Join us for a conversation on the 55th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Rebellion, with Mike Davis, Jon Wiener, Erin Aubry Kaplan and Danny Widener!

Please note: This event will take place live on Crowdcast. RSVP here to save your spot!


Set the Night on Fire (Verso)

Los Angeles in the sixties was a hotbed of political and social upheaval. The city was a launchpad for Black Power--where Malcolm X and Angela Davis first came to prominence and the Watts uprising shook the nation. The city was home to the Chicano Blowouts and Chicano Moratorium, as well as being the birthplace of "Asian American" as a political identity. It was a locus of the antiwar movement, gay liberation movement, and women's movement, and, of course, the capital of California counterculture.Mike Davis and Jon Wiener provide the first comprehensive movement history of L.A. in the sixties, drawing on extensive archival research and dozens of interviews with principal figures, as well as the authors' storied personal histories as activists. Following on from Davis's awardwinning L.A. history, City of QuartzSet the Night on Fire is a historical tour de force, delivered in scintillating and fiercely beautiful prose.

Praise for Set the Night on Fire:

"The familiar, monochromatic picture of Los Angeles in the sixties--all Hollywood pop and Didion ennui--required a million people of African, Asian, and Mexican ancestry to be 'edited out of utopia, ' as Mike Davis and Jon Wiener put it. What those people actually did, alongside antiwar feminists, high school students, and others, is the heart of this book, and it's a big heart. No one could tell these intersecting stories better than Davis and Wiener, and their book gives us back a great city's greatness in its movements, edges, and other centers, so many of them forgotten."
--Rebecca Solnit, author of Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir

"From the Ash Grove to Aztlán, from the Valley to Vietnam, it's all here. Step inside and meet an amazing array of characters who risked life and limb to drag the City of Angels out of the dark ages. In showing how struggles for free health care, adequate housing, functional schools, racial and sexual liberation, new forms of creative expression, and the human right of freedom from brutal police violence came together into a mighty torrent, Wiener and Davis have written a revolutionary history for an age of continuing contradictions."
--Daniel Widener, author of Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles

"Davis's and Wiener's L.A. is not the glossy theme park of mansions, beaches, and glitzed-up noir, but the undercity of outsiders struggling to get out from under the savage police to stake out a place in the sun. Their book is a rare and necessary saga of unsung heroes, vicious authorities, and unpunished crimes--a timely reminder of opportunities seized and opportunities wasted."
--Todd Gitlin, author of The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage

"This is history from below, in the very best sense, focusing on grassroots heroes and struggles. A magnificent mural of the local Sixties, written with verve and passion by two of my favorite locals."
-- Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer

"The great task of Set the Night on Fire is to remedy the erasures of the black, brown and queer activists who put their bodies on the line. Mike Davis and Jon Wiener remind us that what there is of progressivism in the city today (we can debate how much) has a very deep history of struggle against unforgiving reactionary forces. Revolutionary artist-nuns, educator-organizers and free-jazz visionaries are just a few of a vast cast of characters that together paint a stirring portrait of a visionary Los Angeles ever-emerging from the shadows of the old order. It's high time radical LA came out of the closet. This book blows the door wide open. Viva Los Angeles Libre!"
--Rubén Martínez, author of Desert America: A Journey Across Our Most Divided Landscape

"Set the Night on Fire fixes on one mission--collate the stories of emancipation struggle in '60s LA--and runs with it, using document research to complete the job. This is the approach Davis has been using in the twenty-first century, and it works."
--Sasha Frere-Jones, Bookforum

"An indispensable portrait of an unexplored chapter in the history of American progressivism."
--Publishers Weekly

"Insightful and innovative ... Set the Night on Fire is both a fierce political and cultural history and a geographic corrective."
--William Deverell, Alta

"Authoritative and impressive ... Set the Night on Fire is an essential reference to L.A.'s rich history of civil unrest, with a hopeful undercurrent. Movements can and often do force change."
--Erik Himmelsbach-Weinstein, Los Angeles Times

"Combining comprehensive, mineshaft-deep research with unique firsthand knowledge, [Davis and Wiener's] recounting of the radical '60s in Los Angeles will likely not be surpassed."
--Jerald Podair, Los Angeles Review of Books

"A book as vast as the city itself."
--Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch

"Monumental ... For new generations growing up in a city whose very history is rarely acknowledged to exist, Set the Night on Fire is a vital primer in resistance, a gift to the future from the past."
--Ben Ehrenreich, Guardian

"These are war stories, the intended audience of which is the young organizers of today, many of them the children and grandchildren of his friends and heroes in the sixties."
--Dana Goodyear, New Yorker

Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz, Late Victorian Holocausts, Buda’s Wagon, and Planet of Slums. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in San

Jon Wiener started out in the sixties writing for The Old Mole, an underground weekly in Cambridge, Mass. He sued the FBI for their files on John Lennon - dating from the time when Nixon had ordered Lennon deported from the US to silence him as a critic of the Vietnam War. After 17 years of litigation, including a Supreme Court appeal (Wiener v FBI, cert denied), the government settled and released almost all of pages that had been withheld on the grounds that they contained "National Security" information. That story is told in his book Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files. He's taught American history at UC Irvine--especially the course "Politics from FDR to Obama," and is a long-time contributing editor at The Nation, where he hosts the magazine's weekly podcast "Start Making Sense." His guests there have included Naomi Klein, Gail Collins, Chris Hayes, Paul Krugman, Rebecca Solnit, and Barbara Ehrenreich. His recent books include How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America -- the New York Times Book Review called it "A political argument masquerading as a travel yarn...Convincing." He's also the author of Conspiracy in the Streets: the Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight, which includes illustrations by Jules Feiffer and a cover photo by Richard Avedon. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the video artist and photographer Judy Fiskin.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a Los Angeles journalist and columnist who has written about African-American political, economic and cultural issues since 1992. She is a contributing writer to the New York Times opinion pages and also the Los Angeles Times, where from 2005 to 2007 she was a weekly op-ed columnist – the first black weekly op-ed columnist in the paper’s history. For nine years she was staff writer and columnist for the LA Weekly and a regular contributor for many publications, including kcet.com, Salon.com, Essence, and Ms. Magazine. She currently serves as book review editor for Ms

Kaplan was also a regular columnist for make/shift, a quarterly, cutting-edge feminist magazine that published from 2007 to 2017. Erin’s essays have been anthologized in several books, including (as Erin Aubry) Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood (Villard, Washington Square Press), Step Into A World (Wiley & Sons) and Rise Up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood (Doubleday). The last book’s contributors include Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks and Alice Walker, and won an American Book Award in 2005. She won the PEN USA 2001 award for journalism. 

Kaplan has published two books. Her first book was a collection of essays and reportage titled Black Talk, Blue Thoughts and Walking the Color Line: Dispaches From a Black Journalista, and was published in 2011. Her second, I Heart Obama, an extended essay about the cultural and personal meaning of the first black American president, was published in 2016. Kaplan was born and raised in Los Angeles, though her family is originally from New Orleans. She was married to Alan Kaplan, a Los Angeles high school history teacher, for 15 years. He died in 2015. 

Kaplan holds an MFA from University of California, Los Angeles, and has taught creative writing in the M.F.A. program at Antioch University Los Angeles, as well as literature, writing and journalism in the undergraduate program. She is a board member of Capital and Main, a progressive news website that covers political and economic issues in California and across the nation.

Danny Widener teaches modern American history at the University of California at San Diego with a focus on expressive culture and political radicalism. He began his educational career at the Echo Park-Silverlake Peoples’ Childcare Center before studying at Berkeley and New York University.  He is the author of Black Arts West: culture and struggle in postwar Los Angeles, and is the co-editor of two volumes, Another University is Possible and Black California Dreamin’: the crisis of California’s African American communities.  He is currently completing a book entitled Third Worlds Within: black radicalism and interethnic relations in 20th  Century America. He is a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur.

Event date: 
Friday, August 14, 2020 - 2:30pm
Event address: 
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
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Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties Cover Image
ISBN: 9781784780227
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Published: Verso - April 14th, 2020

City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles Cover Image
By Mike Davis, Robert Morrow (Photographs by)
ISBN: 9781786635891
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Published: Verso - July 17th, 2018

Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World Cover Image
ISBN: 9781784786625
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Published: Verso - January 17th, 2017

Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx's Lost Theory Cover Image
ISBN: 9781788732161
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Published: Verso - June 26th, 2018

Prisoners of the American Dream: Politics and Economy in the History of the US Working Class Cover Image
ISBN: 9781786635907
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Published: Verso - July 17th, 2018

Planet of Slums Cover Image
ISBN: 9781784786618
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Published: Verso - January 17th, 2017

Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781784786632
Published: Verso - January 17th, 2017

How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780520282216
Published: University of California Press - March 26th, 2014

Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780520222465
Published: University of California Press - January 21st, 2000

Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Seven Cover Image
By Jon Wiener (Editor), Tom Hayden (Afterword by), Jules Feiffer (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781565848337
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Published: New Press - August 7th, 2006

I Heart Obama Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781611685367
Published: ForeEdge - February 9th, 2016

Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles Cover Image
ISBN: 9780822346791
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Published: Duke University Press - March 8th, 2010