US/World News

Walter Mosley receives National Book Foundation award

(JTA) – Black Jewish novelist Walter Mosley has received one of the National Book Foundation’s highest honors: the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Established in 1988, Mosley is the first Black man to win the medal, but not the first Jewish man – writers such as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and Arthur Miller have won it in past years. Mosley, 68, is perhaps best known for his Easy Rawlins mystery series, centering on a Black private detective in Los Angeles in the 1960s. The first of the series, Devil in a Blue Dress, was adapted into a 1995 movie starring Denzel Washington. Mosley has also written more than 60 books spanning genres, from Afrofuturist science fiction to plays. He won a Grammy Award in 2001 for Best Album Notes for comedian Richard Pryor’s compilation “…And It’s Deep Too!” Mosley began writing at age 34. One of his mentors, the Irish novelist Edna O’Brien, encouraged him to write his first novel, telling him: “You’re Black, Jewish, with a poor upbringing; there are riches therein.”

“In a way, to be a Jew is to be a part of a tribe,” Mosley said in 2010, reflecting on his Jewishness. “Being a part of a tribe, you can never really escape your identity. You can be anything inside, but in the end you’re always answerable to your blood.”

He was born to a Jewish mother and a Black non-Jewish father in Los Angeles. He once told the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival: “I grew up with half-sour kosher pickles and collard greens, and I enjoyed both sides of my family. … I feel equally descended from both of my parents and their backgrounds.”

Main Photo: Walter Mosley at the premiere of the third season of the FX show “Snowfall” at Bovard Auditorium at the University of Southern California, July 8, 2019. (Leon Bennett/WireImage/Getty Images)

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