Walter Mosley’s list of accolades was already lengthy before he was named one of ITW’s ThrillerMasters for 2023. His previous honors include his induction into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, an O. Henry Award, a Grammy, multiple NAACP Image Awards, and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. His selection by ITW as a ThrillerMaster, the first person of color to be so named, makes him only the second person to receive that designation along with having been named a Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master. (Ken Follett was the first.)
Despite his already crowded shelf of awards, being named ThrillerMaster has special import for Mosley. “It is a sublime honor to be recognized by your peers,” Mosley says. “ThrillerFest is a professional event that pays attention to all writers—from the seasoned master to the first-book writer to those who have yet to pen their first novel. This organization offers solace and hope to all of us, and because of that I am honored to be recognized by them. America has experienced a many-centuries drought when it comes recognizing people of color, and in this way this award shows a desire by the larger world to move on from the business of exclusion that has been the mainstay of our culture. There are many other writers out there that need such recognition.”
Mosley is guardedly optimistic about ITW’s future, and the prospect that another ThrillerMaster of color will be named in the coming years. “From the very beginning, the ITW has shown that they wanted to include as many writers—and readers—as possible in their fold; this includes people of color,” he says. “But we all know that every avenue of life includes a learning curve. I have seen this organization grow in their recognition of what is necessary for inclusion, and I hope that it continues. I applaud the ITW for attempting to change the course of recognition and reward. So many times so many writers have been ignored by a sense of separation and condescension. This sea change will be a beacon. Now all we have to do is hope that it is seen.”
The creator of PI Easy Rawlins, Mosley is best known for his gritty crime fiction, but his versatility and endless curiosity have included ventures into science fiction. In October, Grove Atlantic will publish Touched, which is in keeping with his approach to that genre of not making humans the central point. He reveals that in Touched, the first of almost 70 planned novellas, “the beings that inhabit the first few microseconds after the big bang decide that the chromosome that began on Earth will one day topple the balance of the ever-repeating universe. These vast beings decide that this threat must be quashed.”
For Mosley, sci-fi is liberating, and a much different experience than what he considers “nonspeculative fiction.” He adds, “Sci-fi lets us break the rules; in order to grow, we often have to destroy what we know, and even more, what we believe.”
And while Mosley places value in imagining different futures so that people can grow, he is vehement about how the past should be remembered, which extends to the current controversy over revising texts from bestselling authors, such as Agatha Christie, to remove offensive language. “Some books, maybe all books in the long run, will be forgotten,” he says. “We may look back on some cultures, some writers and find them dull, simple, or just wrong-headed. We might lose interest in these long-ago texts, we might forget them—but those writings will remain the building blocks of what we know and say and write today. No work of literature, reportage, or a simple letter should ever be edited, censored, or revised. The only way to understand where you are is know where you’ve been.”
Walter Mosley will be interviewed by Jerri Williams on Friday, June 2, 3:40–4:30 p.m.