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Walter Mosley On The Stories Of LA Told Through Easy Rawlins

In 1990, Walter Mosley first told the story of black postwar LA through Easy Rawlins, an Army vet turned private eye. It became Mosley’s best-known series. He discusses Easy’s creation and journey.
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Walter Mosley: Watts Riots ‘Paved The Way For A Lot Of Change’

Author Walter Mosley in front of his childhood home in the LA neighborhood of Watts. He's standing with his father.

Author Walter Mosley in front of his childhood home in the LA neighborhood of Watts. He’s standing with his father.

In this season of anger in many black communities that are reacting to police brutality, we’re remembering the largest urban riot of the civil rights era.

Fifty years ago this week in Los Angeles, the African-American neighborhood of Watts exploded after a young black man was arrested for drunken driving. His mother scuffled with officers and was also arrested, all of which drew an increasingly hostile crowd.

Novelist Walter Mosley was a boy at the time, growing up in Watts. He says of that time, “It’s a hot summer day, you know, in 1965 … and people are fed up with the last 500 years of oppression, and so there was a riot. You couldn’t have predicted it. It was just people said, ‘OK, today, I’ve had enough.’ ”

He shared his memories of the riots on Morning Edition. These highlights include some of the on-air interview, and some excerpts that did not air.


Interview Highlights

Remembering the first night of riots

When I was a kid — I was 12 years old — I belonged to an organization called the Afro-American Traveling Actors Association, and we did civil rights plays. The main night of that riot, the apex of the riot, we went down to the little theater on Santa Barbara — now called Martin Luther King — to do our play. But nobody came, because people were rioting. Either they were rioting, or they were in their houses, hiding from rioting. And we had to drive out, and driving out, we drove through the riots. It was an amazing sight.

And when I got home, my father was sitting in a chair in the living room — which he never did — drinking vodka and just staring. And I said, “Dad, what’s wrong?” He says, “You know, Walter, I want to be out there. I want to be out there, rioting and shooting. But I know it’s wrong. I want to do it, but I can’t do it.” And he was just … it tore him up, the emotions it brought out in him.

On his father’s reaction

I don’t think there was a black man or woman in America who didn’t understand why it was happening. Most people didn’t riot, of course. … But everybody understood the anger and the rage, that the police could clamp down on you at any moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty. What matters is, if you were a white guy over in Beverly Hills, they wouldn’t be clamping down on you like that; they wouldn’t respond to you like that.

It’s the same thing that happens today; it’s just that we have social media. So, you know, a woman gets killed in Texas, and we say, “Well, why was she arrested?”; “Why was she in jail?”; “How did she die?” These are questions only people in the black community asked a long time ago, because we knew it, but nobody else knew it, because nobody covered it. … And, I want to add, as much as black people understood it, the white community was completely ignorant of anything going on in the black community. And it was such a shock, it scared them for the next five years.

On whether the riots scared him personally

I was scared, you know, because, No. 1, it was an interracial group. So there were a couple of white people in the car, and they were like, on the floor. And then you would see things, you know, people jumping out of windows. They were looting. I saw one guy just lying out on the street. I don’t know what happened to him. The police were driving by, four deep in the car with their shotguns held up, but they weren’t shooting. They were just passing through. You could feel the rage. You could feel that civilization at that moment was in tatters. I was nervous, but I didn’t know enough to be really, really scared. Which was lucky for me.

On how the unrest affected the neighborhood

It hurt the community in some way. But, you know, when all the stores in your community are owned by white people, and you burn down those stores, even though you’re hurt in a way, you’ve made a statement. Those people paved the way for a lot of change in the rest of America. And so, whatever was lost, I believe a lot more was gained. Because it was just expressing that anger. You’d ask, “Well, how many black people feel like this?” And, well, 99 percent of them feel like this, and another 1 percent are really mad. That would be the answer.

