It’s hard to imagine someone whose early life was more challenging than Jimmy Santiago Baca’s. He was abandoned by all of his closest family members: his abusive, alcoholic father died when he was a toddler, his mother departed for California with a new husband and left him with his grandparents when he was only 3. His grandparents subsequently deposited him in an orphanage. He ran away from the orphanage at age 13 and began his life on the streets of Albuquerque. At age 21 he he was convicted of drug charges, and served 5 years in prison in Florence, AZ.
In prison, Baca spent time in solitary confinement and was subjected to electroshock therapy. He ran into conflict with both guards and other prisoners. And yet, ironically, it was in prison where his life began to improve. He taught himself to read and write poetry and while still in prison, saw three of his poems published by Mother Jones.
When others would have given into despair, Baca instead turned to his passion for language and learning. He has received many prestigious honors over the years, including the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, Southwest Book Award, International Hispanic Heritage Award, and the list goes on. In addition to writing and lecturing, Baca founded Cedar Tree Inc. in 2004, a non-profit foundation that works to give people, of all walks of life, the opportunity to become educated and improve their lives. Here is an excerpt from his poem, entitled “I am with Those.”
None stood up to say I was right, because
I stood alone, without money, without connections,
so today I stand up,
I speak up, and stand with others who do the same.
This is suffering, pain, anguish, and loneliness,
but also strength, hope, faith, love.
Watch Jimmy Santiago Baca read one of his poems here:
Of course, you can check out some of his books at the Buxton Library too! Here are a few titles in our collection:
En Suelo Firme : El Nacimiento de un Poeta (Place to Stand, Spanish ed.)
PS3552 .A254 Z47318 2002
A Place to Stand : The Making of a Poet
PS3552.A254 Z473 2001
Working in the Dark
PS3552.A254 Z477 1992