Sonia Sanchez

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Sonia Sanchez
Sonia-sanchez-2013 13.JPG
Sonia Sanchez, 2013
Born (1934-09-09) September 9, 1934 (age 82)
Birmingham, Alabama
United States
Occupation poet, columnist, dramatist, essayist
Nationality American
Ethnicity African American, and Native American
Education Hunter College;
New York University,
Notable awards Robert Frost Medal (2001)

Sonia Sanchez (born Wilsonia Benita Driver; September 9, 1934) is an African-American poet most often associated with the Black Arts Movement. She has authored over a dozen books of poetry, as well as short stories, critical essays, plays, and children's books. She was a recipient of 1993 Pew Fellowships in the Arts. In 2001, Sanchez was the recipient[1] of the Robert Frost Medal for her poetry (one of the highest honors awarded to a nationally recognized poet) and has been influential to other African-American female poets, including Krista Franklin.

Early life[edit]

Sanchez was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 9, 1934.[2] Her mother died when Sanchez was only two years 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.[3] In 1943, she moved to Harlem to live with her father, her sister, and her stepmother, who was her father's third wife. In 1955, Sanchez received a B.A. in Political Science from Hunter College, where she had also taken several creative writing courses. Later, she completed postgraduate work at New York University, where she studied poetry with Louise Bogan.

Although her first marriage to Albert Sanchez did not last, Sonia Sanchez would retain her professional name. She did not have children with Albert but with her second husband Etheridge Knight. So together, they had three children: a daughter, Anita, and twin sons, Moran Neuse and Mungu Neuse. Motherhood heavily influenced the motifs of her poetry in the '70s, the bond between mother and child emerging as a key theme.[3] Sanchez and Knight later divorced. In 1972, she joined the Nation of Islam, but left the organization after three years in 1975 because her views on women's rights conflicted with theirs. She also has three grandchildren.[4][5]


She taught 5th Grade in NYC at the Downtown Community School, until 1967. Sanchez has taught as a professor at eight universities and has lectured at over 500 college campuses across the US, including Howard University. She advocated the introduction of Black Studies courses in California. Sanchez was the first to create and teach a course based on Black Women and literature in the United States. 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, Canada, and Cuba. In 2000, Sanchez has also appeared twice on Bill Cosby's CBS show.[6]

Sanchez supports the National Black United Front. Sanchez was a very influential part of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement. Sanchez was an advocate for the people. She was a member of CORE (Congress for Racial Equality), where she met Malcolm X. She wrote many plays and books that had to do with the struggles and lives of Black America. Sanchez has edited two anthologies on Black literature, We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans and 360° of Blackness Coming at You.

The death of her grandmother proved to be a trying time in her life. Though only six, Sanchez suffered from losing her loved one, developing a terrible stutter which caused her to become introverted. However, her stutter only caused her to read more and more and pay close attention to language and its sounds. When in Harlem, she overcame her stutter and exceled in school, finding her poetic voice which later emerged during her studies at Hunter College. Sanchez focuses on the sound of her poetry, admitting to always reading her poetry aloud. She is known for her sonic range and dynamic public readings. She now terms herself an “ordained stutterer."[3]

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

One of her more recent contemporary endeavors includes 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. She is currently among 20 African-American women to be a part of "Freedom Sisters", a mobile exhibition initiated by the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Smithsonian Institution.[8]

Sanchez became Philadelphia's first Poet Laureate, after being appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter. She served in that position from 2012 to 2014.[9]

In 2013 Sanchez headlined the 17th annual Poetry Ink at which she read her poem "Under a Soprano Sky".[10]

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[11][12] when it showed at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival[13] The film premiered in the UK on June 22, 2016, at Rivington Place.[14]


In 1969, Sanchez was awarded the P.E.N. Writing Award. She was awarded the National Education Association Award 1977–1988. She also won the National Academy and Arts Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award in 1978–79. In 1985, she was awarded 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. She was also awarded the 1999 Langston Hughes Poetry Award, the 2004 Harper Lee Award, and the 2006 National Visionary Leadership Award.[8]




Short-story collections

  • A Sound Investment and Other Stories

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




See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sonia Sanchez, Poet and Sister", African American Registry, September 9, 1934.
  2. ^ Rodriguez, Raquel (2006). "Sanchez, Sonia (1934–)". In Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu. Writing African American Women: An Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwoodcacca Press. pp. 764–8. ISBN 0-313-33197-9. 
  3. ^ a b c Gates, Jr., Henry Louis, and Valerie A. Smith, eds. (2014). The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature. New York: Norton. pp. 708–10. ISBN 978-0-393-92370-4. 
  4. ^ Emmanuel Sampath Nelson, ed. (2004). African American Dramatists: an A-to-Z guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-32233-4. 
  5. ^ Bloch, Avital H., and Lauri Umansky, eds. (2005). Impossible to Hold: Women and Culture in the 1960's. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-9910-9. 
  6. ^ "Cosby", TV Guide.
  7. ^ Kelly, Susan (Winter 2000). "Discipline and Craft: An Interview with Sonia Sanchez". African American Review. 34 (4): 679–687. doi:10.2307/2901425. JSTOR 2901425. 
  8. ^ a b "Praise and Awards". Sonia Sanchez. Retrieved October 23, 2015. 
  9. ^ Jazmyn Burton, "Philadelphia names Sonia Sanchez first poet laureate", Temple News Center, January 28, 2012. Retrieved on November 21, 2014.
  10. ^ Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, "Philadelphia's Poetry Ink brings together diverse voices",, April 9, 2013.
  11. ^ "BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez", Attie & Goldwater Productions.
  12. ^ Hillel Italie (AP), "Poet-activist Sonia Sanchez subject of new documentary", Yahoo! TV, March 7, 2016.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Black Atlantic Cinema Club — BADDDDD: SONIA SANCHEZ, Autograph ABP, June 2016.

External links[edit]