December 13, 2001
Beyond the Cover
Many know author Walter Mosley as the creator of the popular Central L.A.-set Easy Rawlins detective series of which the book "Devil in a Blue Dress," became a film starring Denzel Washington. But what is not as well-known is Mosley's Jewish background on his mother's side.
Mosley, who recently released the sci-fi "Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World," discussed with a local paper the black/Jewish issues that inspired his mystery novel "Fearless Jones" which was released June of 2001. At one point in the book, Fanny, a Holocaust survivor, takes the title character and his friend into her home, and the two become entangled in the lives of her immigrant family. The award-winning author talked about what it was like to grow up biracial in Los Angeles.
"For me, it didn't feel like two cultures. It was my mother and my father, and it was kind of a wonderful thing, because I had two families that reflected each other almost perfectly. They both came from poor communities; they all had an oral tradition.
"The Jewish side of my family lived in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. They were working-class people -- butchers and bakers and tailors -- and they worked with their hands. My father's family was mostly in Watts, and later in Compton and parts of Pasadena. Everybody in my father's family worked with their hands, too, but they did it a little differently. My father actually built a house in the back yard, and did painting and mechanics. My uncle, Chaim, who was a tailor, would show my father how he cut a suit. And my father would show Chaim how you'd level a floor. It was an interesting kind of interaction.
The funny thing, the interesting thing, is that all my Jewish relatives are from Eastern Europe, and they're all tiny people. Five feet tall, 5-foot-1, so their houses are actually very small. [Laughs]. I felt a little cramped when I visited them, but I knew I could walk to the beach, which was something I loved. But when I got home, I loved home, my neighborhood. This is Los Angeles, so when you get to my neighborhood, it's not just black people, but a lot of Mexican Americans living in the neighborhood; and not that far away, the Japanese, who have been there for 100 years. The multicultural effect of Los Angeles, which I hope comes through in my books, is something I was very influenced by."