LUIS VALDEZ, the leading Latino playwright in the United States and one of Hollywood’s outstanding Latino directors, is acknowledged as the founder of modern Chicano theater and film. He was born to migrant farm workers and spent his early life traveling with his family and working in the fields. In spite of their itinerant life, Valdez finished high school and went on to San Jose State College, where he majored in English and pursued his interest in theater. While there, he won a playwriting contest with his one-act, The Theft (1961), and in 1963 the Drama Department produced his play, The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa (1963). He later joined the United Farm Workers and staged improvisational theater with the help of union actors to further the UFW causes. This work lead to the formation of his theater group, El Teatro Campesino, which produced most of Valdez’ early plays in both the U.S. and Europe.
Over the years, Valdez and his theater company have introduced Latino theater and literature to mainstream audiences. Valdez broke into established theater venues, with the Mark Taper Forum’s production of Zoot Suit in Los Angeles in 1978 and with the Broadway production of the same play in 1979. In 1986 he had a successful run of his play I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges at the Los Angeles Theater Center.
Valdez’s screen writing career began with early film and television versions of Corky González’s poem, I Am Joaquín (1969), and his own work, Los Vendidos, and a film version of Zoot Suit (1982). But his real success in Hollywood came with his writing and directing of La Bamba, the tragic story of singer Ritchie Valens, which proved wildly successful and launched the screen careers of Lou Diamond Philips and Esai Morales. Other television films include Corridos (1987), La Pastorela (1991) and The Cisco Kid (1993).
Valdez’s plays, essays and poems have been widely anthologized. He has published four collections of plays: Luis Valdez—Early Works (1990), Zoot Suit and Other Plays (1992), Zoot Suit: A Bilingual Edition (2004) and Mummified Deer and Other Plays (2005). In 2010, a Spanish-language version of Zoot Suit opened in Mexico City to wide acclaim. His awards include an Obie (1968), Los Angeles Drama Critics Awards (1969, 1972 and 1978), a special Emmy Award (1973) and the San Francisco Bay Critics Circle for Best Musical (1983). He is a faculty member and the founding director of the Teledramatic Arts and Technology Department at California State University, Monterey Bay. He continues to travel extensively, celebrating his Chicano theatrical roots.