Mystery Writer Remembers His Days at Hamilton High

Mystery writer Walter Mosley, whose 1990 novel, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington, is a 1970 graduate of Hamilton High School. Often described as a literary descendant of Chester Himes, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, Mosley, 44, sets his detective stories in the gritty post-World War II neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, where he was raised. His family moved across town, to the Pico-Fairfax area, in time for Mosley to attend Hamilton, located on Robertson Boulevard north of the Santa Monica Freeway, in the Los Angeles school district. Education writer Elaine Woo talked to Mosley by phone from his home in New York.

I really wanted to go to Hamilton. It was an interesting school, very integrated. There was a mood about it. Intellectually and academically, it was a very challenging school. I have to say I had a great experience there.

The problem was, there was quite a bit of unconscious racism. Some of it was kind of conscious.

I remember once a friend and I were called to the counselor’s office because we had bad grades. My friend was white. The response to him was he should have a much more challenging regimen in school that would interest him and cause him to be a better student. I was [told] not to take a full course load and to take remedial courses.

The best teacher I ever had, ever in my life, I had in high school. Arthur Shugard. He taught English. I took him every semester.


He taught me how to read poetry. I knew how to read words in a line. But if you call that literacy, that is a very impoverished definition. To understand what the words mean in your life and in the world outside--that’s what I consider literacy. That’s what Arthur did for me.