World-Renowned Playwright Luis Valdez to Receive the Tower Award

Luiz Valdez at SJSU in for a revival of his landmark play, "Zoot Suit." (photo by Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’15 MS Mass Communications)

Luis Valdez at SJSU in 2015 for a revival of his landmark play, “Zoot Suit” (photo by Neal Waters, ’07 Geography, ’15 MS Mass Communications).

Media contacts:
Pat Harris, pat.harris@sjsu.edu, 408-924-1748
Robin McElhatton, robin.mcelhatton@sjsu.edu, 408-924-1749

SAN JOSE, CA — San José State University will present its 2017 Tower Award to SJSU alumnus, activist, playwright and father of Chicano theater Luis Valdez at Inspiration to Innovation, a gala event to be held May 4, 2017, at the SJSU Event Center. Ticket information is available on the university website.

“Luis Valdez is an extraordinary example of the contributions San José State University’s alumni make to our social fabric,” President Mary A. Papazian said. “Drawing on his gifts as a writer and director, Valdez gives us unforgettable stories elevating the real-life experiences of the Chicano community, while exploring universal themes of social justice and human rights.”

The Tower Award, San José State’s highest honor, recognizes service to the university, community and society. Among the more than 40 recipients since 1972 are Susan Hammer; Norm Mineta; Peter Ueberroth, ’59 Business Administration, ’86 Honorary Doctorate; and Bill Walsh, ‘55 BA, ‘59 MA, Education.

The Father of Chicano Theater

Awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2015, Valdez is perhaps best known as the force behind “La Bamba,” the 1987 film chronicling the life of rock-and-roll star Ritchie Valens. The popular movie is just one project from more than a half century of productions drawn from personal experience.

Valdez was born in 1940 in Delano to migrant farmworkers. After graduating from James Lick High School in East San José, he went on to produce his first full-length play and earn a bachelor’s in English at San José State in 1964. The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa shows the absurdity of Mexican American stereotypes and it is an excellent example of the timelessness of Valdez’s work.

Soon after graduating from SJSU, the young playwright went on to lend his talents to a cause he knew well. During the Delano grape strike, he collaborated with civil rights leader Cesar Chavez to produce short skits highlighting the plight of the farmworker.

El Teatro Campesino (The Farmworker Theater) in San Juan Bautista would become Valdez’s lifelong professional home and the inspiration for another timeless masterpiece, Zoot Suit. Commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum, the musical explores the complexities of a real murder trial compromised by racism.

In 1979, Valdez took “Zoot Suit” to Broadway, a first in the history of Chicano directors. He earned Golden Globe nominations for the “Zoot Suit” and “La Bamba” films, both of which he directed. He received an honorary doctorate at SJSU in 1988 and returned in 2015 to stage a revival of “Zoot Suit” with his son Kinan Valdez as director. Valdez remains active in the theater community.


About San José State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San José State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 250 areas of study – offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 35,000 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San José State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing more than 7,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 220,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.