Author and activist Mike Davis, 76, died on Tuesday following his battle with esophageal cancer. While he has been described as a radical hero, a MacArthur Fellow, and a truck driver, he’s best known to Southern Californians as the writer who called out rich Angelenos who were more concerned about profit than people. In his 1990 book “City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles,” Davis accused politicians of working with real estate developers to the detriment of the city, the working class, and people of color.
“Davis' work is so rich and it's so deep, that it really is the work that launched 1,000 ships,” says LA Times Columnist Carolina Miranda, who wrote an obituary for Davis. “When you consider the legacy of an intellectual, it's not just the ability to stimulate the reader, but do they stimulate other thinking? And I think Davis' unvarnished looks at the urban development of Los Angeles, the political development of Los Angeles, didn't just inspire other writers, it inspired conferences, books, ways of thinking about architecture.”
Davis has often been described as prescient and has foretold future disasters. Miranda says that includes a chapter in “City of Quartz” that’s about gangs and policing, which described the sociopolitical factors that led to the 1992 uprisings.
“What made this book such a notable work is that for anybody who had considered him a naysayer, a city-hating socialist was one description … when 1992 happened, all of a sudden, the social fractures and the development that Mike Davis was writing about came right to the fore. They were right in our faces.”
Miranda points out that despite his characterization as “LA’s dark prophet,” Davis was critical of LA because he loved it.
“He said, ‘I say this as any radical. I say this because I love Los Angeles. And if that doesn't come through in my writing, then I failed.’ And I think any activist, anybody who really, truly loves a place, you don't want to just boost it, you want to make it better. And I think that's what was rooted in so much of his work.”
Davis wrote his most recent book, “Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties” alongside historian Jon Wiener, and it explores the activism that took place in the southland during that era.
“It's Davis setting the record straight and showing that actually, there was a lot of radical activism here in the 1960s. A lot of it was led by people of color. Some of it was led by high school students,” Miranda says. “A lot of what they write about in that book is actually these really interesting looks at these collective struggles that emerge from LA, but I think because they were led by young people, and generally people of color, they hadn't received as much airtime in the press.”