(via NPR.org)

Shelf Awareness for Readers “And Sometimes I Wonder About You” Review

In 2009, when Walter Mosley launched his Leonid McGill detective series, there was some question as to how well the historical ambience of his Los Angeles and the in-your-face investigative style of his Easy Rawlins would travel to a new protagonist in contemporary New York City. With And Sometimes I Wonder About You (his fifth McGill novel, after All I Did Was Shoot My Man), Mosley proves that his talent and feel for the city streets–their violence, outsiders, racism, sex and chicanery–travel just fine. McGill is a short, mid-50s PI with a checkered criminal past, a pugilist’s big hands, friends in high and low places, and a tendency to find trouble when a pretty woman catches his attention.

In this book, his wife, Katrina, has been institutionalized after a suicide attempt; his long-time girlfriend, Aura, has told him to stay away out of respect for Katrina’s struggles; and a ravenous new young client, Marella, gives him all the bedroom action he can handle. Since running off with her big-bling engagement ring, Marella is hiding from her former fiancé’s hired thugs who have been threatening her life to get it back. Meanwhile, McGill’s adopted son, Twill, is in danger from a subterranean juvenile crime ring, led by a ruthless gangster, Pied Piper. And a laid-off accountant needs protection from Boston assassins because of the seedy dirt he accidentally uncovered about their wealthy boss’s son. McGill sums up his predicament: “There were three groups of killers after me or mine and three women I had feelings for. None of these people stayed in the right place or were likely to wait their turn.” Bodies pile up, wrongs are righted, lessons are learned. When Mosley’s good, he’s really good. And Sometimes I Wonder About You is one of his good ones.

—Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Mosley’s fifth Leonid McGill mystery features plenty of New York City crime and McGill punishment to keep readers going late into the night.

Doubleday, $26.95 hardcover, 9780385539180

(via Shelf-Awareness.com)

Little Green

Little GreenWhen Walter Mosley burst onto the literary scene in 1990 with his first Easy Rawlins mystery, Devil in a Blue Dress—a combustible mixture of Raymond Chandler and Richard Wright—he captured the attention of hundreds of thousands of readers (including future president Bill Clinton). Eleven books later, Easy Rawlins is one of the few private eyes in contemporary crime fiction who can be called iconic and immortal. In the incendiary and fast-paced Little Green, he returns from the brink of death to investigate the dark side of L.A.’s 1960s hippie haven, the Sunset Strip.

We last saw Easy in 2007’s Blonde Faith, fighting for his life after his car plunges over a cliff. True to form, the tough WWII veteran survives, and soon his murderous sidekick Mouse has him back cruising the mean streets of L.A., in all their psychedelic 1967 glory, to look for a young black man, Evander “Little Green” Noon, who disappeared during an acid trip. Fueled by an elixir called Gator’s Blood, brewed by the conjure woman Mama Jo, Easy experiences a physical, spiritual, and emotional resurrection, but peace and love soon give way to murder and mayhem. Written with Mosley’s signature grit and panache, this engrossing and atmospheric mystery is not only a trip back in time, it is also a tough-minded exploration of good and evil, and of the power of guilt and redemption. Once again, Easy asserts his reign over the City of (Fallen) Angels.

reviews-star-19b“In 2007’s Blonde Faith, set in 1967, Easy Rawlins drove drunkenly off a cliff in what his creator indicated was likely his last appearance. Now, after two months of sliding in and out of consciousness, Easy begins the long journey back to the living, in Mosley’s superb 12th mystery featuring his iconic sleuth…. If there were an Edgar for best comeback player, Easy Rawlins would be a shoo-in.”

Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Mosley fans were pining for the resurrection of Rawlins.  Their dreams have come true…. Mosley returns here to doing what he does best: setting the pain and pleasure of individual lives, lived mostly in L.A.’s black community, within an instantly recognizable historical moment and allowing the two to feed off one another…. [A] major event for crime-fiction fans.”

—Bill Ott, Booklist

“Little Green” by Walter Mosley, National Author Tour

The dates have been announced for the Little Green National Author tour, May-June 2013 in the following cities; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Scottsdale, St. Louis, Austin, Houston, Philadelphia, Raleigh, Brooklyn, New York, Washington DC.

Browse the Events Calendar (to the right) or click “Appearances” to see a list of readings in your area.