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Sanchez, Sonia

Sonia Sanchez

1934

Poet, playwright, activist, educator, lecturer

In her poetry, Sonia Sanchez has urged black unity and action against white oppression in addition to writing about violence in the black community, the relationships between black men and women, familial ties, and social problems. She is the foremost poet to use urban black English in written form. She also advocated the inclusion of black studies programs in institutions of higher learning and was the first professor to offer a seminar on literature by black American women while at the University of Pittsburgh. Many of her peers who began the Black Power movement in the 1960s later dropped out when they attained material wealth, but Sanchez continues her commitment to social justice. Now retired from teaching, Sanchez's artistic work remains a vital source of inspiration for generations of Americans.

Sonia Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 9, 1934, to Wilson L. and Lena Driver. Her mother passed away when she was a baby, and she and her sister, Pat, resided with their paternal grandmother until her death, and then various relatives for several years before their father took them to live with him in Harlem. Because they lived in a cramped dwelling Sanchez felt constricted and isolated. Out of this feeling of isolation she began to write. In the city Sanchez went to public schools and later Hunter College, where she received her B.A. in political science in 1955. She also did postgraduate work at New York University and studied poetry with Louise Bogan, who encouraged her to make writing her career.

As a child, Sanchez was appalled by the ways in which lack people were treated in the South and in the North, but did not have the verbal means to express it. In Black Women Writers at Work, edited by Claudia Tate, Sanchez described herself as a "very shy child, a very introspective child, one who stuttered." All that changed when she became a vocal poet-activist in the Black Power and arts movement during the 1960s. With Nikki Giovanni, Etheridge Knight, and Don L. Lee, she created the "Broadside Quartet" of radical young poets. She became a leading voice in this group.

Although her first marriage (date unknown) to Puerto Rican immigrant Albert Sanchez did not last, Sonia Sanchez would remain her professional name. In 1968, Sanchez married poet-activist Etheridge Knight and they had three children: Anita, Morani, and Mungu, but later divorced.

During the 1950s and 1960s, she was affiliated with the black arts movement and the civil rights movement in New York City, and she believed at first in integration. Later, when she heard Malcolm X say that blacks would never become part of America's mainstream, she based her identity on her racial heritage. Her poetry focused on the black struggle for liberation from racial and economic oppression and used the language of the streets instead of the language of academe. She became one of the first poets to blend ghetto impressions with lower-case letters, slashes, dashes, hyphenated lines, unconventional spelling, abbreviations, and further untried uses of language and structure to reinterpret what a poem is, does, and for whom it is written. She also has written poems in ballad form, letters, and haikus.

Sanchez's initial volume of poems, Homecoming, published in 1969, addressed racial oppression in angry voices taken from street conversations. Haki Madhubuti noted in Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation that she respected the power of urban street talk and was responsible more than any other poet for "legitimizing the use of urban Black English in written form."

William Pitt Root wrote about her early poems in Poetry, "Her poems are raps, good ones, aimed like guns at whatever obstacles she detects standing in the way of Black progress .... Her praises are as generous as her criticisms are severe, both coming from loyalties that are fierce, invulnerable, and knowing. Whether she's addressing her praises to Gwendolyn Brooks or to the late Malcolm X, to her husband or to a stranger's child, always they emerge from and feed back into the shared experience of being Black."

By the early 1970s Sanchez had left the "Broadside Quartet" to write and give poetry readings on her own. How her poems sound when read out loud has always been of importance to Sanchez. She has been sought out for her impassioned, bold readings which often create a spontaneous feeling, like that of a jazz solo. The poet has read in Cuba, China, the West Indies, Europe, and on over five hundred campuses in the United States.

Since the 1970s she has published a steady stream of poetry books, mainly for adults but also one for children, as well as plays which she had been writing since the 1960s. Her poetry books include, Homegirls and Handgrenades, which won the American Book Award in 1985; We a BaddDDD People, Liberation Poems, It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs, A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Love Poems, I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Under a Soprano Sky, Shake Down Memory, Continuous Fire, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Does Your House Have Lions? and Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems.

Sanchez began writing plays while in San Francisco in the 1960s. Her first, The Bronx Is Next, was about the forces destroying community and individuals in Harlem. Sanchez recalled in African American Review that "Dr. Arthur P. Davis, that grand old man of letters down at Howard University, called it one of the great plays of the 1960s. I forever am grateful to him for putting that play into perspective for me." Among Sanchez's other plays are Sister Sonji, Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us?, and Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No Mo'. Sister Sonji was first produced in conjunction with other plays Off-Broadway at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre in 1972. Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us? was initially staged in Chicago at the Northwestern University Theatre in 1975. Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No Mo' was first produced in Philadelphia at the ASCOM Community Center in 1979.

At a Glance...

Born Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934, in Birmingham, AL; daughter of Wilson L. and Lena (Jones) Driver; married Albert Sanchez (divorced); married Etheridge Knight (divorced); children (second marriage): Anita, Morani, Mungu. Education : Attended public schools in New York City; Hunter College, BA, 1955; postgraduate work at New York University.

