Sonia Sanchez (born Wilsonia Benita Driver; September 9, 1934)[1] is an American poet, writer, and professor. She was a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement and has written over a dozen books of poetry, as well as short stories, critical essays, plays, and children's books. In the 1960s, Sanchez released poems in periodicals targeted towards African-American audiences, and published her debut collection, Homecoming, in 1969. In 1993, she received Pew Fellowship in the Arts, and in 2001 was awarded the Robert Frost Medal for her contributions to the canon of American poetry.[1] She has been influential to other African-American poets, including Krista Franklin.[2]

Sonia Sanchez
Sanchez in 1998
Sanchez in 1998
BornWilsonia Benita Driver
(1934-09-09) September 9, 1934 (age 89)
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
  • Poet
  • educator
  • columnist
  • dramatist
  • essayist
EducationHunter College
New York University
Notable awardsRobert Frost Medal (2001)
Wallace Stevens Award (2018)
SpouseEtheridge Knight, div.

Early life edit

Sanchez was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 9, 1934, to Wilson L. Driver and Lena Jones Driver. Her mother died when Sanchez was only one year old, so she spent several years being shuttled back and forth among relatives. One of those was her grandmother, who died when Sanchez was six years old.[2] The death of her grandmother proved to be a trying time in her life, and Sanchez developed a stutter, which contributed to her becoming introverted. However, her stutter only caused her to read more and more and pay close attention to language and its sounds.[3][4]

In 1943, Sanchez moved to Harlem in New York City to live with her father (a school teacher), her sister, and her stepmother, who was her father's third wife. When in Harlem, she learned to manage her stutter and excelled in school, finding her poetic voice, which later emerged during her studies at Hunter College. Sanchez focused on the sound of her poetry, admitting to always reading it aloud, and received praise for her use of the full range of African and African-American vocal resources. She is known for her sonic range and dynamic public readings. She now terms herself as an "ordained stutterer".[2] Sanchez earned a BA degree in political science in 1955 from Hunter College.

Sanchez pursued post-graduate studies at New York University (NYU), working closely with Louise Bogan. During her time at NYU, she formed a writers' workshop in Greenwich Village, where the "Broadside Quartet" was born. The "Broadside Quartet" included other prominent Black Arts Movement artists such as Haki Madhubuti, Nikki Giovanni and Etheridge Knight. These young poets were introduced and promoted by Dudley Randall, an established poet and publisher.

Although her first marriage to Albert Sanchez did not last, Sonia Sanchez would retain her professional name. She and Albert had one daughter named Anita. She later married Etheridge Knight, had twin sons named Morani Neusi and Mungu Neusi, but they divorced after two years. Nonetheless, motherhood heavily influenced the motifs of her poetry in the 1970s, with the bonds between mother and child emerging as a key theme. She also has three grandchildren.[5][2]

Teaching edit

Sanchez taught 5th Grade in NYC at the Downtown Community School, until 1967. She has taught as a professor at eight universities and has lectured at more than 500 college campuses across the US, including Howard University. She was also a leader in the effort to establish the discipline of Black Studies at university level. In 1966, while teaching at San Francisco State University, she introduced Black Studies courses. Sanchez was the first to create and teach a course based on Black Women and literature in the United States and the course she offered on African-American literature is generally considered the first of its kind taught at a predominantly white university.[6] She viewed the discipline of Black Studies as both a new platform for the study of race and a challenge to the institutional biases of American universities. These efforts are clearly in line with the goals of the Black Arts Movement, and she was a known Black feminist. Sanchez was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she began working in 1977. There, she held the Laura Carnell chair until her retirement in 1999. She is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University. She has read her poetry in Africa, the Caribbean, China, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, and Canada.

Activism edit

Sanchez supports the National Black United Front and was a very influential part of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement. In the early 1960s, Sanchez became a member of CORE (Congress for Racial Equality), where she met Malcolm X. Though she was originally an integrationist in her thinking, after hearing Malcolm X speak Sanchez became more separatist in her thinking and focused more on her black heritage and identity.[7]

In 1972, Sanchez joined the Nation of Islam, during which time she published A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1974), but she left the organization after three years, in 1975. because their views on women's rights conflicted. She continues to advocate for the rights of oppressed women and minority groups.[6] She wrote many plays and books that had to do with the struggles and lives of Black America. Among her plays are Sister Son/ji, which was first produced Off-Broadway at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theater in 1972; Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us?, staged in Chicago at the Northwestern University Theatre in 1975, and Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No Mo’, first produced in 1979 at the ASCOM Community Center in Philadelphia.[5]

Sanchez has edited two anthologies of Black literature: We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans (1974) and 360° of Blackness Coming at You (1999). She is also committed to a variety of activist causes, including the Brandywine Peace Community, MADRE, and Plowshares.

