Walter Mosley Is the Next Guest of Alta’s California Book Club

This week’s California Book Club newsletter: Devil in a Blue Dress is the club’s next pick, David L. Ulin chooses his favorite California books, and Alice Waters writes about her treasured reads.

walter mosley, devil in a blue dress
Kirk McKoy

Walter Mosley recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Foundation, and in accepting the prize, he wasted no time in addressing a shocking statistic: no other Black man had been given the medal in the foundation’s 32-year history.

“We, the people who are darker than blue, built this nation brick by brick,” he said in his short but eloquent and impassioned remarks. “We crafted its jazz and bled for its yet-to-be-realized beliefs. These achievements cannot be ignored. We’ve been here from the beginning and we’ll be there at the end, our heads held high when the promise of equality is achieved.”

If Mosley has not until now received such acknowledgement from one of the nation’s premier literary organizations, he has, thankfully, had the blessing of many readers who’ve fallen in love with his books. Most prominent among them is his bestselling 1990 novel, Devil in a Blue Dress. The hard-boiled mystery set in postwar L.A. has become a modern California classic, and Alta’s California Book Club is proud to have selected it for its next gathering, on December 17. Mosley will join host John Freeman in an hour-long virtual discussion about the novel, and all are invited to take part in the conversation for free. You can sign up here.

Mosley’s novel, for the uninitiated, is the first in a still-growing series of books whose heart and soul is Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, an aircraft factory worker who, fired from his job, takes on detective work to pay the bills. He lives and works in Watts. In its review of the novel, the Los Angeles Times wrote that “[Mosley] re-creates the era convincingly…evoking the uneasy combination of freedom and disillusion in the postwar black community and revealing a tough, fresh perspective on Los Angeles history.” (Eddie Muller wrote about the 1995 film adaptation of the novel in Alta’s Fall 2020 issue.)

Devil in a Blue Dress is the first book that Mosley published. He has since made up for any lost time, writing more than 50 books in several genres. His most recent title, the short story collection The Awkward Black Man, came out in September.

To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Mosley on December 17, click here.

perestroika in paris, jane smiley


Countless love stories have been set in the City of Light. Most don’t involve a racehorse, a dog, a raven, and ducks. Perestroika in Paris does. Diana Wagman reviews the latest novel by Northern California author Jane Smiley. Alta

the national road, tom zoellner


“What are the enduring features that make us Americans?” Los Angeles author Tom Zoellner tours the country to find an answer. Marie Mutsuki Mockett reviews his new collection of essays, The National Road: Dispatches from a Changing America. Alta

david l ulin
Noah Ulin


Which books best capture California? David L. Ulin, Alta’s books editor and a selection panelist for Alta’s California Book Club, picks some of his favorites, including works by Joan Didion, Armistead Maupin, Walter Mosley, and Wendy C. Ortiz. Alta

jan morris
Tom Jamieson


Jan Morris wrote with an open mind wherever she traveled. Ulin praises the late author’s perceptive take on Los Angeles. “In ‘The Know-How City,’ she describes the city as it is, not as it is often misperceived: a landscape of invention as opposed to reinvention,” he writes. Los Angeles Times

how much of these hills is gold, c pam zhang
Riverhead Books


C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold—the California Book Club’s October pick—has made the New York Times’s list of 100 notable books of 2020. The paper called it a “mesmerizing tale.” New York Times

alice waters
Chris Hardy


Alice Waters, the founder and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, picks nine books that have changed her life. She writes, “My books have always been like friends to me.” Bookshop

adrienne rich
Nancy Crampton


What happened when the late Santa Cruz poet Adrienne Rich won the National Book Award in 1974? Not what you’d expect. An excerpt from Hilary Holladay’s The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography. Literary Hub

mcsweeney's 62


McSweeney’s, the nonprofit San Francisco publisher, has come out with its 62nd quarterly issue: the Queer Fiction Issue features works by, among others, K-Ming Chang, Eileen Myles, and Bryan Washington and includes full-color art and comics. McSweeney’s

california book club bookplates

Alta’s California Book Club email newsletter is published weekly. Sign up for free and you also will receive four custom-designed bookplates.


John McMurtrie edits for McSweeney’s Publishing and the literary travel magazine Stranger’s Guide.
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