Career: Downtown School, New York, instructor, 1965-1967; San Francisco State College, instructor, 1966-68; University of Pittsburgh, assistant professor, 1969-70; Rutgers University, assistant professor, 1970-71; Manhattan Community College, assistant professor of black literature and creative writing teacher of writing, 1971-73; Amherst College, associate professor,1972-73; Muhammad Speaks, columnist, 1970s(?); Spelman College, poet-in-residence, 1988-89; Temple University, Laura H. Carnell Professor of English, 1977-99.

Memberships : Poetry Society of America, American Studies Association, Academy of American Poets, PEN, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Selected awards : PEN Writing Award and the American Academy of Art and Letters' $1,000 award to continue writing; honorary Ph.D. in fine arts, Wilberforce University, 1973; National Education Association Award, 1977-78; Honorary Citizen of Atlanta, 1982; Tribute to Black Womanhood Award by black students at Smith College; 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades ; Pew Fellowship in the Arts, 1992-93.

Addresses : Home Philadelphia, PA.

Sanchez also has contributed to journals and anthologies as a poet, essayist, and editor. She has edited anthologies, including Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin at You, An Anthology of the Sonia Sanchez Writers Workshop at Countee Cullen Library in Harlem ; and We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans. Also, she has written and edited stories for young readers, such as the compilation A Sound Investment, and the tale, The Adventures of Fathead, Smallhead, and Squarehead. In addition, Sanchez has contributed to a book on Egyptian Queens and written for the publications Black Scholar and Journal of African Studies. She also has recorded her poetry.

In her 1973 book of poems, A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Sanchez explores being a woman in a society that "does not prepare young black women, or women period, to be women," as she told Claudia Tate in Black Women Writers at Work. She also writes about politics and ethnic pride and uses parts of her life to illustrate a general condition. Although she still advocates revolutionary change she also focuses on individuals battling to survive and find love and joy in their lives. Her work has been called both autobiographical and universal. Critics have observed that while her early books address social oppression, her 1970s plays are about her personal struggles. In Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us? a black woman participating in the movement against white oppression refuses to be mistreated by her husband. As Sanchez said to Claudia Tate, "If you cannot remove yourself from the oppression of a man, how in the hell are you going to remove yourself from the oppression of a country?"

Sanchez's books of verse include Wounded in the House of a Friend and Does Your House Have Lions? The first book, published in 1995, is a blend of poetry and prose in which she pays tribute to Essence magazine and presents memorial pieces for Malcolm X and James Baldwin. According to Publishers Weekly, "Sanchez is at her best...when she places her speaker in the furious center of criminal action: a raped woman's detailed account of her attack, a woman trading her seven-year-old daughter for crack ('he held the stuff out/to me and I cdn't remember/her birthdate I cdn't remember/my daughter's face'). A brilliant narrative is offered in the voice of a Harlem woman struggling with (and eventually hammered to death by) her junkie granddaughter."

In Does Your House Have Lions? (1997) Sanchez concerns herself with AIDS and familial estrangements and reconciliations. In the book she writes of her brother who left the South angry at his absentee father. He hurls himself into the gay world in New York City, "and the days rummaging his eyes/and the nights flickering through a slit/of narrow bars. hips. thighs./and his thoughts labeling him misfit/as he prowled, pranced in the starlit/city," wrote Sanchez. But AIDS pursues him and the family is only brought together again because of his illness and hospitalization. As he dies, he hears the spiritual voices of his ancestors, who also are present. Kay Bourne stated in the Bay State Banner, "Stylistically, the 70-page heartfelt lyrical poem is a wonder. It is a triumph of skill with its consistent rhyming pattern (ababbcc) that propels the reader forward. It is brilliant in its choice of words, which, while never sending the reader scurrying to the dictionary, is touchingly apt in plumbing the depths of her brother's experience and that of her other family members."

The author has won numerous awards for her work and activities, including the PEN Writing Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' $1,000 award to continue writing. She was given an honorary Ph.D. in fine arts by Wilberforce University in 1973 and received a National Education Association Award in 1977-78. She was named Honorary Citizen of Atlanta in 1982, and received an NEA award in 1984. More recent awards include a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 1992-93, an honorary Ph.D. from Baruch College in 1993, a PEN fellowship in the arts in 1993-1994, and a Legacy Award from Jomandi Productions in 1995.

Throughout her distinguished teaching career, Sanchez taught and lectured at institutions across the country. As a teacher her legacy is as one of the pioneers of African-American Studies. She was the first professor to offer a course on the literature of African-American women (at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969). She began teaching in 1965 at New York's Downtown Community School. After teaching at several universities, including San Francisco State College (now University), the University of Pittsburgh, City College of the City of New York, Amherst, Spelman College, and the University of Pennsylvania, she became a professor of English and Women's Studies at Temple University where she remained until her retirement in 1999.

Though retired from teaching, Sanchez did not quit writing. She kept to her discipline that she started as a youngster. She attributes her desire to keep writing to her "love of language," as she told African American Review. "It is that love of language that has propelled me, that love of language that came from listening to my grandmother speak black English. I would repeat what she said and fall out of the bed and fall down on the floor and laugh, and she knew that I was enjoying her language, because she knew that I didn't speak black English. But I did speak hers, you know. It is that love of language that, when you have written a poem that you know works, then you stand up and you dance around, or you open your door and go out on the porch and let out a loud laugh, you know."