Black Arts Movement edit

The aim of the Black Arts Movement was a renewal of black will, insight, energy, and awareness. Sanchez published poetry and essays in numerous periodicals in the 1960s, including The Liberator, Negro Digest, and Black Dialogue. Her writing established her importance as a political thinker to the "black aesthetic" program.[2] Sanchez gained a reputation as an important voice in the Black Arts Movement after publishing the book of poems Homecoming in 1969. This collection and her second in 1970, titled We a BaddDDD People, demonstrated her use of experimental poetic forms to discuss the development of black nationalism and identity.[8]

Style and themes edit

Sanchez is known for her innovative melding of musical formats—such as the blues—and traditional poetic formats such as haiku and tanka. She also uses spelling to celebrate the unique sound of black English, for which she gives credit to poets such as Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown.[7]

Her first collection of poems, Homecoming (1969), is known for its blues influences in both form and content. The collection describes both the struggle of defining black identity in the United States as well as the many causes for celebration Sanchez sees in black culture.[9] Her second book, We a BaddDDD People (1970), solidifies her contribution to the Black Arts Movement aesthetic by focusing on the everyday lives of black men and women. These poems make use of urban black vernacular, experimental punctuation, spelling, and spacing, and the performative quality of jazz.[9]

Though still emphasizing what she sees as the need for revolutionary cultural change, Sanchez's later works, such as I've Been a Woman (1978), Homegirls and Handgrenades (1985), and Under a Soprano Sky (1987), tend to focus less on separatist themes (like those of Malcolm X), and more on themes of love, community, and empowerment. She continues to explores the haiku, tanka, and sonku forms, as well as blues-influenced rhythms. Later works continue her experiments with forms such as the epic in Does Your House Have Lions? (1997), an emotional account of her brother's deadly struggle with AIDS,[2] and the haiku in Morning Haiku (2010).[8]

In addition to her poetry, Sanchez's contributions to the Black Arts Movement included drama and prose. She began writing plays while in San Francisco in the 1960s. Several of her plays challenge the masculinist spirit of the movement, focusing on strong female protagonists. Sanchez has been recognized as a pioneering champion of black feminism.[2]

Contemporary works edit

Her more recent contemporary endeavors include a spoken-word interlude on "Hope is an Open Window", a song co-written by Diana Ross from her 1998 album Every Day is a New Day. The song is featured as the sound bed for a tribute video to 9/11 that can be viewed on YouTube. Sanchez is currently among 20 African-American women to be a part of "Freedom's Sisters," a mobile exhibition initiated by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Smithsonian Institution.[10]

Sanchez became Philadelphia's first Poet Laureate, after being appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter. She served in that position from 2012 to 2014.[11]

In 2013, Sanchez headlined the 17th annual Poetry Ink, at which she read her poem "Under a Soprano Sky".[12]

BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, a documentary film by Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater and Sabrina Schmidt Gordon spotlighting Sanchez's work, career, influence and life story, was released in 2015,[13][14] when it was shown at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival[15] The film premiered in the UK on June 22, 2016, at Rivington Place, Londonn.[16]

Awards edit

In 1969, Sanchez was awarded the P.E.N. Writing Award. She was awarded the National Education Association Award 1977–1988. She won the National Academy and Arts Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award in 1978–79. In 1985, she received the American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades. She has also been awarded the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities, and the Peace and Freedom Award from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, as well as the 1999 Langston Hughes Poetry Award, the 2001 Robert Frost Medal, the 2004 Harper Lee Award, and the 2006 National Visionary Leadership Award.[10] In 2009, she received the Robert Creeley Award, from the Robert Creeley Foundation.[17]

In 2017, Sanchez was honored at the 16th Annual Dr. Betty Shabazz Awards in a ceremony held on June 29 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Harlem.[18]

In 2018, she won the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets for proven mastery in the art of poetry.[19][20]

At the 84th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards ceremony on September 26, 2019, Sanchez was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Cleveland Foundation.[21]

In October 2021, Sanchez was awarded the 28th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize "in recognition of her ongoing achievements in inspiring change through the power of the word."[22]

