On March 11, students appreciated the beautiful weather as they waited outside in a line that extended well beyond the front doors of the Mansion. The traffic was caused by the visit of Jimmy Santiago Baca, acclaimed poet and novelist, who read from his most recent novel, “A Glass of Water.”
Lenfell Hall was overflowing with anxious listeners, who ultimately had to line up against the sides of the room or plop down on the floor.
Close to 4 p.m., Baca’s appearance was met with whistling and clapping. He began by stating that poets do not make a lot of money, but that he has been one of the really lucky writers.
“I’ve been successful without being a popular culture icon,” said Baca, who prefers to stay with his family.
Raised by his grandmother before being placed in an orphanage at 13, he explained that his father, mother and two brothers were killed.
“What I really wanted in life was to be loved, have a family, have a house,” said Baca of his youthful desires.
Baca briefly recounted his early years of adolescence and his incarceration at the age of 18 for drugs. During his five years in prison, Baca taught himself how to read and write, which prompted the beginning of his poetry career.
“Life is so incredibly strange sometimes,” said Baca. “Because of poetry, I no longer had to fight.”
The audience then got a taste of Baca’s latest novel: “But when that man cut my throat I never had a thirst so fierce, a thirst for life as mine was being drained. I tell you, never a thirst so fierce as wanting one more second of life with my family.”
The reading was followed by the announcement that Baca had sold the movie rights for this work, and that actor Benjamin Bratt is set to star.
Baca also said that he recently completed two documentaries for Showtime, and his next big project is a two-hour piece for HBO on the mentally ill, in honor of his brother.
Freshman Patricia Jones is studying Baca’s work in her Research Writing course at FDU.
“He has so much depth and personality. All of the things he’s been through has led him to look at the world in an untainted, romantic view,” Jones said.
“It’s refreshing to see somebody who’s been through so much and can talk about it with a smile on their face.”
After the session in the Mansion, Baca and students went to the Bottle Hill Pub where students showcased pieces before an audience.
Megan Kellerman, creative writing graduate assistant, read three poems. Then, student Tyler Masterson played two original songs on his acoustic guitar.
Baca then read “Dream Instructions,” one of many poems found in his book, “Black Mesa Poems.” He said it was one of the very first poems written in prison, which reflected the terror he experienced. What inspired the content and title was a dream that he attributed to a vision.
Baca stuck around to autograph books and talk to students. He said that his day at FDU “has given me an extraordinary experience.”