With the 2004 publication of the spoken-word album, Full Moon of Sonia, Sanchez is continuing her legacy as the poet who brought black English to the world. As put by Black Issues Book Review: "It is refreshing to see a legend, a respected artist, come forward and show all of us how to do it right. Full Moon of Sonia does more than give us good poetry set to music; it galavants through an amazing formal and stylistic range that reminds us all how Sonia Sanchez finally got to this place."

Selected works

Poetry

Homecoming Poems, Broadside Press, 1969.

We a BaddDDD People, Broadside Press, 1970.

Liberation Poems, Broadside Press, 1971.

It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs, (Juvenile) Broadside Press, 1971.

A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Broadside Press, 1973.

Love Poems, Third Press, 1973.

I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Black Scholar Press, 1981.

Homegirls and Handgrenades: Poems, Third World, 1985.

Under a Soprano Sky: Poems, Africa World Press, 1987.

Shake Down Memory and Continuous Fire, Africa World Press, 1991.

Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995.

Does Your House Have Lions?, Beacon Press, 1997.

Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1999.

Plays

The Bronx is Next, Tulane Drama Review, 1968.

Sister Sonji, New Plays from Black Theatre, 1970.

Malcolm/Man Don't Live Here No Mo', Black Theatre, 1972.

Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us? 1975.

I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't, OIC Theatre, 1982.

Black Cats Back and Uneasy Landings, 1995.

Recordings

Sonia Sanchez, Pacifica Tape Library, 1968.

Homecoming, Broadside, 1969.

We a BaddDDD People, Broadside, 1979.

A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry, Folkways, 1971.

Sonia Sanchez and Robert Bly, Blackbox, 1971.

Sonia Sanchez: Selected Poems, Watershed Intermedia, 1975.

IDKT: Capturing Facts about the Heritage of Black Americans, Ujima, 1982.

Full Moon of Sonia, 2004.

Sources

Books

Black Women Writers at Work, ed. by Claudia Tate, Continuum, 1983, pp. 132-148.

Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, 1984.

Contemporary Authors, Gale, Vol. 49, New Revision Series, pp. 349-355; Vols. 33-36, First Revision, 1973, p. 691.

Contemporary Black American Poets and Dramatists, ed. by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1995, pp. 171-172.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Vol. 5, 1976, pp. 382-383.

Ijala: Sonia Sanchez and the African Poetic Tradition, Third World Press, 1996.

Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1992, pp. 976-977.

Sanchez, Sonia, Does Your House Have Lions? Beacon Press, 1997 p. 9.

Sanchez, Sonia, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995.

Periodicals

African American Review, Winter 2000.

American Visions, August-September, 1996, p. 36.

Bay State Banner, October 23, 1997, pp. 22, 24.

Black Issues Book Review, March-April 2005.

Booklist, February 15, 1997.

Chicago Sun-Times, April 18, 1997.

Nation, April 17, 1972, p. 508.

New Yorker, April 8, 1972, pp. 97-99.

Poetry, 1973, pp. 45-46.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1974, p. 77; February 27, 1995, p. 97; February 24, 1997.

Time, May 1, 1972, p. 53.

Vibe, August 1997, p. 136.

World, May/June 1999.

Alison Carb Sussman and Sara Pendergast

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Sanchez, Sonia 1934–

Sonia Sanchez 1934

Poet, playwright, activist, educator, lecturer

Became a Black Power Poet-Activist

Legitimized Written Black English

Wrote About Liberation of Black Women

Sources

In her poetry Sonia Sanchez has urged black unity and action against white oppression in addition to writing about violence in the black community, the relationships between black men and women, familial ties, and social problems. She is the foremost poet to use urban black English in written form. She also advocated the inclusion of black studies programs in institutions of higher learning and was the first professor to offer a seminar on literature by black American women while at Amherst College. Many of her peers who began the Black Power movement in the 1960s later dropped out when they attained material wealth but Sanchez has managed to reach the 1990s without giving up her commitment to social justice. Most recently, her work has focused on AIDS.

Sonia Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 9, 1934, to Wilson L. and Lena Driver. Her mother passed away when she was a baby, and she and her sister, Pat, resided with their paternal grandmother and various relatives for several years before their father took them to live with him in Harlem. Because they lived in a cramped dwelling Sanchez felt constricted and isolated. Out of this feeling of isolation she began to write. In the city Sanchez went to public schools and later Hunter College, where she received her B.A. in political science in 1955. She also did postgraduate work at New York University and studied poetry with Louise Bogan, who encouraged her to make writing her career.

Became a Black Power Poet-Activist

As a child, Sanchez was appalled by the ways in which black people were treated in the South and in the North, but did not have the verbal means to express it. In Black Women Writers at Work, edited by Claudia Tate, Sanchez described herself as a very shy child, a very introspective child, one who stuttered. All that changed when she became a vocal poet-activist in the Black Power and arts movement during the 1960s. With Nikki Giovanni, Etheridge Knight, and Don L. Lee, she created the Broadside Quartet of radical young poets. She became a leading voice in this group.

In 1968, Sanchez married poet-activist Etheridge Knight and they had three children: Anita, Morani, and Mungu, but later divorced. She also married Albert Sanchez

At a Glance

Born Wilsonia Driver, September 9, 1934, in Bir mingham, AL; daughter of Wilson L. and Lena I (Jones) Driver; married Etheridge Knight (divorced); children:Anita, Morani, Mungu; married Albert Sanchez (divorced). Education: Attended public schools in NYC; Hunter Coll., B.A., 1955; postgraduate work at NYU.

