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Schulberg and early writers, 1965
On this date we celebrate the Watts Writers’ Workshop, a creative writing group based in Los Angeles, CA., and begun in 1965
Screenwriter Budd Schulberg started the Watts Writers’ Workshop in response to the damage from the Watts Riots of South Los Angeles neighborhood a month earlier. Early contributors included poets Quincy Troupe and John Eric Priestley. Another of the first participants was Johnie Scott, who became the director of the Pan-African Studies Writing program at California State University, Northridge.
On the recommendation of National Council on the Arts member John Steinbeck, the Watts Writers’ Workshop applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)as the group began. The NEA awarded the Workshop $25,000, which enabled the group to establish Douglass House. The Workshop’s home served as a meeting space for its writing programs as well as housing for some of the Workshop’s members, many of whom were homeless.
A year later the Arts Endowment awarded the organization a second grant in support of expanding the Workshop’s programs. The Watts Writers’ Workshop attracted national and international media attention. In 1966, it was the subject of an NBC TV documentary. Writing from the Workshop was also collected in the 1967 anthology "From the Ashes: Voices of Watts."
The Watts Writers’ Workshop gave urban, black America a voice about what they saw and heard, their thoughts and emotions, and getting that out to the rest of the country.
Though the Watts Writers’ Workshop lasted less than a decade, its legacy endures. In 1971, Schulberg and Fred Hudson, a former Paramount Pictures screenwriter, founded the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center in Harlem, New York. The Center’s programs included writing classes in several genres as well as an after-school program in creative writing and computer literacy for elementary and middle school students. The Center also produces the annual Black Roots Festival of Poetry, Prose, Drama, and Music, which has showcased leading African American writers and artists such as Lucille Clifton, Gordon Parks, Toni Morrison, and Ishmael Reed.
National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506
Image, LA Times