The Mystery of Walter Mosley

By Whetstone, Muriel L. | Ebony, December 1995 | Go to article overview

The Mystery of Walter Mosley


Whetstone, Muriel L., Ebony


The personal story of Walter Mosley's rise to the nation's best-seller list and to the top of the president's reading list is rivaled only by the fictional tales of drama and intrigue that made the author so famous.

Since the 1990 release of his first mystery, Devil in a Blue Dress, Mosley's popularity has soared, reaching its zenith this fall when Hollywood adapted the book to the big screen.

Mosley hasn't always enjoyed the high-profile lifestyle of a successful author. Just 10 years ago the former computer programmer was still dabbling. He took up pottery for a time and considered catering, music and painting--all in search of personal fulfillment. Now, seemingly overnight, he's a critically acclaimed author whose books are sold around the globe.

What is the mystery of this best-selling mystery writer? How and why is he so successful in a specialty field usually dominated by Whites?

One answer is persistence. Another is timing.

Although publishers rejected his first novel, Gone Fishin', which gave birth to fictional supersleuth Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins, undaunted, Mosley tried again. Finally, in 1990 Devil in a Blue Dress, set during the 1940s in Los Angeles, was published.

Then during the 1992 presidential campaign, candidate Bill Clinton, whose love of a good mystery is legendary, revealed that Mosley was his favorite mystery writer. The endorsement gave his career just the boost it needed and soon literary critics were scrambling to sing Mosley's praises.

Humbly amazed best describes Mosley's response to all the hoopla generated by his work. "Just getting published by a prestigious publisher who was interested in me as a writer and not me as a genre writer," he says, "is kind of wonderful and surprising. I'm published in 19 countries other than the United States and that's kind of shocking--having the movie made, being seen, being in the public; having people mention my name when I haven't tried to get them to mention my name--all of that has been very surprising."

So, in the end, the mystery of Walter Mosley is not all that mysterious. "I don't find my life very interesting in any kind of major way," he says. "I certainly don't think anyone other than myself would be interested in it."

The president, Critics and mystery lovers have proved him wrong. and not only are they interested in Mosley but they are also interested in his immensely popular protagonist, a down-on-his-luck World War II veteran-reluctantly turned detective, Easy Rawlins. They also can't stop talking about Mosley's first non-mystery, RL's Dream, which is set in New York City--where he now lives--and features Soupspoon Wise, an elderly Mississippi Delta bluesman, and Kiki, "a hard-drinking, red-headed refugee from Arkansas."

RL's Dream, which was released in August, is Mosley's proudest accomplishment thus far, he says. "I put a lot of myself in that book--and when I say myself, I don't mean my character and nature but my ability as a writer. I think I grew quite a bit as a writer."

It's a growth process that actually began 10 years ago with a single sentence--"On hot sticky days in southern Louisiana the fire ants swarmed." He wrote it one Saturday at work and remembers thinking afterwards, "My gosh, that's a very good sentence," he recalls. "I always wanted to do something else...and finally I stumbled onto writing somewhere around 33 or 34 and I went, `Oh, this is interesting.

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