Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Walter Mosley. (Photo credit: Marcia Wilson)

One of literature’s most prestigious honors, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters recognizes individuals who have made an exceptional impact on this country’s literary heritage.

National Book Foundation to present Lifetime Achievement Award to Walter Mosley

Edwidge Danticat to present Medal to Mosley

Distinguished Contribution to American Letters medal, 2014. Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan

The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, announced that it will award Walter Mosley with the 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL). Mosley has written more than sixty critically acclaimed books across subject, genre, and category. Walter Mosley’s 1990 debut novel Devil in a Blue Dress was the first in the bestselling mystery series featuring detective Easy Rawlins, and launched Mosley into literary prominence. Mosley’s books have been translated into twenty-five languages, and he has won numerous awards, including, but not limited to, an Edgar Award for Down the River Unto the Sea, an O. Henry Award, The Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award, a Grammy®, several NAACP Image awards, and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, he was named the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The DCAL will be presented to Mosley by two-time National Book Award Finalist Edwidge Danticat.

“Mosley is a master of craft and narrative, and through his incredibly vibrant and diverse body of work, our literary heritage has truly been enriched,” said David Steinberger, Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Book Foundation. “From mysteries to literary fiction to nonfiction, Mosley’s talent and memorable characters have captivated readers everywhere, and the Foundation is proud to honor such an illustrious voice whose work will be enjoyed for years to come.”

Born in Los Angeles in 1952, Mosley’s limitless imagination has fueled the creation of novels, plays, conscious-raising nonfiction, and more, and his boundless drive has often pushed him to publish two or more books a year. In addition to the many awards and accolades he has received over the years, several of his books have been adapted for film and television including Devil in a Blue Dress, released in 1995, starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, and Jennifer Beals. His nonfiction writing has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Nation among other publications. Mosley is also a writer and an executive producer on the John Singleton FX drama series, “Snowfall.”

“Mosley is undeniably prolific, but what sets his work apart is his examination of both complex issues and intimate realities through the lens of characters in his fiction, as well as his accomplished historical narrative works and essays,” said Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation. “His oeuvre and his lived experience are distinctly part of the American experience. And as such, his contributions to our culture make him more than worthy of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.”

Mosley is the thirty-third recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement. Previous recipients include Edmund White, Isabel Allende, Annie Proulx, Robert A. Caro, John Ashbery, Judy Blume, Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, E.L. Doctorow, Maxine Hong Kingston, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, Elmore Leonard, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and Adrienne Rich. Nominations for the DCAL medal are made by former National Book Award Winners, Finalists, judges, and other writers and literary professionals from around the country. The final selection is made by the National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors. Recipients of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters receive $10,000 and a solid brass medal.

ABOUT WALTER MOSLEY

Walter Mosley is one of the most versatile and admired writers in America. He is the author of more than sixty critically acclaimed books that cover a wide range of ideas, genres, and forms including fiction (literary, mystery, and science fiction), political monographs, writing guides including Elements of Fiction, a memoir in paintings, and a young adult novel called 47. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages,

From a forthcoming collection of short stories, The Awkward Black Man, to his daring novel John Woman, which explored deconstructionist history, and his standalone crime novel Down the River Unto the Sea, which won an Edgar Award for Best Novel, the rich storylines that Mosley has created deepen the understanding and appreciation of Black life in the United States. He has introduced an indelible cast of characters into the American canon starting with his first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, which brought Easy Rawlins, his private detective in postwar Los Angeles and his friends Jackson Blue and Raymond “Mouse” Alexander into reader’s lives. Mosley has explored both large issues and intimate realities through the lens of characters like the Black philosopher Socrates Fortlow; the elder suffering from Alzheimer’s, Ptolemy Grey; the bluesman R L; the boxer and New York private investigator Leonid McGill; the porn star of Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore Debbie Dare; and Tempest Landry and his struggling angel, among many others.

Mosley has also written and staged several plays including The Fall of Heaven, based on his Tempest Landry stories and directed by the acclaimed director Marion McClinton. Several of his books have been adapted for film and television including Devil in a Blue Dress (starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle and Jennifer Beals) and the HBO production of Always Outnumbered (starring Laurence Fishburne and Natalie Cole). His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction—long-form essays and op-eds—have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Nation among other publications. He is also a writer and an executive producer on the John Singleton FX drama series, “Snowfall.”

Concerned by the lack of diversity in all levels of publishing, in 1998 Mosley established The Publishing Certificate Program with the City University of New York to bring together book professionals and students hailing from a wide range of racial, ethnic, and economic communities for courses, internships, and job opportunities. In 2013, Mosley was inducted into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame, and he is the winner of numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, The Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award, a Grammy®, several NAACP Image awards, and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, he was named the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement from Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mosley now lives in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

ABOUT EDWIDGE DANTICAT

Edwidge Danticat. (Photo credit: Jonathan Demme)

Edwidge Danticat is the author of several books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory, an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award Finalist, and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner, and Everything Inside, a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. She is the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Diaspora in the United States and Haiti Noir and Haiti Noir 2. She has written seven books for young adults and children, Anacaona, Behind the Mountains, Eight Days, The Last Mapou, Mama’s Nightingale, My Mommy Medicine, and Untwine, as well as a travel narrative, After the Dance, A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2007 and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner for autobiography. Edwidge Danticat is a 2009 MacArthur Fellow and winner of the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. She is a two-time winner of The Story Prize, a 2020 United States Artist Fellow, and winner of the 2020 Vilcek Prize in Literature.

National Book Foundation's Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Medallion

Every fall, in conjunction with the conferring of The National Book Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature, the Board of Directors of the Foundation also presents a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The recipient is a person who has enriched our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work. Recipients of the Award receive $10,000.

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