Author Walter Mosley was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the just concluded Bouchercon 2020. The honor is just the latest in a number of awards the celebrated author has received in recent years.
Mosley, a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, is due to receive the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in November. Other honors include: the Anisfield Wolf Award, given for works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America; two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Literary Work; an Edgar for Best Novel; a Sundance Institute Risktaker Award; and a PEN USA's Lifetime Achievement Award. Next February, Mulholland will publish Blood Grove, the 15th novel featuring Black PI Easy Rawlins, an Los Angeles-based World War II veteran, who has appeared in books set from the 1940s through the 1960s.
PW caught up with Mosley during this year’s Bouchercon to discuss his career and the current state of the country.
PW: What appeals to you about raising social and racial issues in genre fiction?
Walter Mosley: Many - maybe even most - people who like reading a genre, i.e. mystery, westerns, science fiction, romance, enjoy the milieu. For that reason if the writer adds his or her particular political/social experience, such as race or gender, then they have the chance of telling something about the meta-experiences of the characters in the tale.
PW: Can you speculate on how the Easy Rawlins series would have differed if you were starting to write it in 2020?
WM: No, I can’t. All writing occurs in the present. Our stories may occur millennia in the future or the past, but our audiences are perpetually in the present. Therefore Devil in a Blue Dress was crafted and accepted or rejected by people at a certain point in time. It is beyond my imagination to wonder how I would have written it today or, for that matter, how people would have responded.
PW: How has writing crime fiction with a Black lead character changed since you began writing Rawlins decades ago?
WM: I don’t really know the macro-impact on Black crime writing over the last 30 years. I only have a quantitative response. When I was first published, I only knew of one other active Black crime writer; that is Gar Anthony Haywood. In the years following there were others. Gary Philips, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Hugh Holton, Barbara Neely and maybe six others.
Today I belong to a Crimewriters Association called Crime Writers of Color (CWOC). That organization has more than 200 members. So there’s certainly a lot more of us.
PW: You’ve written, “In a great mystery, we find that the crime being investigated reveals a deeper rot.” What would that deeper rot be in today’s America, and how has that changed since WWII, if it has?
WM: You realize, I suppose, that this question deserves a book-length reply. The rot, though, is always the same. It runs from technological restructuring of social relations to racism, to sexism, to economics. These general trouble-spots may manifest in different ways but, at their core, they are always the same.
PW: Have mystery organizations such as the MWA and Bouchercon made appropriate progress addressing diversity concerns?
WM: Yes they have. And I must say that I’m a little surprised by this national windfall. For years it was my belief that the nearly invisible, mostly unconscious racism of organizations like this would have to wait for a generation or three to die out before we could achieve the meaningful changes necessary for America to come to an understanding of itself. And let me say here that MWA and Bouchercon aren’t anywhere near being the only culprits. From literary organizations to TV shows the doors have been shut for centuries.
PW: What has surprised you the most about your writing career?
WM: What has surprised me most over the last 30 years of my writing career is the fact of getting published. I remember the first story I got published. That was in Callaloo, a literary magazine. That was the day I felt I could actually call myself a writer. I walked around a few inches above the ground for a month after that. As a writer, even today, my work is rejected more often - by far- than it is accepted. But that doesn’t bother me because of the joy I feel when someone finally says, ‘Let’s give it a chance.’