over the racially motivated riots that occurred in Los Angeles in 1992. The rioting was triggered by the not guilty verdicts handed down in the first trial of four white Los Angeles police officers involved in the brutal beating African American motorist Rodney King. Mosley was outraged that racial tensions had led to blatant violence before people started to address the problems in urban African American communities. As he stated in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, The rioters sent out a message that is louder than a billion pleas over the past 400 years of beating, burning and death.

Moral Issues Raised Frequently

Mosley has found Greenwich Village, a noted haven for people in the arts, to be a good psychological base for him. Its hard to be conspicuous here, he was quoted as saying in Vanity Fair. While he may not want be noticed, his writing has certainly put him on the literary map. Mosley is an important voice in a new brand of African American fiction that has spawned memorable characters and plots. As Charles Champlin wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Mosley, who knows Watts like an after-hours bartender, creates charactersmen, women and childrenwho are vivid, individual and as honest as home movies.

In 1994, Mosley published another installment in the Easy Rawlins series entitled Black Betty. The novel opens with Rawlins facing both the collapse of his real estate business, and the fact that his wife and daughter have walked out on him. In the midst of this turmoil, he is asked by a white private eye to find Elizabeth Eady, a seductive former housekeeper who is known as Black Betty. As Rawlins searches for Black Betty, he must also prevent his recently paroled friend, Mouse Alexander, from finding and exacting revenge on those who sent him to prison. Reviews of Black Betty were quite favorable. Kirkus Reviews called Black Betty, Mosleys finest work yet, while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised the novels quietly emotive prose, and an ending that fully satisfies. Barry Gifford, writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that nobody will ever accuse Walter Mosley of lacking hearthis words prowl around the page before they pounce, knocking you not so much upside the head as around the body, where you feel them the longest.

Departed From Easy Rawlins

Mosleys 1995 novel, RLs Dream, marked a departure from the Easy Rawlins mystery series. This novel tells the story of Atwater Soupspoon Wise, an aged and dying blues guitar player who is facing eviction from his New York apartment. He is soon befriended by an alcoholic white Southerner named Kiki Waters, who takes Wise into her home and cares for him. Wise longs to relive his glory days, and recalls to Waters about his struggles with racism and the time he played with a legendary Delta blues singer named Robert RL Johnson. As their friendship develops, the two share their individual stories, relive the pain of the past, and learn to heal their emotional wounds. Digby Diehl of Playboy noted that Mosleys mystery novels dont prepare you for the emotional force of RLs Dream. Mosley mixes the nightmares of Soups past with the immediate anguish of poverty, chemotherapy, and aging. The result is harsh, uplifting and unforgettable.

Following the release of RLs Dream, Mosley published another Easy Rawlins mystery, A Little Yellow Dog, in 1996. In the novel, Rawlins is working as a custodian at a junior high school. One of the teachers at the school, Idabell Holland, asks Rawlins to care for her little dog after Hollands husband allegedly threatens to kill it. After Rawlins and Holland have a brief romantic encounter, she is found murdered in the front seat of Rawlinss car. Hollands husband is also found murdered, and Rawlins discovers that he was part of a drug smuggling ring. Rawlins is suspected of the murders, and is forced to try to clear his name. Kirkus Reviews called the novels plot only average for this celebrated series. Bill Ott, writing for Booklist, praised A Little Yellow Dog as a superb novel in a superb series.

In 1997, Mosley published the novel Gone Fishin. This novel is a prequel to the other Easy Rawlins novels, which take place during Rawlinss adult years. Gone Fishin opens in 1939, when Rawlins and his friend, Mouse Alexander, are only 19years-old. The novel does not have an intricate plot, but focuses primarily on Rawlins and Alexander as they come of age. Bill Kent of the New York Times Book Review remarked that Gone Fishin will disappoint anyone expecting another of his [Mosleys] atmospheric whodunits.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, which was published in late 1997, presented another departure from Mosleys Easy Rawlins series. The book consists of 14 stories which revolve around the character of Socrates Fortlow. Fortlow is an ex-convict who has been released from prison after serving 27 years for killing two acquaintances. He lives in an abandoned building in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, and supports himself by delivering groceries for a supermarket. Throughout all 14 stories, Fortlow grapples with philosophical questions of morality in a world that is riddled with racism, crime, and poverty. Sven Birkerts, in a review of Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that the book delves into the implications of moral action in a society that has lost all purchase on the spirit of the law. Birkerts also noted that the books 14 stories incorporate the Platonic dialogues as a kind of ghost melody; signature strains of the classic are vamped up in the rough demotic of present-day Watts. In 1998, actor Laurence Fish-burne starred in a film version of Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned on HBO.

