Why Walter Mosley Writes About Race

The best-selling author tells The Root that addressing issues that affect blacks is "a labor of love."

Walter Mosley (Marcia Wilson)
Walter Mosley (Marcia Wilson)

(The Root) — Though most recognized for his best-selling series of crime novels featuring black detective Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, Walter Mosley is a writer who wears many hats — both literally and figuratively. Hats — often fedoras — are one of his favorite accessories. He is rarely photographed without one.

But he also wears several as a writer. Unlike many writers whose work is firmly ensconced in one genre, Mosley has written everything from mystery to science fiction.

The man whom President Clinton called one of his favorite authors has also had his work adapted for the big screen, with Denzel Washington starring in Devil in a Blue Dress, the first installment in the Easy Rawlins series. The latest installment of the series, Little Green, hits bookstores May 14.

But Mosley has also written for the theater. His one-act play White Lilies, based on supporting characters from the world of Easy Rawlins, opened at the Crossroads Theatre in New Jersey on May 11. Don Cheadle, who co-starred in Devil in a Blue Dress, was among those in attendance on opening night. After the show, Mosley spoke with The Root about race, writing and what he thinks of Hillary Clinton’s White House chances.

The Root: You have a new volume in the Easy Rawlins mystery series, Little Green, hitting bookstores May 14, and you have this new play premiering around the same time. Which did you prefer writing?

Walter Mosley: There’s no preference. One’s one, and one’s the other. That’s like asking Mouse [a character in the Easy Rawlins mysteries] which girlfriend does he prefer. It depends on which girlfriend he’s with. [Laughter.]

TR: You wrote very movingly about the Trayvon Martin case for the Daily Beast. Do you feel a particular responsibility as a black writer to tackle issues like race in your fiction work?

WM: I feel a responsibility of talking about the people I come from, many of them being black people. So yes — if you talk about the people you know and the life you’ve lived and where you’ve come from. That’s what you do. A “responsibility” makes it seem like something else, like something hard. But it’s something wonderful. It’s something I love. It’s not like work. It’s a labor of love.

TR: Speaking of Trayvon Martin, there are people who have argued that race relations have gotten worse in the age of President Obama. Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you agree?

WM: I don’t know what people mean by that. They must not remember when we couldn’t go to colleges and we couldn’t get jobs and we couldn’t vote. Things haven’t been fixed. I can go that far, and one might say, “Why not? Seems like they could be.” But the fact that we have Obama as president means a whole lot because only 11 percent of America is black, so someone voted for him who wasn’t black. [Editor’s note: U.S. census data show that blacks are 13 percent of the population.]

TR: The Democratic president who preceded President Obama, President Clinton, called you one of his favorite writers. Would you like to see his wife, former Secretary of State Clinton, in the White House?