In 2022, Sanchez was awarded The Edward MacDowell Medal by The MacDowell Colony for outstanding contributions to American culture [23]

Selected bibliography edit


  • Homecoming, Broadside Press, 1969
  • We a Baddddd People (1970), Broadside Press, 1973
  • Love Poems, Third Press, 1973
  • A Blues Book for a Blue Black Magic Woman, Broadside Press, 1974
  • Autumn Blues: New Poems, Africa World Press, 1994, ISBN 978-0865432086
  • Continuous Fire: A Collection of Poetry, 1994, ISBN 978-0865432123
  • Shake Down Memory: A Collection of Political Essays and Speeches, Africa World Press, 1991, ISBN 978-0865432116
  • It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (1971)
  • Homegirls and Handgrenades (1985) (reprint White Pine Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-893996-80-9)
  • Under a Soprano Sky, Africa World Press, 1987, ISBN 978-0-86543-052-5
  • I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Third World Press, 1985, ISBN 978-0-88378-112-8
  • Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995, ISBN 978-0-8070-6826-7
  • Does Your House Have Lions?, Beacon Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-8070-6830-4
  • Like the Singing Coming Off of Drums, Beacon Press, 1998
  • Shake Loose My Skin. Beacon Press. 2000. ISBN 978-0-8070-6853-3.
  • Ash (2001)
  • Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (2001)
  • Morning Haiku. Beacon Press. 2010. ISBN 978-0-8070-6910-3. morning haiku.
  • Collected Poems (2021)


Short-story collections

  • A Sound Investment and Other Stories (1979)

Children's books

  • It's a New Day (1971)
  • A Sound Investment
  • The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head, The Third Press, 1973, ISBN 978-0-89388-094-1



Discography edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b Lennon, Gary Maniaci, Teodoro (2009), .45, Nordisk Film, OCLC 488332802{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gates, Henry Louis, and Valerie Smith (eds), The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. W.W. Norton & Company, 2014 (Third edition).
  3. ^ "Sonia Sanchez". Stamma. October 18, 2021. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  4. ^ Torres, Alexus (November 17, 2022). "Feminist Theorist Thursdays: Sonia Sanchez". FEM Magazine. UCLA. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  5. ^ a b "Sonia Sanchez", Writers Directory 2005, Retrieved August 9, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Irons, Stasia (24 March 2007). "Sanchez, Sonia (1934– )". The Black Past. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  7. ^ a b "Library System – Howard University". Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Ryan-Bryant, Jennifer. "Sonia Sanchez". Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  9. ^ a b "We a BaddDDD People". The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Oxford Reference.
  10. ^ a b "Praise and Awards". Sonia Sanchez. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  11. ^ Jazmyn Burton, "Philadelphia names Sonia Sanchez first poet laureate", Temple News Center, January 28, 2012. Retrieved on November 21, 2014.
  12. ^ Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, "Philadelphia's Poetry Ink brings together diverse voices",, April 9, 2013.
  13. ^ "BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez" Archived 2015-08-11 at the Wayback Machine, Attie & Goldwater Productions.
  14. ^ Italie, Hillel (AP), "Poet-activist Sonia Sanchez subject of new documentary" Archived 2016-08-11 at the Wayback Machine, Yahoo! TV, March 7, 2016.
  15. ^ Tambay A. Obenson, "Docs on Sonia Sanchez, Senegal's 2011 Presidential Elections, Mavis Staples, Althea Gibson Are Full Frame 2015 Selections", Indywire, March 11, 2015.
  16. ^ "Black Atlantic Cinema Club — BADDDDD: SONIA SANCHEZ, Autograph ABP, June 2016.
  17. ^ "Robert Creeley Foundation » Award – Robert Creeley Award". Retrieved March 23, 2018.
  18. ^ Pacino, Lisa, "The 16th Annual Dr. Betty Shabazz Awards Honoring Poet Sonia Sanchez 2017", Under The Duvet Productions.
  19. ^ "Poet Sonia Sanchez Wins $100,000 Prize". AP. August 28, 2018. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  20. ^ "Wallace Stevens Award". Academy of American Poets. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
  21. ^ "Sonia Sanchez 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award", 84th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.
  22. ^ Barr, Sarah (October 7, 2021). "Sonia Sanchez Wins the Gish Prize". The New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2021.
  23. ^ "Macdowell Medalists". Retrieved August 22, 2022.

External links edit