The Story of My Book: Jacqueline Balderrama

Published periodically, “The Story of My Book” posts bring our collections to life through a series of five questions we ask all of our poets that highlight what makes every book unique and why Perugia is the right home for each of them (and may be for you and your book too).

Jacqueline Balderrama on Now in Color (Perugia, 2020)

1. What was the genesis of your Perugia book?

Now in Color started as an assortment of poems written during my MFA at Arizona State. At the time, I followed my interests in how my Latina experience differed from others’ and in using art and description as a spark for new poems (including reflections on the news of current migrant people became an important parallel to my family’s immigration story). Ultimately, I had to collect the poems into a defensible thesis project for the MFA, but a lot of revisions came after getting some distance from the project. I revised and rewrote over the next three summers.  

2. How did you find out about Perugia Press?

I found Perugia through the Poets & Writers “First Book Awards” listing. I was excited by the idea that Perugia published emerging women writers and wanted to be a part of that. I intended to submit in 2018, but I must not have pressed the final button. I’m glad it worked out that way, since Now in Color went through another major revision before I submitted officially. I purchased Sweet Husk by Corrie Williamson in the following days and really enjoyed the poems and presentation of the book.

3. Can you describe an experience that confirmed Perugia Press was a good fit for you?

During the editing process, Becky [Editor/Director Rebecca Olander] was giving me her readings on poems—“The Queen of Technicolor” and “Study of Self-Portrait” in particular—to help me clarify a few confusions in the language. Every time, she would exactly describe my intention and then offer a suggestion about best communicating that meaning. It was great to feel on the same page and have some clear suggestions for improvements to make. Perugia was receptive to a lot of the changes I suggested as well. Their thoughtfulness really pushed the manuscript to be the best book it could be. 

4. How have you changed as a poet, writer, or creative person since your book came out?

I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for editors and those who work in book design. I’m still interested in poetics of witness and social justice poems. With Now in Color, I had personal and cultural connections serving as a second-hand witness to ongoing immigration stories. Now, I’m assessing and exploring my ability to speak on other issues. I think it’s important not to rush into things and to write messy drafts to see how I might succeed or fail in saying something. Having a book out there has also motivated me to try to do something really different with the next project. I’d like to explore more of a multimedia approach.

5. Other than poetry, what moves and motivates you? 

Film, visual art, and being present in nature or new spaces all motivate me. Whether it’s watching a nature documentary or taking a walk, I like to be in the practice of listening, so I’m ready when a poem idea comes my way. Also, engaging with other emerging writers, and teaching or volunteering feel integral to me. Each summer, I select and edit poems by incarcerated writers for Iron City Magazine, and I’ve been tutoring some brilliant K-12 students. Reading and conversing with them always gives me a boost of energy and possibility. These experiences help keep me grounded and reassure me that my studies in creative writing can impact others.

Papermaking on Virginia G. Piper House Global Residency Fellowship (Chiang Mai, Thailand 2015)
Pet bird Georgia, my companion while writing Now in Color
Visiting Teotihuacan, Mexico in 2017