Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca

Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University presents world-renowned poet and author Jimmy Santiago Baca Sept. 6 from 11 a.m. — 12:30 p.m. in the theater of the university’s new Student Union Building.

The free keynote talk is titled “Life Gives Me Too Much Laughter.” A book signing will follow, with a number of Baca’s books available for purchase.

The student union is at the northwest corner of National Avenue and 8th Street.

Baca has published 21 books — including poetry, memoirs, essays, short stories and novels — as well as several screenplays. His themes include American Southwest barrios, addiction, injustice, education, community, love and more.

Baca’s work has received numerous prestigious awards, including the International Award for his 2001 memoir A Place to Stand, the American Book Award for Poetry, the International Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, the Southwest Book Award, the National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship, and more. 

“I love writing and it brings me great pleasure,” Baca said. “I write about what’s in my life and its experiences. I do it for myself and if it’s good, it will connect with others.”

Baca spoke at Highlands fall semester 2011 and is looking forward to returning to campus.

“I love speaking at Highlands because the students are sincere and work hard. I also like the history of the university and the professors, who are very smart,” Baca said.

The Highlands University Office of Academic Enrichment is sponsoring the Baca talk. He will also work with students in Academic Enrichment’s learning communities.

“Jimmy Santiago Baca is an extraordinary, personable and entertaining speaker who captivates his audience,” said Casey Applegate-Aguilar, assistant coordinator for Academic Enrichment. “He reflects so deeply upon his own experience that the audience can’t help but have an emotional reaction and reflect along with him — whether it’s about their own lives or the state of the world.”

Baca was born in 1952 in Santa Fe. Abandoned by his parents at the age of 2; he was 13 when he ran away from the orphanage where his grandmother placed him.

After living on the streets, at 21 he was convicted on drug charges and incarcerated in a maximum-security prison for five years. In prison he learned to read and write, and discovered a strong appetite for writing poetry.

Baca sent several of the poems he wrote in prison to Mother Jones magazine. The magazine published the poems, which became part of his first poetry book, Immigrants in Our Own Land. It was published in 1979, the year Baca was released from prison.

A prolific and versatile writer, numerous critically acclaimed books followed for Baca. Poetry books included titles such as Black Mesa Poems, Healing Earthquakes, Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande, and Martin and Meditations on the South Valley.

Some other Baca works include A Glass of Water, a novel, The Importance of a Piece of Paper, a short story collection, Adolescents on the Edge: Stories and Lessons to Transform Learning, and Bound by Honor, a screenplay that was made into a feature-length HBO film.

In January 2014, two new Baca books will be published, including Face, a book of essays, and Singing at the Gate, a poetry book.

Baca has been called a poet of the people because he has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in prisons, community centers, libraries, and universities across the country.

In 2005, Baca created Cedar Tree, Inc., a nonprofit foundation that he said works to give people of all walks of life the opportunity to become educated and improve their lives.

“Literacy is freedom and everyone has something significant to say,” Baca said.

In 2006, Baca won the Cornelius P. Turner Award. This national award recognizes one GED graduate a year who has made outstanding contributions to society in education, justice, health, public service, and social welfare.

After completing his GED, Baca earned his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Mexico. Later, UNM awarded him an honorary doctorate in literature.