Watts Writers Workshop

Last updated

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.

Contents

History

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.

Related Research Articles

COINTELPRO Series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the U.S. FBI

COINTELPRO (1956–1971) was a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. FBI records show that COINTELPRO resources targeted groups and individuals that the FBI deemed subversive, including feminist organizations, the Communist Party USA, anti–Vietnam War organizers, activists of the civil rights movement or Black Power movement, environmentalist and animal rights organizations, the American Indian Movement (AIM), independence movements, and a variety of organizations that were part of the broader New Left. The program also targeted the Ku Klux Klan in 1964.

Erma Bombeck American humorist and writer

Erma Louise Bombeck was an American humorist who achieved great popularity for her newspaper column that described suburban home life from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s. Bombeck also published 15 books, most of which became bestsellers. From 1965 to 1996, Erma Bombeck wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns, using broad and sometimes eloquent humor, chronicling the ordinary life of a midwestern suburban housewife. By the 1970s, her columns were read twice-weekly by 30 million readers of the 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.

Idyllwild Arts Foundation encompasses two institutions in Idyllwild, California for training in the arts: Idyllwild Arts Academy (IAA) and the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program. The institution was formerly known as Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA).

Odessa Cleveland is an American film and television actress.

Ta-Tanisha is an African American character actress, best known for her role as Pam Simpson on the television series Room 222, which she played from 1970 to 1972.

James Tate (writer) American poet

James Vincent Tate was an American poet. His work earned him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He was a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Quincy Thomas Troupe, Jr. is an American poet, editor, journalist and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, in La Jolla, California. He is best known as the biographer of Miles Davis, the jazz musician.

The Watts Prophets are a group of musicians and poets from Watts, California, United States. Like their contemporaries The Last Poets, the group combined elements of jazz music and spoken-word performance, making the trio one that is often seen as a forerunner of contemporary hip-hop music. Formed in 1967, the group comprised Richard Dedeaux, Father Amde Hamilton, and Otis O'Solomon.

Simone Forti American composer

Simone Forti, is an American Italian Postmodern artist, dancer, choreographer, and writer. Since the 1950's, Forti has exhibited, performed, and taught workshops all over the world. Her innovations in Postmodern dance, including her seminal 1961 body of work, Dance Constructions, along with her contribution to the early Fluxus movement, have influenced many notable dancers and artists. Forti first apprenticed with Anna Halprin in the 1950s and has since worked alongside artists and composers Nam June Paik, Steve Paxton, La Monte Young, Trisha Brown, Charlemagne Palestine, Peter Van Riper, Dan Graham, Yoshi Wada, Robert Morris and others. Forti's published books include Handbook in Motion, Angel, and Oh Tongue. She is currently represented by The Box L.A. in Los Angeles, CA, and has works in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Generali Foundation in Vienna, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

James Galvin is the author of seven volumes of poetry, and two novels. He teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in Iowa City, Iowa.

Vi Redd American jazz altosaxophonist, singer and educator

Elvira "Vi" Redd is an American jazz alto saxophone player, vocalist and educator. She has been active since the early 1950s and is known primarily for playing in the bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. She is highly regarded as an accomplished veteran who has performed with Count Basie, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Linda Hopkins, Marian McPartland and Dizzy Gillespie.

Cecilia Woloch is an American poet, writer and teacher, known for her work in communities throughout the U.S. and around the world. She is an NEA fellowship recipient and the author of six collections of poems, a novel, and numerous essays.

Diavolo | Architecture in Motion is an American dance company founded by Jacques Heim in 1992. The company's movement style encompasses modern dance, acrobatics, and gymnastics. Diavolo has been based in Los Angeles since its founding, and has toured across the United States as well as Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

Senga Nengudi is an African-American visual artist best known for her abstract sculptures that combine found objects and choreographed performance. She is part of a group of African-American avant-garde artists working in New York and Los Angeles from the 1960s onward.

Ceremony Of Us was an interracial dance encounter between the Studio Watts, an African American arts organization, and the San Francisco Dancer's Workshop, Anna Halprin's dance company. The performance took place at the Mark Taper Forum, a venue of the Los Angeles Music Center, on February 27, 1969.

The Studio Watts Workshop was an arts organization founded in 1964 and based in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, dedicated to providing working space for artists and offering a broad range of arts workshops for the local community.

Larissa FastHorse is a Native American playwright and choreographer. FastHorse grew up in South Dakota, where she began her career as a ballet dancer and choreographer but was forced into an early retirement after ten years of dancing due to an injury. Returning to an early interest in writing, she became involved in Native American drama, especially the Native American film community. Later she began writing and directing her own plays, several of which are published through Dramatic Publishing. With playwright and performer Ty Defoe, FastHorse founded Indigenous Direction, a "a consulting firm that helps organizations and individuals who want to create accurate work by, for and with Indigenous peoples." Indigenous Direction's clients include the Guthrie Theater.

Lester Koenig was an American screenwriter, film producer, and founder of the jazz record label Contemporary Records.

References

  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.

Sources

<i>Mother Jones</i> (magazine) Magazine focusing on news, commentary, and investigative reporting; based in San Francisco

Mother Jones is an American magazine that focuses on news, commentary, and investigative reporting on topics including politics, the environment, human rights, and culture. Its political inclination is variously described as either liberal or progressive. Clara Jeffery serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine. Steve Katz has been the publisher since 2010; Monika Bauerlein has been the CEO since 2015. Mother Jones is published by The Foundation for National Progress.

New York University private research university in New York, NY, United States

New York University (NYU) is a private research university based in New York City. Founded in 1831, NYU's historical campus is in Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan. NYU also has degree-granting campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, and academic centers in Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C.