Career: Poet, playwright, activist, educator, lecturer. Active in revolutionary movements in 1960s; wrote books of poems (Homecoming and We a BaddDDD People) and (Homegirls and Handgrenades and Blue Book for Blue Black Magical Women); Plays including Sister Sonji, Malcolm/Man Dont Live Here No Mo, and Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us?; editor of two anthologies; recorded her poems; wrote and edited childrens books; contributed to journals and anthologies as a poet, essayist, and editor; taught and lectured at institutions across the country; instructor at SF State Coll., 1966-67; instructor at the Univ. of Pittsburgh, 1968-69; asst. prof, of black literature and creative writing at Manhattan Comm. Coll., 1971-73; teacher of writing at City Coll.of CUNY,1972; assoc.prof. at Amherst Coll., 1972-73; poet-in-residence at Spelman Coll., 1988-89; prof.of English at Temple Univ., present); serves on the literature panel of the PACouncil on the Arts; sponsor of the Womens Intl.League for Peace and Freedom.

Selected awards: PEN Writing Award and the Amer.Acad. of Art and Letters $1,000 award to continue writing; Honorary Ph.D. in fine arts, Wilberforce Univ., 1973; Natl. Educ. Assn. Award, 1977-78; named Honorary Citizen of Atlanta, 1982; given the Tribute to Black Womanhood Award, black students at Smith Coll.; Patricia Lucretia Mott Award, Womens Way and NEA, 1984; Outstanding Arts Award, PA Coalition of 100 Black Women and the Community Service Award from the Natl. Black Caucus of State Legislatures; won the 1985 Amer. Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades; awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, 1992-93; an honorary Ph.D. from Baruch College, 1993, and a PEN fellowship in the arts, 1993-94.

Member: Poetry Society of Amer., American Studies Assn., Academy of Amer.Poets, PEN, and the NAACP.

Addresses: Office -Professor, English/Womens Studies, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122-2585.

(date unknown), an immigrant from Puerto Rico, whose surname she has used when writing.

During the 1950s and 1960s, she was affiliated with the black arts movement and the civil rights movement in New York City, and she believed at first in integration. Later, when she heard Malcolm X say that blacks would never become part of Americas mainstream, she based her identity on her racial heritage. Her poetry focused on the black struggle for liberation from racial and economic oppression and used the language of the streets instead of the language of academe. She became one of the first poets to blend ghetto impressions with lower-case letters, slashes, dashes, hyphenated lines, unconventional spelling, abbreviations, and further untried uses of language and structure to reinterpret what a poem is, does, and for whom it is written. She also has written poems in ballad form, letters, and haikus.

Legitimized Written Black English

Sanchezs initial volume of poems, Homecoming, published in 1969, addressed racial oppression in angry voices taken from street conversations. Haki Madhubuti noted in Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, that she respected the power of urban street talk and was responsible more than any other poet for legitimizing the use of urban Black English in written form.

William Pitt Root wrote about her early poems in Poetry, Her poems are raps, good ones, aimed like guns at whatever obstacles she detects standing in the way of Black progress. Her praises are as generous as her criticisms are severe, both coming from loyalties that are fierce, invulnerable, and knowing. Whether shes addressing her praises to Gwendolyn Brooks or to the late Malcolm X, to her husband or to a strangers child, always they emerge from and feed back into the shared experience of being Black.

By the early 1970s Sanchez had left the Broadside Quartet to write and give poetry readings on her own. How her poems sound when read out loud has always been of importance to Sanchez. She has been sought out for her impassioned, bold readings which often create a spontaneous feeling, like that of a jazz solo. The poet has read in Cuba, China, the West Indies, Europe, and on over five hundred campuses in the United States.

Since the 1970s she has published a steady stream of poetry books, mainly for adults but also one for children, as well as plays which she had been writing since the 1960s. Her poetry books include, Homegirls and Handgrenades, which won the American Book Award in 1985; We a BaddDDD People, Liberation Poems, Its a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs, A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Love Poems, Ive Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Under a Soprano Sky, Shake Down Memory, Continuous Fire, Wounded in the House of a Friend, and Does your house have lions?

Among Sanchezs plays are Sister Sonji, Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us?, and Malcolm Man/Dont Live Here No Mo. Sister Sonji was first produced in conjunction with other plays Off-Broadway at the New York Shakespeare Festival Public Theatre in 1972. Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us? was initially staged in Chicago at the Northwestern University Theatre in 1975. Malcolm Man/Dont Live Here No Mo was first produced in Philadelphia at the ASCOM Community Center in 1979.

Sanchez also has contributed to journals and anthologies as a poet, essayist, and editor. She has edited anthologies, including Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin at You, An Anthology of the Sonia Sanchez Writers Workshop at Countee Cullen Library in Harlem; and We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans. Also, she has written and edited stories for young readers, such as the compilation A Sound Investment, and the tale, The Adventures of Fathead, Smallhead, and Squarehead. In addition, Sanchez has contributed to a book on Egyptian Queens and written for the publications Black Scholar and Journal of African Studies. She also has recorded her poetry.

