Book of the week
Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15 through October 15. 15, celebrates the contributions of Hispanics to the history, culture and achievements of the United States.
The novels and poetry of Chicano writer Jimmy Santiago Baca, a resident of Albuquerque, are examples of the range of such contributions.
Baca’s many literary accomplishments are brimming with incredible physical energy, whether in sexual or fraternal relationships, as in his recent novel “American Orphan” or visions of wildlife in a new collection of poetry, ” No Enemies ”.
The novel, based on many events and people in his life, demonstrates Baca’s extraordinary mastery of words. “I am in love with the language and I am in love with the words. It’s second nature to me, ”he said in a telephone interview. “When I was working on the novel, I was particularly attentive to the words I used to try to create a story.”
In the text of the novel, Baca explains the power of words in separate paragraphs of the story. This separation allows the author to speak to the reader as if the writer were an actor whispering to the audience.
He tells how he sculpts history and how his choice of words enriches it: “I push, provoke to see how far I will go. I let the words do their job. No matter what I say before I think, I have a simple but deep faith that the outcome will be positive, ”said Baca.
The protagonist of the novel is called Orlando Lucero. Even before being released from prison at age 22, he tries to learn the meaning of love.
This learning curve begins when the imprisoned Orlando exchanges letters with his burning promises to Lila, a North Carolina woman. He thinks he’s madly in love with her.
After his release, Orlando joins Lila and tries to understand this new reality. “Life is more than words in a letter, much more,” says Orlando.
What is remarkable about Orlando / Baca’s intelligence, heart and willingness to do the right thing is that these qualities come from a man strong enough to overcome years in prison, in juvenile detention, in an orphanage.
Baca compared the literary aspect of writing the novel to that of writing poetry in his new collection “No Enemies”.
“The novel is more of a deliberate intellectual exercise for a desired end,” he said. “Poetry, I entrusted my job to feeling the words. They are different approaches. I don’t know if it worked or not, but I did what I did.
The poems in the collection “No Enemies” are divided into six categories.
In the “Education” category, a hard-hitting untitled poem seen from Baca’s perspective in education: “Inside a portable classroom in Atlanta, Georgia / Mexicans and Chicanos sit at desks, / do nothing, no books, sit there. / I tell them I’m a visiting poet, / ask what they’ve been doing all year, / They say, / everyday, all year, sit here, / no teacher is never presented.
In the “Fauna” category are a group of poems, some in homage to the buffalo. Here is a stanza from “Buffalo Poem”: “… The buffaloes are coming / in New Mexico, where I am, I see them / friends call they see them too – / the woods of New Hampshire, the Seattle coast, / the peaks of Indiana, the lakes of Minnesota-… ”
In addition to being a poet and novelist, Baca is also an essayist, screenwriter and educator. Author of 20 books, he is the recipient of numerous awards and honors such as the American Book Award for “Martin & Meditations on the South Valley” and the International Prize for his memoirs “A Place to Stand”, which has been transformed into a Documentary film broadcast on PBS in 2018.