Jimmy Santiago Baca visits FDU the same day his new book is published

By James Neidhardt

February 27, 2019 — Award-winning poet Jimmy Santiago Baca visited Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Campus the same day he launched his new book, an epic poem titled, “When I Walk Through That Door, I Am: An Immigrant Mother’s Quest.” Baca read excerpts from his writing and shared many stories from his life as a convict-turned poet.

“Baca’s stories and poems have much to teach us; his words and his life and way of living help our students see that they are all writers who are able to and need to be sharing what they think,” said Kathryn Douglas, the Florham Campus Director of College Writing.

Jimmy Baca spoke to a group of students in Lenfell Hall. (Photo by Brandon Siavichay)

Baca began by speaking on his life as a writer.

“The reality of being a poet is you probably have to go to prison,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience.    

“If you have a kid who doesn’t have any language, but experiences alcoholism, drug addiction, abuse, despair, betrayal —all the things that children [experience] when they have a dysfunctional family . . . and all of a sudden, that kid meets language? Holy mackerel! There you got a Malcolm X,” said Baca.

Baca went on to tell of how he learned to read and write in English while he was in prison, a story familiar to many students in the audience who have been reading Baca’s memoir “A Place to Stand” as part of their English curriculum at FDU. Baca even borrowed and read from a student’s copy of the memoir.

Jimmy Baca read from his book “A Place to Stand.” (Photo by Brandon Siavichay)

In addition, he read from his new epic poem, which was released by Beacon Press on that day. He shared some of the inspiration behind the writing of the book, which follows an El Salvadorian mother who travels to the United States after her husband’s murder and who suffers at the hands of ICE.

Baca said the book was “based on a million true stories,” and noted its significance.

“Rarely do they publish a pocketbook like this,” he said. “Today was the launch day, and it’s all over the United States.”

After the reading, Baca answered questions from several students, including one who asked what advice he had for a young poet.

“Write,” Baca replied, before adding, “if you want your life to be yours, then make it your life.”

This was Baca’s second visit to the Florham Campus this academic year. When he last visited in November 2018, 500 students showed up, but that visit had to be cut short due to snow.

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