A Glass of Water is a gripping tale of family, loyalty, ambition, and revenge that offers an intimate look into the tragedies unfurling at our country’s borders. The first novel from award-winning memoirist, poet, and activist, Jimmy Santiago Baca, it is a passionate and galvanizing addition to Chicano literature.

The promise of a new beginning brings Casimiro and Nopal together when they are young immigrants, having made the nearly deadly ...
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A Glass of Water

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A Glass of Water is a gripping tale of family, loyalty, ambition, and revenge that offers an intimate look into the tragedies unfurling at our country’s borders. The first novel from award-winning memoirist, poet, and activist, Jimmy Santiago Baca, it is a passionate and galvanizing addition to Chicano literature.

The promise of a new beginning brings Casimiro and Nopal together when they are young immigrants, having made the nearly deadly journey across the border from Mexico. They settle into a life of long days in the chili fields, and in a few years their happy union yields two sons, Lorenzo and Vito. But when Nopal is brutally murdered, the boys are left to navigate life in this brave but capricious new world without her.

A Glass of Water is a searing, heartfelt tribute to brotherhood, and an arresting portrait of the twisted paths people take to claim their piece of the ever-elusive American dream.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poet Baca's blistering novel takes to task the treatment of Mexican migrant workers in the US. When a young Mexican couple, Casimiro and Nopal, cross the border in 1984, their new life begins promisingly: they find work on a Texas farm and build a stable home for their two sons, Lorenzo and Vito. But before the boys reach adulthood, Nopal is murdered and her killer escapes. The family struggles to go on, with Lorenzo eventually taking over his father's farm duties and settling into domestic bliss with Carmen, a college student studying migrant workers. Vito's restless spirit leads him to fight in amateur boxing matches and to everyone's surprise, he shows a tantalizing level of talent and considers a serious fighting career. But even as the brothers find their own measures of success, they are haunted by the injustice of Nopal's murder. Interspersed with Lorenzo and Vito's lives are glimpses of Casimiro's youth and even Nopal's thoughts from the world beyond. A general sense of social and political unrest permeates the story, often to the point of distraction. But the sheer passion that drives Baca's novel is undeniable. (Oct.)
Library Journal
After the mother of a Mexican American family is brutally murdered, the widowed father, Casimiro, is forced to raise sons Lorenzo and Vito by himself in what is portrayed as a hostile environment. Both sons are determined to fight the system: Vito literally through pugilism and Lorenzo less violently through social change. Their divergent lives meet at the end as together they avenge their mother's death. Lorenzo is abetted in his quest for reform by Carmen, a doctoral student researching the immigrant population, who falls in love with him. Though the time frame ranges from 1984 to the present, the narration eschews straight chronological order. The thoughts and internalized words of the characters are conveyed in italicized soliloquies that, while thematically relevant, slow up the action somewhat. Baca's first novel is an auspicious beginning for one who has already found success in poetry, memoirs, and short stories (e.g., The Importance of a Piece of Paper). VERDICT A well-written and at times lyrical saga told with understanding and compassion that will appeal mostly to readers within the Latino community. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/09.]—Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH\
Kirkus Reviews
Mexican-American brothers struggle against prejudice and adversity in this first novel from poet/memoirist Baca (The Importance of a Piece of Paper, 2004, etc.). After their father Casimiro is felled by stroke in 2003, Lorenzo takes over the land Casimiro worked for its owner, Miller. Younger brother Vito, forced to leave the farm after beating up Miller's son for disparaging a Mexican woman, dons boxing gloves and becomes a championship fighter. Unbeknownst to Miller, Lorenzo grows more than chili peppers; his marijuana crop generates plenty of surplus cash, which he uses to improve conditions for the area's immigrant field workers. He falls for Carmen, a graduate student writing her thesis on the migrants, but is caught between the way of life made possible by his illicit trade and Carmen's insistence that they join with the workers to agitate for improved conditions. Meanwhile, Vito becomes a hero to the Chicano field hands by equating his fights with the struggle against Anglo injustice and oppression. The narrative skips back and forth in chronology, always circling around the murder of their mother Nopal when Lorenzo was five. We learn that 15-year-old Nopal fled Mexico for America in 1983, fought off a rapist, was rescued by Casimiro, had a singing career that led to her death; ethereal italicized passages suggest that her spirit still follows her sons. All lines eventually converge in a questionably executed and predictable denouement that would work better with fuller character development. Baca's impulse to poetic reverie sacrifices clarity and accessibility for surreal, excessive description. Conversely, lack of specificity keeps the material about the plight of immigrantworkers at the level of vague archetypes. The betrayal of one brother by the other, the fight in which their bid for land ownership is at stake, as well as the unlikely discovery of their mother's murderer are all rushed through in prose that never earns believability, empathy or a hold on the reader's attention. A potentially interesting story sabotaged by lack of discipline.
From the Publisher
“Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poems read like novels, and his novels read like poems. . . . Baca fills his prose with evocative, naturalistic details, [and] his poetry’s beating heart . . . weaves stories of Chicano loss and redemption, often through a reconnection to Earth’s natural elements. . . . Baca’s tangible earthiness seeps through [A Glass of Water] . . . but his bucolic prose is anything but lulling; as the story builds to a violent resolution, so do the political undercurrents. But ultimately, it’s transcendent performance—Carmen’s song and Vito’s populist pugilism, not to mention Baca’s own transformation through literature—that offers salvation.”—Wells Dunbar, The Austin Chronicle

“[With A Glass of Water] Baca manages to put a face on desperation. He decries the exploitation of migrant farm workers in the United States . . . [and] derogates not only an exploitive American economic system, but also Mexican drug lords driving the poor off their land, who become homeless or victims of violence. . . . [But] a field worker’s life isn’t all toil and gloom as reflected in the lives of the characters. There’s also passion, joy, love of family, adventure, love, longing, and accomplishment. The imagery is striking, the prose lyrical.”—Aurelio Sanchez, The Albuquerque Journal

