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A Place to Stand Paperback – June 10, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (June 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139085
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Anyone who doubts the power of the written word to transform a life will know better after reading poet Jimmy Santiago Baca's wrenching memoir of his troubled youth and the five-year jail stint that turned him around.

When he enters New Mexico's Florence State Prison in 1973, convicted on a drug charge, Baca is 21 and has a long history of trouble with the law. There's no reason to think jail will do anything but turn him into a hardened criminal, and standing up for himself with guards and menacing fellow cons quickly gains him a reputation as a troublemaker. But there have already been hints that this turbulent young man is looking for a way out, as he painstakingly spells out a poem from a clerk's college textbook while awaiting trial or unsuccessfully tries to get permission to take classes in prison.

When a volunteer from a religious group sends him a letter, contact with the written word unleashes something in Baca, who starts writing letters and poems with the aid of a dictionary. Reading literature shows him possibilities for understanding his painful family background and expressing his feelings. Poetry literally saves him from being a murderer, as Baca stands over another convict with an illegal weapon, ready to finish him off, and hears "the voices of Neruda and Lorca... praising life as sacred and challenging me: How can you kill and still be a poet?" Baca has a year to go on his sentence, but the reader knows at that point he has made a choice that will alter his destiny.

Without softening the brutality of life in jail, Baca expresses great tenderness for the men there who helped him and affirms his commitment to writing poetry for them, "telling the truth about the life that prisoners have to endure." --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

While readers may find Baca's poetry more dazzling than this prose memoir about how he became a poet, the author still manages to capture both the reader's interest and sympathies. Baca traverses his life, starting with his childhood in rural New Mexico where both parents essentially abandoned him his adolescence in "juvee" halls and his days as a drug dealer. The story leads up to an account of five years in a maximum-security prison in Arizona, and the unusual personal transformation that occurs there through his learning to read and write; eventually, he discovers his poetic voice. The text is structured like a conversion narrative in which Baca's past symbolizes all that is unhealthy and his poetry-oriented future is filled with the hope and optimism that come from discovering something divine in the midst of darkness. The darkness is often literal, as when Baca is describing his lengthy solitary confinements. He also recounts the intricacies of prison politics, in which failure to gain respect and alliances forged with the wrong people can mean death. Oddly, certain story lines are simply dropped along the way, such as his charge that the prison was lacing his food with strong psychoactive drugs. It is too bad that Baca's prose is frequently flat ("Poetry enhanced my self-respect. It provided me with a path for exploring possibilities for life's enrichment that I follow to this day"), especially when reflecting upon abstract topics, since the content of his story is so interesting and his poetry simply shines. (July) Forecast: Baca has won a Pushcart Prize, among other awards, including his title as a one-time champion of the International Poetry Slam. A 12-city tour will win him fans and sell more books.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

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Customer Reviews

This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in biographies.
J.Rivera
This book will show you that no matter who you come from, or what, you can always know the best for your life, and do the best for your life.
Marie
This author is an incredible write and has a fantastic story that will inspire all.
Jaimie Hatfield

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Milli Thornton on December 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
Jimmy Santiago Baca is the recipient of major awards for his raw and emotional poetry. In my opinion, these awards are more special than the average literary awards: They've been earned by a man whose literacy was truly hard won.

A PLACE TO STAND is a memoir of Jimmy's childhood of abandonment, his career selling drugs, and his time in prison. This is also an account of how an illiterate prisoner fought for the privilege to teach himself how to read--and then to write, by corresponding with Harry, a Christian man on the outside, and by writing poems for other cons in exchange for books.

This is not a pretty history. The epilogue tells the shocking tale of his mother's fate. Racism plays its usual dirty role through much of the book. And JSB's account of prison life makes most prison movies look almost civilized. (In an interview with Jimmy in a Santa Fe arts newspaper, he said that he even toned it down for this book because many people cannot accept the harsh truth of prison culture.)

This book is an inspiration to all writers and a testimony to the human spirit. Visit Jimmy's Website to read about his work with at-risk teenagers as founder of Black Mesa Enterprises. And if you haven't yet experienced his poetry, try it first on CD. His readings will blow you away.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on September 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A Place To Stand, by award winning poet and seasoned playwright Jimmy Santiago Baca, is the memoir of a difficult and sometimes violent life. Sent to an orphanage at a young age, encountering violence and bigotry at each turn, he became a criminal and a drug dealer. Sentenced to prison, he had to go to extreme lengths to stay alive - even slicing an attacker's stomach with a butcher knife. Though self-defense, his violent acts earned him repeated time in solitary confinement. There, struggling to resist the dehumanization of prison life, he encountered memories and revelations that transformed him and inspired him to express himself through poetry. Yet even when the end of his prison sentence and freedom beckoned, more tragedy awaited him and his family. A harrowing true story, of unbearable loss and suffering, with a final revelation offering a tiny flicker of hope. A Place To Stand is riveting, compelling, impossible to put down and highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DasPropheta on March 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book. I dont read much but this book caught my attention fast. I can relate to this book alot because I grew up in some of the same sercomstances and had similar problems in life like Jimmy Santiago Baca did. And its good to know that no matter where u came from, what color or what youve been through u can pull out of the gutters and change your life like Jimmy did. It makes me proud to be Latino. I give this book 10 stars out of 5!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The Baffler on June 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
This memoir revolves around the life of one of the best authors I've read. This story goes through the harsh life Jimmy Santiago had to endure. You get to see from a first person look the challenges that a victim of racism has to go through. Through his problems with drugs and drug dealing he gets thrown into prison, which is, were remorse and the great deal of drama comes out. One of great things about this book is that he puts you into his shoes for the entire story; you get to feel the sorrow, and pain he felt. As you go through book you see how horrible prison is and how prominent gangs are and how if you aren't in one you can be in some serious danger. You also see how he had been treated unjust and how people of high authority don't always use their power for the good of people or the help of people. The high degree of hate and abuse in this story really surprised me but never did turn me away from the involving and magnetic story. The most heart breaking parts of the story has to be in the end, don't worry I'm not going to spoil it but it does show the destruction, and control drugs, alcohol, and racism has over people. I felt that Jimmy Santiago had told his story in a detailed, and very powerful way. I would recommend this memoir to any reader looking for a dramatic and very forceful read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "wellfj" on August 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I fell upon this book in a Pasadena, California bookstore while looking for a book to read on my journey back to Saudi Arabia. I finished this riveting tale midway across the Atlantic. Mr. Baca's means of describing the details of his childhood hits a chord with fabulous descriptions of both the bitter and sweet moments in his life. I know that Jimmy's grandfather is looking down from heaven with pride in his grandson's accomplishments as a both a writer and outstanding human being. An awesome book Jimmy Santiago Baca! Thank You for letting me into your life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I was touched by the author's story and commend him for making it through a very rough life. I could relate with him when he told of his early chilhood days. I was raised in Albuqurerque New Mexico and had a Grandfather and Grandmother "Baca". His descriptions of family, food, and places touched home.
I couldn't put this book down, a very good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By carinskarin on November 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although tough to read, this memoir is outstanding in painting a picture of what happens to prisoners when they get swallowed up in the system. This story is about never giving up in spite of the odds against you. People of all cultures could learn from reading this triumphant story.
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