Wrote About Liberation of Black Women

In her 1973 book of poems, A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Sanchez explores being a woman in a society that does not prepare young black women, or women period, to be women, as she told Claudia Tate in Black Women Writers at Work. She also writes about politics and ethnic pride and uses parts of her life to illustrate a general condition. Although she still advocates revolutionary change she also focuses on individuals battling to survive and find love and joy in their lives. Her work has been called both autobiographical and universal. Critics have observed that while her early books address social oppression, her 1970s plays are about her personal struggles. In Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free Us? a black woman participating in the movement against white oppression refuses to be mistreated by her husband. As Sanchez said to Claudia Tate, If you cannot remove yourself from the oppression of a man, how in the hell are you going to remove yourself from the oppression of a country?

Sanchezs latest books of verse include Wounded in the House of a Friend and Does your house have lions? The first book, published in 1995, is a blend of poetry and prose in which she pays tribute to Essence magazine and presents memorial pieces for Malcolm X and James Baldwin. According to Publishers Weekly, Sanchez is at her best when she places her speaker in the furious center of criminal action: a raped womans detailed account of her attack, a woman trading her seven-year-old daughter for crack (he held the stuff out/to me and I cdnt remember/her birthdate I cdnt remember/my daughters face). A brilliant narrative is offered in the voice of a Harlem woman struggling with (and eventually hammered to death by) her junkie granddaughter.

In Does your house have lions? (1997) Sanchez concerns herself with AIDS and familial estrangements and reconciliations. In the book she writes of her brother who left the South angry at his absentee father. He hurls himself into the gay world in New York City, and the days rummaging his eyes/and the nights flickering through a slit/of narrow bars. hips, thighs./and his thoughts labeling him misfit/as he prowled, pranced in the starlit/city, wrote Sanchez. But AIDS pursues him and the family is only brought together again because of his illness and hospitalization. As he dies, he hears the spiritual voices of his ancestors, who also are present.

Kay Bourne stated in the Bay State Banner, Stylistically, the 70-page heartfelt lyrical poem is a wonder. It is a triumph of skill with its consistent rhyming pattern (ababbcc) that propels the reader forward. It is brilliant in its choice of words, which, while never sending the reader scurrying to the dictionary, is touchingly apt in plumbing the depths of her brothers experience and that of her other family members.

New books by Sanchez are scheduled for publication. The first, Dancing, a compilation of love poems, is slated to appear in 1998. Sanchez is also working on her memoirs in prose, to be published in 1999.

The author has won numerous awards for her work and activities, including the PEN Writing Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters $1,000 award to continue writing. She was given an honorary Ph.D. in fine arts by Wilberforce University in 1973 and received a National Education Association Award in 1977-78. She was named Honorary Citizen of Atlanta in 1982, and received an NEA award in 1984. More recent awards include a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 1992-93, an honorary Ph.D. from Baruch College in 1993, and a PEN fellowship in the arts in 1993-1994.

Sanchez has taught and lectured at institutions across the country. She began teaching in 1965 at New Yorks Downtown Community School. After teaching at several universities, including San Francisco State College (now University), the University of Pittsburgh, City College of the City of New York, Amherst, Spelman College, and the University of Pennsylvania, she became a professor of English and Womens Studies at Temple University.

Selected writings

Poetry

Homecoming Poems, Broadside Press, 1969.

We a BaddDDD People, Broadside Press, 1970.

Liberation Poems, Broadside Press, 1971.

Its a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs, (Juvenile) Broadside Press, 1971.

A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Broadside Press, 1973.

Love Poems, Third Press, 1973.

Ive Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Black Scholar Press, 1981.

Homegirls and Handgrenades: Poems, Third World, 1985.

Under a Soprano Sky: Poems, Africa World Press, 1987.

Shake Down Memory and Continuous Fire, Africa World Press, 1991.

Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995.

Does your house have lions?, Beacon Press, 1997.

Plays

The Bronx is Next, Tulane Drama Review, 1968.

Sister Sonji, New Plays from Black Theatre, 1970.

Malcolm/Man Dont Live Here No Mo, Black Theatre, 1972.

Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free Us? 1975.

Im Black When Im Singing, Im Blue When I Aint, OIC Theatre, 1982.

Recordings

Sonia Sanchez, Pacifica Tape Library, 1968.

Homecoming, Broadside, 1969.

We a BaddDDD People, Broadside, 1979.

A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry, Folkways, 1971.

Sonia Sanchez and Robert Bly, Blackbox, 1971.

Sonia Sanchez: Selected Poems, Watershed Intermedia, 1975.

IDKT: Capturing Facts about the Heritage of Black Americans, Ujima, 1982.

Sources

Books

African American Almanac, Gale, Seventh Edition, 1997, pp. 698, 723.

Black Women Writers at Work, ed. by Claudia Tate, Continuum, 1983, pp. 132-148.

Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, 1984.

Contemporary Authors, Gale, Vol. 49, New Revision Series, pp. 349-355; Vols. 33-36, First Revision, 1973, p. 691.

Contemporary Black American Poets and Dramatists, ed. by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1995, pp. 171-172.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Vol. 5, 1976, pp. 382-383.

Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Macmillan Library Reference, Vol. 5, 1996, pp. 2383-2384.

Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1992, pp. 976-977.

Sanchez, Sonia, Does your house have lions? Beacon Press, 1997 p. 9.

