Photo of student reading her essay to the class.

Lucia Martínez, left, reads her essay while acclaimed poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, right, listens at a writing workshop he taught at Highlands May 6 for West Las Vegas High School students. Photo by Margaret McKinney/Highlands University


Las Vegas, N.M. – World-renowned poet and author Jimmy Santiago Baca taught a writing workshop to 100 West Las Vegas High School students May 6 at New Mexico Highlands University.

“Write your own book,” Baca told the students. “I could be looking at the next Pulitzer Prize winner.”

West Las Vegas High School English teachers Katie Lopez and Anthony Lopez, who are married, organized the acclaimed author’s workshop with their students.

“In our English classrooms, we’ve been focusing on what makes an individual’s identity,” Anthony Lopez said. “Jimmy Santiago Baca’s work really resonated with our students because of his cultural experience. We’ve read various poems by him as well as his memoir, ‘A Place to Stand.’”

Katie Lopez said the Jimmy Santiago Baca workshop at Highlands was student-driven because they were excited to work with him on their writing. The students fundraised with concession stands and bake sales to make Baca’s visit possible.

“During the workshop he guided the students through valuable writing exercises,” Katie Lopez said.

“I’ve learned today how to have confidence in my writing,” said Destiny Montoya, a workshop participant and junior at West Las Vegas High School.

Baca, a Santa Fe, New Mexico, native, has published more than 20 books – including poetry, memoirs, essays, short stories and novels – as well as several screenplays. His themes encompass 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.

Lopez and Lopez, who graduated with master’s degrees in English from Highlands in 2014, first met Jimmy Santiago Baca when they were students at Highlands.

“Meeting Jimmy Santiago Baca was a life-changing experience for me because I fell in love with his work, which is very inspirational and powerful. One of the most exciting things for our students is learning how empowering language can be,” Katie Lopez said.

Anthony Lopez said: “Having the opportunity to sit with Jimmy Santiago Baca and do the writing workshop gives our students the chance to further develop their own communication skills with an acclaimed master of the written word.”

Anthony Lopez said Highlands has always been very invested in the Las Vegas community.

“It was a very positive experience coordinating the writer’s workshop with Highlands,” Anthony Lopez said, praising the the academic experience at Highlands for allowing students to hone their English skills. “[It] pushed us to be the kind of teachers who in turn push our students to reach their potential.”

“It’s always exciting when we get to collaborate with local high school students and merge their passion, in this case creative writing, with the academic opportunities at Highlands,” said Jane Clark, campus visits specialist at Highlands.