Cameron Shaw is a writer based in New Orleans. She is a 2009 recipient of the Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program for Short-Form Writing.
Make Art Not War: Watts and the Junk Art Conversation by Cameron Shaw
Only months after publishing The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon wrote an account of life in Watts for the New York Times Magazine. On May 7, 1966, a Los Angeles police officer had shot and killed Leonard Deadwyler, a black man whose name could easily have been plucked from Pynchon’s novel. Ruled an “accident,” Deadwyler’s death was salt in the wound of a neighborhood still smarting from its last fight with the cops. The author spoke, as he expressed in The Crying of Lot 49, of a fundamental inability to communicate—this time between black and white cultures. If, as Pynchon—an outsider himself, albeit a highly critical one—noted, “white values [were] displayed without let-up on black people’s TV screens,” what were the available tools for blacks to communicate the realities of their existence? For local black activists and educators, including Noah Purifoy and Judson Powell, the answer to Pynchon’s conundrum was art.