Published First Science Fiction Novel

Mosley broke new ground in 1998 with the release of his first science fiction novel, Blue Light. Set in San Francisco during the 1960s, the plot focuses on a group of people who are struck by an extraterrestrial blue light. Some who are touched by the light die or go insane, while others are given supernatural abilities. Those with supernatural abilities are stalked by the Gray Man, an evil entity who seeks their destruction. Critical reviews of Blue Light were mixed. Patrick OKelley of amazon.com called the novel somber and violent, bizarre and oddly reverent, but added that Blue Light marked a promising new direction for Mosley. In the New York Times Book Review, Mel Watkins remarked that for those readers accustomed to the gut-real encounters, sharp dialogue and quirky perceptions that enliven the first-person narrations of Mosleys Easy Rawlins mysteriesthe surreal nature of Blue Light may be a disappointment.

Mosley published the novel, Walkin the Dog, in late 1999. This novel signaled the return of Socrates Fortlow, the philosophical ex-convict that Mosley first introduced in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned. In Walkin the Dog, Fortlow is faced with challenges such as being evicted from his home, avoiding confrontations with police, and caring for his two-legged dog, Killer. Although Fortlow is trying to live an honest life, he remains burdened by the sins of his past. Despite his difficult circumstances, he tries to face each day with determination and hope. Walkin the Dog received generally favorable reviews. Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Adam Goodheart noted that in prose as plain and gritty as asphalt, Mosleyadeptly builds a feeling of urgency and suspense around even seemingly ordinary episodes of his protagonists life.

Voiced Social Concerns

In early 2000, Mosley published a social commentary entitled Workin the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History. In this book, he challenges the American people to find imaginative and creative solutions to the political, social, racial, and economic problems within society. Among other things, he urges his readers to turn away from rampant consumerism and consumption, and cautions against overexposure to mass media. Mosley encourages readers to learn from the lessons and struggles of the African American experience, and envision a brighter future. Anthony O. Edmonds of the Library Journal called the book a manifesto, and remarked that Mosley offers little new or practical. In Booklist, Mary Carroll noted that free market fanatics will hate this book, but believed that readers who are receptive to a progressive critique of the religion of the market will value Mosleys creative contribution.

Walter Mosley has demonstrated a willingness to expand his horizons beyond the Easy Rawlins mystery series into the realms of science fiction and social commentary. He has actively used his popularity and influence to address the economic and social concerns of the day. As Emory Holmes II said in Los Angeles Magazine, Mosley has become a rich and increasingly strident voice in publishing.

Selected writings

Devil in a Blue Dress, 1990.

A Red Death, 1991.

White Butterfly, 1992.

Black Betty, 1994.

RLs Dream, 1995.

A Little Yellow Dog, 1996.

Gone Fishin, 1997.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, 1997.

Blue Light, 1998.

Walkinthe Dog, 1999.

Workin on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History, 2000.

Sources

American Visions, April\May 1992, pp. 3234.

Booklist, May 1, 1996, p. 1469; January 1, 2000, p. 840.

California, August 1990, p. 115.

Cosmopolitan, July 1991, p. 28; July 1992, p. 30.

Detroit Free Press, November 17, 1991, p. 6.

Essence, January 1991, p. 32; October 1992, p. 50.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1994; April 15, 1996.

Library Journal, June 1, 1991, p. 200; March 15, 1992, p. 68; February 1, 2000, p. 105.

Los Angeles Magazine, November 1998, p. 32.

Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1992, pp. B7, El, E5; May 14, 1992, p. 6.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 14, 1991. pp. 12, 9.

New Statesman & Society, April 19, 1991, p. 37.

Newsweek, July 7, 1990, p. 65.

New York Times, September 4, 1990, pp. C13, C16.

New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1990, p. 29; June 5, 1994; January 26, 1997; November 15, 1998; November 7, 1999.

People, September 7, 1992, pp. 105106.

Playboy, October 1995, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1991, p. 57; April 25, 1994.

Vanity Fair, February 1993. pp. 46, 48, 50.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from amazon.com.

Ed Decker and David G. Oblender

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