ASU and Zócalo celebrate local voices, 20 years of change

Two people sit on stage across from each other with an ASU Zocalo Book Prize sign behind them.

Against the backdrop of a milestone celebration, Zócalo Public Square — the Los Angeles-based events and ideas convener of ASU Media Enterprise — hosted the 13th annual Zocalo Public Square Book and Poetry Prize event on June 15 at the ASU California Center in downtown Los Angeles.

A momentous commencement in recognition of 20 years of Zócalo, the evening served as as an homage to community connections while honoring literary excellence. 

Michelle Wilde Anderson, an author and Stanford Law School professor, claimed this year's Zocalo Book Prize. Anderson's nonfiction book, "The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America," explores the decline of four cities across the United States and the resilient residents dedicated to reversing this trajectory. In addition to receiving $10,000, Anderson was awarded a Rubik's Cube adorned with the Zócalo logo. 

During the event, Anderson delivered a lecture and engaged in an interview with Alberto Retana, CEO and president of the south Los Angeles-based nonprofit Community Coalition. She announced that she would be donating her prize winnings to four organizations highlighted in her book — but would keep the Rubik's Cube.

Paige Buffington, recipient of the Zócalo Poetry Prize, held the audience's attention with stirring verses from her award-winning poem "From 20 Miles Outside of Gallup, Holbrook, Winslow, Farmington, or Albuquerque" during a virtual reading.

Philanthropist and program sponsor Tim Disney opened the event with remarks that recognized the honorees. Disney has generously supported the program as a sponsor for three consecutive years.

Amidst the celebration of the winners, the evening was imbued with anticipation for Zócalo's future endeavors, including a yearlong celebration to commemorate its accomplishments. Moira Shourie, the executive director of Zócalo, expressed gratitude to supporters and participants for their unwavering support through two decades of existence.

“Over 20 years, we’ve grown from a tiny nonprofit to a flagship unit of ASU Media Enterprise,” Shourie said in a brief address. “Los Angeles born and raised, we remain at the beating heart of downtown L.A.”

Shourie highlighted the organization's remarkable achievements, which included hosting 703 public programs, publishing 3,000 essays and featuring 1,675 panelists up to that evening. The celebration continued with a saxophonist’s rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song to mark the occasion, followed by shared cake and conversation among the attendees. 

Looking ahead to the coming months, Zócalo will continue its commitment to fostering thoughtful conversations and connecting individuals through a series of thematic public events, engaging lectures and thought-provoking essays. 

Forging and thriving in collaborative partnerships

Founded in Los Angeles in 2003, Zócalo and ASU's paths intertwined through a formal partnership in 2011. Since then, their collaboration has united their efforts to advance a shared vision of creativity, inclusion, discovery and the pursuit of knowledge. Guided by Zócalo's model of ideas journalism, which embraces essential questions with accessibility, open-mindedness and a democratic spirit, the organization has not only adapted but thrived in the face of the ever-changing media landscape. 

In 2022, Zócalo partnered with the Los Angeles Times to amplify the visibility of its network of contributing authors in the opinion section. Zócalo also co-publishes with Slate, which has partnerships with ASU and New America under its Future TenseFuture Tense is a partnership between Slate, New America and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy and society. and State of MindState of Mind is a partnership between Slate and Arizona State University that offers reporting and commentary around mental health issues and systems. banners. Additionally, Zócalo collaborates with Issues in Science and TechnologyA quarterly journal that discusses public policy related to science and technology published by ASU in collaboration with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine., a partner of ASU Media Enterprise, for events. Zócalo also collaborates with Arizona PBS to use content curated from Zócalo's 20-year archive of recorded events to viewers of Arizona PBS' World channel.

Further demonstrating its commitment to connecting communities and delivering impactful storytelling, Zócalo is making a noteworthy debut at the 65th annual SoCal Journalism Awards, earning finalist nominations in nine categories. The Los Angeles Press Club will announce the award winners June 25.

The 2023 Zócalo Book and Poetry Prize was also streamed online. Watch the recording here. 

Top photo: Zócalo Book Prize winner Michelle Wilde Anderson converses with Los Angeles community leader Alberto Retana as part of the event. Photo courtesy Zócalo Public Square

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