Sanchez, Sonia, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995.

Whos Who among African Americans, Gale, 1998-99, p. 1314.

World Authors, 1985-1990, pp. 766-769.

Periodicals

American Visions, August-September, 1996, p. 36.

Bay State Banner, October 23, 1997, pp. 22, 24.

Booklist, February 15, 1997.

Chicago Sun-Times, April 18, 1997.

Nation, April 17, 1972, p. 508.

New Yorker, April 8, 1972, pp. 97-99.

Poetry, 1973, pp. 45-46.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1974, p. 77; February 27, 1995, p. 97; February 24, 1997.

Time, May 1, 1972, p. 53.

Vibe, August 1997, p. 136.

Alison Carb Sussman

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Sanchez, Sonia

Sonia Sanchez

American poet Sonia Sanchez (born 1934) helped define the mid-twentieth century Black Arts Movement, using the language of the streets to write about the frustrations of Northern urban blacks. As an educator, she pioneered a black studies program at San Francisco State College (later became University).

Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama to Wilson L. and Lena (Jones) Driver. When Sanchez was one year old her mother died trying to deliver twins; the twins perished as well. Sanchez and her sister Pat were raised by their paternal grandmother and relatives until Sanchez was six.

Shaped By Birmingham

[sw-3]Birmingham was a large southern industrial city in the later 1930s and ran under the rules of segregation. When she was a young child, Sanchez experienced an eye-opening incidence of discrimination involving her aunt Pauline. She was riding the bus with her aunt who was on her way to work. At each stop the bus became more crowded with white people who wanted to ride it, the bus driver eventually stopped the bus and told the blacks to get off. Her aunt refused. When the bus driver threatened to throw her off, she spat on him. Her aunt was arrested and taken downtown. The family decided she would have to leave town that evening in order for the rest of them to be able to stay and not be harassed.

Sanchez suffered a huge loss at age six when her grandmother died. It also proved to be a significant turning point in her life. "I began writing when I was a little girl," Sanchez explained to Susan Kelly of the African American Review, "and I began stuttering and being tongue-tied. The loss of Mama, my grandmother, made me begin that whole process of writing things down." In 1943, Sanchez and her sister moved to Harlem to live with their father and his third wife. Sanchez began writing poems. "I think writers are born, like mathematicians and scientists," she told David Reich of UU World (the magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association). "What stuttering made me do is write earlier." Sanchez frequented the library and credited one librarian as a significant influence. When Sanchez was 11 or 12 the librarian "gave me an anthology of what at that time was called Negro poetry.… I'll never forget this black woman," she told Reich.

Participated in Black Arts Movement

In 1955, Sanchez graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in political science. She did postgraduate work at New York University in 1958, studying poetry with Louise Bogan. Along with other poets from what became known as the Black Arts Movement, Sanchez formed a writer's workshop in Greenwich Village. Other members included Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Askia Muhammad Touré. She performed her first poetry reading in a local bar with this group of poets, because they wanted to reach people that didn't normally hear poetry. Baraka recalled an early impression of Sanchez in his autobiography (as quoted in The Columbia History of American Poetry), "[she was] a wide-eyed young woman, quiet and self-deprecating, was herself coming out of a bad marriage and she came to our programs announcing very quietly and timidly that she was a poet." Married and divorced from Puerto Rican immigrant Albert Sanchez, she kept his last name when writing. It was during this workshop that she published her first poem.

By the early 1960s she had joined with Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), Nikki Giovanni, and Etheridge Knight, to form the "Broadside Quartet," a group of militant poets. Sanchez published her poetry through the Broadside Press, a newly established black press. "We thought it would be very important to begin our own institution and support our own institution," she told Kelly. "So that's what we did. Many of us turned our royalties back in to that company so they could then continue to publish and survive, and also publish younger writers." Later, she married and divorced Knight. They had three children together—Anita, Morani Neusi, and Mungu Neusi.

The writings of the Black Arts Movement were directly related to the changing environment in which black Americans were living. The civil rights movement was unfolding and Sanchez's personal beliefs were taking shape. She was an integrationist in the early 1960s and supported the philosophy of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), but later she embraced the views of Malcolm X and took a separatist point of view, focusing more on her black heritage. "Malcolm articulated all that we thought … he gave us his voice," Sanchez told Reich. "That's why many of our poems became so angry at that time-because we picked up on his voice. We said in our poetry what he was saying from stages." Sanchez's poetry created a language of its own. Interestingly, because her father was a schoolteacher, Sanchez grew up speaking standard English rather than a Southern or black dialect, but she captured the voices around her. "Her poetry rejected the language of academia and took on the language of the streets," wrote Beth Schneider in African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, "using lowercase letters, abbreviations, phonetic spellings, and hyphens."

Developed Early Black Studies Program

In 1965, Sanchez began her career as an educator in San Francisco, sharing her words of revolution which expressed her anger about racial and economic oppression. While at San Francisco State College (now University) she played an integral role in developing some of the first black studies courses in the nation, including a class in black English. She went on to teach at the University of Pittsburgh and became an assistant professor at Rutgers University from 1970-1971. Around this time, Sanchez separated from the "Broadside Quartet" and became a poet on her own. She began focusing more on black women in her writing, while her career in academia continued at Manhattan Community College and City College of the City University of New York, and as an associate professor of English at Amherst College in 1972.

