Joel Schwartz
Photo: Laurie York

An award-winning playwright, screenwriter, travel writer and novelist, Joel Schwartz (1945-2014) was a writer from childhood. Born and bred in Newark, New Jersey, he escaped as soon as he could and pursued a career in writing. As a teenager he became so fascinated with Chinese philosophy and poetry he went on to study Mandarin and specialize in classical Chinese, the only undergrad in a class of 1,200 to do so. After college, he received a Shubert Fellowship to study playwriting. A play he wrote on that fellowship, Tilt (formerly untilted), became his first professional production at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles a year later. His subsequent plays were performed primarily in the west with Power Lines: an El Segundo Triptych, a winner in the 1980 National Gay Playwriting Contest. He was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute, and among his film work the comic short Coming On won a Cine Golden Eagle Award.

After Joel retired he saw his first novel published, The Extraordinary Pupfish of Calaveras County, which received a 5-star review from the Midwest Book Review. His new book, A Daoist Journey into China: journal of a voyage into the interior, was published in 2012.

In addition to Joel’s life as a writer, he worked odd jobs from publishing to pushing mystical oils. Co-founding and serving as first executive director of Los Angeles Youth Network, he worked with homeless youth for thirty years, helping to craft the federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and Safe Choices, an HIV care and prevention manual for Health & Human Services. He was an early advocate for long-term services for street kids, from whom he learned first-hand about the angst and issues of The Extraordinary Pupfish of Calaveras County.