Exactly two months after the Oscars were castigated for a lack of diversity, the Mystery Writers of America held its annual Edgar Awards banquet last night, in Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, and made history, with the naming of its first African-American Grand Master, Walter Mosley. MWA executive v-p Donna Andrews, in her column for the 70th Anniversary Annual, wrote: “You’re allowed to say, ‘About damned time.'”
Mosley was acclaimed by the presenter of the honor, his close friend and the publisher of Black Classic Books, W.P. Coates, for having created the most successful traditional black hero in Watts PI Easy Rawlins. Coates didn’t oversell the significance of the tribute, noting that 99.44% of the writers in the genre “were, and still are, white.”
It was a night of many firsts. The Edgar for Best First Novel By An American Author, went to a book that had just won the Pulitzer for Fiction, The Sympathizer. The book's author, the second writer of color to win a major award that night, Viet Thanh Nguyen, is the cultural critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam and raised in America, added to a remarkable two weeks by picking up the honor. The Sympathizer (Grove Press), is a complex work about a captain in the South Vietnamese army who relocates to Los Angeles with several of his comrades in 1975.
One of the Raven Awards, bestowed to “non-writers and institutions who have made significant contributions to our genre or to MWA,” was given to Sisters in Crime, which was formed in 1986 by Sara Paretsky, after Phyllis Whitney had written MWA to complain that women authors weren't being nominated for Edgars. Andrews bluntly observed that the organization “might not have existed had the MWA done more for women writers 30 years ago.”
It was a good night for the Sisters; their treasurer, Lori Roy, took home Best Novel honors for Let Me Die In His Footsteps (Penguin Random House-Dutton), making her only the third person, and the first woman, to have received Best Novel and Best First Novel Edgars. The other Raven went to Margaret Kinsman, for her tireless efforts to make mystery a legitimate literary form, deserving of serious academic study.
The Edgar for Best Paperback Original went to Lou Berney’s intricate and moving account of a brutal Oklahoma armed robbery and its aftermath, The Long and Faraway Gone (William Morrow).
In what was undoubtedly a first for an acceptance speech, Allen Kurzweil, whose Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully (Harper), won Best Fact Crime, thanked a childhood bully for tying him up and whipping him to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ, Superstar.
President of Britain’s legendary Detection Club, Martin Edwards, won Best Critical/Biographical for The Golden Age of Murder (HarperCollins), a history of the early years of that organization.
And Stephen King followed up a 2015 Edgar win with Best Short Story plaudits for “Obits,” from Bazaar of Bad Dreams (Scribner).