It was always clear to Sanchez that her politics had an impact on her career. While at San Francisco State College the FBI pressured her landlord to put her out because she was a radical. After being arrested during a strike at Manhattan Community College in New York City, she felt she was kept from getting other teaching jobs in New York. Yet Sanchez enjoyed a long and distinguished career in academia. She later taught at the University of Pennsylvania and began teaching at Temple University in 1977. By 2003, she had lectured at over 500 universities and colleges in the United States.

Writing Took Off

Sanchez published her first book of poetry, Homecoming, in 1969. William Cook wrote in The Columbia History of American Poetry, "her first book of poems reflects thematically and stylistically the Black Arts aesthetic and its focus on the theme of cultural and consciousness development." Cook continued, "Sanchez knows the power of humor and of tenderness, qualities not often associated with Black Arts poetry." She followed with We a BaddDDD People in 1970, a book that experimented with the use of the black dialect as a poetic medium. Although Sanchez readily acknowledges there was an earlier tradition of using black English by poets such as Sterling Brown who wrote about poor Southern black men and women, she also realized she had broken new ground. "I took the whole idea of using black English and dealing with it in an urban setting," she explained to Kelly, "incorporating the hipness that was in that black urban setting."

Sanchez was also writing plays, such as The Bronx Is Next, produced in New York in 1970. Sanchez told Kelly, "[The play's] point was to talk about how destructive Harlem was. Harlem had had its moments, but the kind of Harlem I was beginning to see … the change was coming through drugs and decimation." The University of Michigan Black Arts Movement Website stated that her plays deal "with characterization of women in [their] work, that make clear the stereotypes that Black women faced in the 1960s and 1970s."

Sanchez's writing was prolific at this time. In the 1970s she published six more books of poetry and had four more plays produced. She also published three books for children, including her first book of poetry for children, It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs. In 1972, she received a $1,000 award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a PEN Writing Award. In 1977-78, she received the National Education Association Award. The monetary gift that accompanied it allowed her to continue her creative work. She published I've Been a Woman in 1978.

Joined Nation of Islam

Between the years of 1972 and 1976, Sanchez belonged to the Nation of Islam. She has given various reasons for why she left the Nation. In Black Women Writers at Work, Sanchez was quoted as saying: "It was not easy being in the Nation. I was/am a writer. I was also speaking on campuses. In the Nation at that time women were supposed to be in the background. My contribution to the Nation has been that I refused to let them tell me where my place was. I would be reading my poetry some place, and men would get up to leave, and I'd say, 'Look, my words are equally important.' So I got into trouble." She added, "I had to fight a lot of people in and outside of the Nation due to so-called sexism. I spoke up. I think it was important that there were women there to do that." However in her interview with Kelly in 2000, she stated: "I had gone into the Nation because I was raising my children by myself, and the public school situation was really pathetic. The Nation was one of the places to receive a good education at the time.… But I was not greeted well in the Nation, because they said I was … a revolutionary Pan Africanist and socialist. That was told to me point-blank. So I understood, truly, that my days in the Nation were numbered." Sanchez denied to Kelly that she had left the Nation because of feminist issues.

Became Highly-Regarded Poet

Homegirls and Handgrenades won an American Book Award in 1985. Sanchez followed with Under a Soprano Sky (1987), then Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995). Throughout her writing career, Sanchez tackled the most difficult of subjects, including violence, bigotry, drug abuse, gender issues, and poverty. Her 1997 book Does Your House Have Lions? was about her stepbrother who had died of AIDS. It was nominated for both the NAACP Image and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She followed with Like the Singing Coming off the Drums: Love Poems (1998). The subject matter of Sanchez's writings was always real life and never shied away from the political. The form of her writing drew equal attention. One notable experiment was her combination of black English and the haiku, as displayed in Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (1999). Of the last book, which offered a selection drawn from over 30 years of Sanchez's poetry, Library Journal's Ann K. van Buren wrote that it "leaves one in awe of the stretches of language Sanchez has helped to legitimize." Publisher's Weekly wrote: "This collection should draw wide attention to the consistency of Sanchez's achievement, and to the success of her formal adaptations."

Made Additional Inroads

In addition to her writing career, Sanchez made occasional recordings of her work as well, including her early books of poetry Homecoming and We a BaddDDD People. Later came creations such as her 1971 recording Sonia Sanchez and Robert Bly, her 1982 recording IDKT: Captivating Facts about the Heritage of Black Americans, and Sacred Ground, with Sweet Honey and the Rock (1995). She was sought out for her poetry readings, which were impassioned and full of spontaneity. She traveled extensively to such far reaches as Cuba, Africa, the People's Republic of China, Australia, and Norway to read her work.

A contributing editor to Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies, Sanchez has also edited two anthologies: We be Word Sorcerers, 25 Stories by Black Americans and 360 degrees of Blackness Coming at You.

Sanchez retired in 1999 from Temple University after they awarded her the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. She began teaching at Temple in 1977 and was their first Presidential Fellow and later became the Laura Carnell professor of English and women's studies. In May 2004 she was awarded an honorary degree from Haverford College.

