The Land of Enchantment inspires not only visual artists, but crafters of the written word as well. This is certainly true for New Mexican-born poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca.
Baca was born in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, in 1952. Abandoned by his parents at the age of two, he lived with one of his grandmothers for several years before being placed in an orphanage. At the age of 13, he ran away and wound up living on the streets. When he was 21, he was convicted on charges of drug possession and incarcerated. He served six and a half years in prison, three of them in isolation, and having expressed a desire to go to school (the guards considered this dangerous), he was put in the same area of the prison with the inmates on death row for a period of time before he was released.
During this time, Baca taught himself to read and write, and he began to compose poetry. He sold these poems to fellow inmates in exchange for cigarettes. As a result, a fellow inmate convinced him to submit some of his poems to Mother Jones, who accepted them for publication.
The Writings of Jimmy Santiago Baca
Critics highly praised Baca’s first major collection, Immigrants in Our Own Land. In 1987, his semi-autobiographical minor epic in verse, Martin & Meditations on the South Valley, received the American Book Award for poetry, bringing Baca international acclaim and, in 1989, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature.
Baca’s poetry collections include C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans: Dream Boy’s Story (Grove Press, 2002), Healing Earthquakes (2001), Set This Book on Fire (1999), In the Way of the Sun (1997), Black Mesa Poems (1995), Poems Taken from My Yard (1986), and What’s Happening (1982). His memoir, A Place to Stand (2001), chronicles his troubled youth and the five-year jail-stint that brought about his personal transformation. The poet Will Inman published Baca’s poetry in his 1977 anthology Fired Up with You: Poems of a Niagara Vision (Border Press), one of the earliest anthologies to include Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems.
Baca is also the author of a collection of stories and essays, Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio (1992); a play, Los tres hijos de Julia (1991).Hollywood Pictures released his screenplay, Bound by Honor, as Blood In Blood Out in 1993; he also published Second Chances at the end of 1993. Baca’s most recent novel is A Glass of Water (2009). He published an original essay in 2013 called, “The Face,” in e-book form with Restless Books, along with digital editions of his Breaking Bread with the Darkness poetry volumes.
Baca Gives Back
A self-styled “poet of the people,” Baca conducts writing workshops with children and adults at countless elementary, junior high and high schools, colleges, universities, reservations, barrio community centers, magenta ghettos, housing projects, correctional facilities and prisons from coast to coast.
In 2004 Baca started a non-profit organization, Cedar Tree, Inc., that supports these workshops through charitable donations. As well as writing workshops, Cedar Tree has produced two documentary films, Clamor en Chino and Moving the River Back Home. The organization employs ex-offenders as interns, a move likely inspired by Baca’s childhood.
Experience the Inspiration
Want to explore the state that has inspired Jimmy Santiago Baca? Click here to let us plan your next trip!