“[A] blistering novel . . . The sheer passion that drives Baca’s [work] is undeniable.”—Publishers Weekly

“[With] image-rich writing . . . A Glass of Water adds another strong voice to the growing body of literature on immigrants and migrant farm workers. . . . Baca should be commended for tackling injustice in his fiction.”—Don Waters, High Country News

“A well-written and at times lyrical saga told with understanding and compassion.”—Library Journal

“Impressive . . . Fierce and uncompromising, but also beautiful and wise, A Glass of Water might be [Baca’s] most accessible work yet. . . . Baca’s concerns are universal: family, loyalty, the dignity of hard work, and, above all, love.”—Kevin Canfield, Pasatiempo

"Buy an extra copy of this book and send it to your senator. I’ll pay for it! It’s the best antidote around to the sorrowful, dehumanizing discourse on undocumented immigrants going on in Washington. Hard economic times always translate into extra misery for the more vulnerable. Ay, and we used to be known as the land where people were given a fair chance!"—Ilan Stavans

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802198921
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 850,049
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Born in New Mexico of Indio-Mexican descent, Jimmy Santiago Baca was raised first by his grandmother and later sent to an orphanage. A runaway at age 13, it was after Baca was sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison that he began to turn his life around: he learned to read and write and unearthed a voracious passion for poetry. During a fateful conflict with another inmate, Jimmy was shaken by the voices of Neruda and Lorca, and made a choice that would alter his destiny. Instead of becoming a hardened criminal, he emerged from prison a writer. Baca sent three of his poems to Denise Levertov, the poetry editor of Mother Jones. The poems were published and became part of Immigrants in Our Own Land, published in 1979, the year he was released from prison. He earned his GED later that same year. He is the winner of the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, the International Hispanic Heritage Award and for his memoir A Place to Stand the prestigious International Award. In 2006 he won the Cornelius P. Turner Award. The national award recognizes one GED graduate a year who has made outstanding contributions to society in education, justice, health, public service and social welfare.

Baca has devoted his post-prison life to writing and teaching others who are overcoming hardship. His themes include American Southwest barrios, addiction, injustice, education, community, love and beyond. He has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in prisons, community centers, libraries, and universities throughout the country.

In 2005 he created Cedar Tree Inc., a nonprofit foundation that works to give people of all walks of life the opportunity to become educated and improve their lives. Cedar Tree provides free instruction, books, writing material and scholarships. Cedar Tree has an ongoing writing workshop in the Albuquerque Women’s Prison and at the South Valley Community Center. Cedar Tree also has an Internship program that provides live-in writing scholarships at Wind River Ranch, and in the south valley of Albuquerque. The program allows students, writers and poets the opportunity to write, attend poetry readings, conduct writing workshops, and work on documentary film production.

Baca is currently producing a two hour documentary about the power of literature and how it can change lives.

1984 BA English, University of New Mexico.
2003, PhD, Literature University of New Mexico, honorary.

Selected Awards and Honors
2006- Cornelius P. Turner GED Award
2001-The International Prize for A Place to Stand
2001-Barnes and Noble Discover Author for A Place to Stand
1997- Humanitarian Award, Albuquerque
1996, 97- Champion Poetry Bout, Taos, NM
1995-The Endowed Hulbert Chair, Colorado College
1993- Southwest Book Award
1990-The International Hispanic Heritage Award
1990- Berkeley Regents Chair, University of California - Berkeley
1989-The Wallace Stevens Endowed Chair, Yale
1989-The American Book Award for Poetry
1988-The Pushcart Prize
1987-The Vogelstein Foundation Award
1986-National Endowments Arts Literary Fellowship

Baca, Jimmy Santiago Bi-lingual 2007
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Spring Poems Along the Rio Grande. New Directions, NY, NY, 2007
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande. New Directions, NY, NY, 2004
Baca, Jimmy Santiago C-Train & 13 Mexicans. Grove/Atlantic, NY, NY, 2002.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Healing Earthquakes. Grove/Atlantic, NY, NY, 2001.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Set This Book On Fire! Cedar Hill Publications, Mena, AR, 1999.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Working in the Dark: Reflections on a Poet in the Barrio. Red Crane Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1992.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Immigrants in Our Own Land. New Directions, NY, NY, 1991.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Black Mesa Poems. New Directions, NY, NY, 1989.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Martin & Meditations on the South Valley. New Directions, NY, NY, 1987.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago Poems Taken from my Yard. Timberline Press, Fulton, MO, 1986.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago What's Happening Curbstone, Willimantic, Conn, 1982.

Baca, Jimmy Santiago The Importance of a Piece of Paper. Grove/Atlantic, NY, NY, 2004 (short stories)
Baca, Jimmy Santiago A Place To Stand. New York: Grove Press, 2001. (Memoir)
Baca, Jimmy Santiago untitled Grove/Atlantic (forthcoming novel) - 2007

Bound by Honor (as video- Blood In, Blood Out), Disney Productions, Hollywood Pictures, 1992.

Selected Site Readings/Workshops
Poetry Center of Chicago, Colorado State University, La Luna Community College, Institute of American Indian Art, San Diego City International Book Fair, Tucson Raza Studies Conference, Safford Federal Prison, UCLA, Harvard, Butler University, Weber State University, ProLiteracy Worldwide Annual Conference, Stanford, Teachers of English Studies CA Conference, Georgetown, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Francisco, Cochise County Detention Center

Selected Radio/TV Appearances
National Public Radio, Good Morning America, National Discovery Channel, PBS Language of Life with Bill Moyers, and CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.

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