Watts Writers Workshop

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The Watts Writers Workshop was a creative writing group initiated by screenwriter Budd Schulberg in the wake of the devastating August 1965 Watts Riots in South Central Los Angeles (now South Los Angeles). Schulberg later said: "In a small way, I wanted to help.... The only thing I knew was writing, so I decided to start a writers' workshop." [1] The group, which functioned from 1965 to 1973, was composed primarily of young African Americans in Watts and the surrounding neighborhoods. Early on, the Workshop included a theatrical component and one of the founders was the actor Yaphet Kotto . The group expanded its facilities and activities over the next several years with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Government files later revealed that the Workshop had been the target of covert operations by the FBI. Well-known writers to emerge from the Workshop include Quincy Troupe, Johnie Scott, Eric Priestley, Ojenke, Herbert Simmons, and Wanda Coleman, as well as the poetry group Watts Prophets.

Budd Schulberg American novelist and screenwriter

Budd Schulberg was an American screenwriter, television producer, novelist and sports writer. He was known for his 1941 novel, What Makes Sammy Run?, his 1947 novel The Harder They Fall, his 1954 Academy Award-winning screenplay for On the Waterfront, and his 1957 screenplay for A Face in the Crowd.

South Los Angeles districts and neighborhoods of Los Angeles

South Los Angeles is a region in southern Los Angeles County, California, and mostly lies within the city limits of Los Angeles, just south of downtown.

Yaphet Kotto American actor

Yaphet Frederick Kotto is an American actor known for numerous film roles, as well as starring in the NBC television series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–99) as Lieutenant Al Giardello. His films include the science-fiction/horror film Alien (1979), and the Arnold Schwarzenegger science-fiction/action film The Running Man (1987). He portrayed the main villain Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die (1973). He appeared opposite Robert De Niro in the comedy thriller Midnight Run (1988) as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely.



The Watts Writers Workshop was begun in September 1965. [2] [1] Founding members were: Ernest Mayhand, Leumas Sirrah, James Thomas Jackson, Birdell Chew Moore, Sonora McKeller, Jimmy Sherman, Johnie Scott, Guadelupe de Saavedra, Harley Mims, Eric Priestley, Alvin Saxon Jr. (Ojenke), Ryan Vallejo Kennedy, and Blossom Powe.

On August 16, 1966, the Workshop was the subject of an hour-long NBC TV documentary, The Angry Voices of Watts, that drew press attention and support from prominent figures across the country, such as James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, Richard Burton, Steve Allen, Abbey Lincoln, Ira Gershwin, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. [3] In 1967 two anthologies of writing from the group appeared, both edited by Schulberg: From the Ashes: Voices of Watts, and the fall issue of The Antioch Review entitled "The Watts Writers Workshop". [4] [5] In 1968, Watts Poets - A Book of New Poetry & Essays was published, edited by Quincy Troupe.

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial television network that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

James Baldwin American writer

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, playwright, and activist. His essays, as collected in Notes of a Native Son (1955), explore intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th-century North America. Some of Baldwin's essays are book-length, including The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976). An unfinished manuscript, Remember This House, was expanded and adapted for cinema as the Academy Award–nominated documentary film I Am Not Your Negro. One of his novels, If Beale Street Could Talk, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning dramatic film in 2018.

John Steinbeck American writer

John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. was an American author. He won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." He has been called "a giant of American letters," and many of his works are considered classics of Western literature.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded a grant of $25,000 awarded to enable the group to establish a meeting space for its writing programs as well as housing for some of the Workshop's members, and a year later gave a second grant of $25,000 in support of expanding the Workshop's programs. [1] The workshop continued to expand. In 1972, television personality Sue Baker organized the teaching of a street dance called Campbellocking within the workshop's theatrical department, forming one of the first street dance groups called "Creative Generation", which was composed of several of the local street dancers who became popular on the television dance show Soul Train .

National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government that offers support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence. It was created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. The NEA has its offices in Washington, D.C. It was awarded Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre in 1995, as well as the Special Tony Award in 2016.

<i>Soul Train</i> American music show

Soul Train is an American music-dance television program which aired in syndication from October 2, 1971, to March 27, 2006. In its 35-year history, the show primarily featured performances by R&B, soul, dance/pop, and hip hop artists, although funk, jazz, disco, and gospel artists also appeared. The series was created by Don Cornelius, who also served as its first host and executive producer.

Harry Dolan, the director of the Watts Writers Workshop, was attempting to keep it going after the loss of federal funding by holding a fundraising dinner in April 1973, [6] but within months the workshop building with its 350-seat theatre was burned down by FBI informant Darthard Perry (a.k.a. Ed Riggs), [7] [8] who began confessing to his activities in 1975. [9] [10] [11]

Harry Dolan used to be a writer for and the director of the Watts Writers Workshop created by Budd Schulberg. He started off as a janitor and became one of the most serious African American writers of his time. Through his contributions and efforts in the Watts Writers’ Workshop he raised awareness in the United States' racial conflict during the 1960s.

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  1. 1 2 3 "Writing Out of the Ashes: The Watts Writers' Workshop", National Endowment for the Arts, January 1, 1966.
  2. "The Watts Writers’ Workshop Is Formed", African American Registry.
  3. Merilene M. Murphy, "Watts Writers Workshop", in Wilfred D. Samuels (ed.), Encyclopedia of African-American Literature, Facts on File, 2007 (accessed June 30, 2014).
  4. Steven L. Isoardi, The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2006, p. 80.
  5. Antioch Review 27, no.2, Fall 1967.
  6. Roger Rapoport, "Meet America's Meanest Dirty Trickster -The Man the FBI Used to Destroy the Black Movement in Los Angeles", Mother Jones, April 1977, p. 22.
  7. Lynskey, Dorian. 33 Revolutions Per Minute (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).
  8. Isoardi, Steve (April 10, 2006). "The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles". University of California Press. p. 80.
  9. Roger Rapoport, Mother Jones Magazine, April 1977, p. 60.
  10. "Cointelpro Documentary, Part 3 of 6 (confessions of FBI informant Darthard Perry)", YouTube.
  11. "Cointelpro Documentary, Part 4 of 6 (FBI informant confesses that FBI had him commit arson)", YouTube.


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