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Walter Ellis Mosley (born January 12, 1952) is an American novelist best known for his crime fiction.
He has written a string of best-selling historical mysteries starring the hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins, a black private investigator, and living in Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood; they are certainly his most well-known works.
Mosley was born in California. Ella (born Slatkin) was Jewish and worked as a recruitment clerk, but her ancestors immigrated from Russia; she later became a librarian. Leroy Mosley (1924-1993), an African American from Louisiana who served as a supervising custodian in a Los Angeles public school, was his father. During the Second World War, he served as a clerk in the segregated US army. His parents tried to marry in 1951, but no one would give them a marriage license in California, where they were living.
He was only a child and ascribes his writing imagination to "an emptiness in my childhood that made me filled with fantasies." Walter Mosley attended Victory Baptist day school, a private African-American elementary school that held pioneering classes in black history, costing him $9.50 a week. When he was 12, his parents transitioned from South Central to more affluent, working-class west LA. In 1970, Alexander Hamilton High School was graduated. Mosley's father, a "black Socrates," describes him as a deep thinker and storyteller. His mother encouraged him to read European classics from Dickens and Zola to Camus. Langston Hughes and Gabriel Garca Márquez are among his favorite characters. He was largely raised in a non-political family environment, although racial strife was present in Los Angeles at the time. He later became more vocal and outspoken about racial inequalities in the United States, which are a backdrop to a lot of his fiction.
He was going through a "long-haired hippie" period, drifting around Santa Cruz and Europe. Mosley dropped out of Goddard College, a liberal arts college in Plainfield, Vermont, and then earned a political science degree at Johnson State College. He began programming computers as a doctorate in political theory. He immigrated to New York in 1981 and met dancer and choreographer Joy Kellman, who married in 1987. They were married in 2001 after ten years apart and divorced in 2001. While writing for Mobil Oil, Mosley took a writing course at City College in Harlem after being inspired by Alice Walker's book The Color Purple. Edna O'Brien, one of Edna O'Brien's tutors, became a mentor and inspired him by saying, "You're Black, Jewish, with a poor upbringing; there are riches therein."
Mosley is still resides in New York City.
Mosley claims he identifies himself as both African-American and Jewish, with strong feelings for both groups.
Mosley started writing at 34 and claims to have 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.