Sanchez continued to make her home in Philadelphia, writing and taking speaking engagements. She remained committed to social change. "All poets, all writers are political," Sanchez told Reich. "They either maintain the status quo, or they say, 'Something's wrong, let's change it for the better.' That's what my life has really been about." As for her inspiration, she told Kelly: "It is that love of language that has propelled me, that love of language that came from listening to my grandmother speak black English."

Books

African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Dorothy C. Salem, Garland Publishing, 1993.

Black Women Writers at Work, edited by Claudia Tate, Continuum, 1983.

The Columbia History of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini, Columbia University Press, 1993.

"Sonia Sanchez," Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 17, Gale Research, 1998.

"Sonia Sanchez," Contemporary Poets, 7th ed., St. James Press, 2001.

"Sonia Sanchez," Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, 2nd ed., 8 vols., Gale Group, 2002.

Periodicals

African American Review, Winter 2000.

Library Journal, February 1, 1999.

PR Newswire, May 11, 2004.

Publishers Weekly, February 27, 1995; December 21, 1998.

UU World, May/June 1999.

Online

"Lindback Award Winner Sonia Sanchez," Temple University website,http://www.temple.edu (January 2, 2004).

"Sonia Sanchez," Black Arts Movement class at University of Michigan,http://www.umich.edu (December 16, 2003).

"Sonia Sanchez," Howard University website,http://www.founders.howard.edu/reference/sonia_sanchez.htm (December 16,2003).

"Sonia Sanchez," The Academy of American Poets website,http://www.poets.org (December 16, 2003).

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Sanchez, Sonia

Sanchez, Sonia

September 19, 1934


The poet Sonia Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver, the daughter of Wilson L. and Lena Jones Driver, in Birmingham, Alabama. During her childhood in the South and in Harlem, she was outraged by the way American society systematically mistreated black people. This sense of racial injustice transformed her from a shy, stuttering girl into one of the most vocal writer-activists in contemporary literature. In the early 1960s she began publishing poems under her married name, Sonia Sanchez, which she continued to use professionally after she and her husband divorced. Although best known for her verse, which urges black unity and action and reflects the cadences of African-American speech and music, she is also an accomplished dramatist, essayist, and editor, as well as an enduring proponent of black studies.

Sanchez studied at Hunter College in New York (B.A., 1955) and at New York University and has taught at many institutions, including Rutgers, the University of Pittsburgh, and Amherst College. She worked during the civil rights movement as a supporter of the Congress of Racial Equality, but in 1972 she joined the Nation of Islam because she thought that it was doing more to instill cultural pride and morality in young people. In a 1983 interview, Sanchez said that her political and cultural affiliations, harassment by the FBI, and her insistence that black writers be included in curricula explained why she did not gain a permanent academic position until 1978, when she became a professor at Temple University. Sanchez later held the chair of the English department and directed the women's studies program at Temple.

In Homecoming (1969), her first collection of poetry, Sanchez addressed racial oppression using angry voices derived from street talk. She soon became sought after for her passionate, confrontational readings. Although her use of profanity was shocking to some, she has never regretted her artistic approach: "There is vulgar stuff out there. One has got to talk about it in order for it not to be."

While the plight of African Americans in a white society is her major subject, Sanchez has also critiqued struggles within the black community. Sister Son/ji, a play produced off-Broadway in 1972, is about a militant young woman fighting the sexism of the black revolutionary movement. Sanchez herself left the Nation of Islam in 1975 because the organization would not change the subservient role it assigned to women.

Books by Sanchez include poetry collections, such as We a BaddDDD People (1970), A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1973), homegirls & handgrenades (1984), Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums: Love Poems (1998), and Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (1999); juvenile fiction, including A Sound Investment and Other Stories (1979); plays, such as Uh, Huh: But How Do It Free Us? (1975), and Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No More (1979); as well as numerous contributions to journals, recordings, and anthologies as a poet, essayist, and editor. Does Your House Have Lions? chronicles her brother's struggle with AIDS and was nominated for both the 1997 NAACP Image Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995) confronts topics such as rape and drug abuse in a mixture of poetry and prose.

Sanchez has received major awards from PEN (1969), the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1970), and the National Endowment for the Arts (19781979). Other honors include the Lucretia Mott Award (1984), the Smith College Tribute to Black Women Award (1982), doctorates from Wilberforce University (1972) and Temple University (1998), and the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1985).

See also Nation of Islam; Poetry, U.S.

Bibliography

Barksdale, Richard, and Keneth Kinnamon, eds. Black Writers of America: A Comprehensive Anthology. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

Joyce, Joyce Ann. Ijala: Sonia Sanchez and the African Poetic Tradition. Chicago: Third World Press, 1996.

Kelly, Susan. "Discipline and Craft: An Interview with Sonia Sanchez." African American Review 34, no. 4 (winter 2000).

Salaam, Kalamu ya. "Sonia Sanchez." In Dictionary of Literary Biography: Afro-American Poets Since 1955, edited by Trudier Harris and Thadious M. Davis. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1985.

Tate, Claudia, ed. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1983.

dekker dare (1996)
Updated by author 2005

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Sanchez, Sonia

SANCHEZ, Sonia

Born Wilsonia Benita Driver, 9 September 1934, Birmingham, Alabama

Daughter of Wilson L. and Lena Jones Driver; married Etheridge Knight; children: Anita, Morani, Mungu

Born in the South, Sonia Sanchez moved north at the age of nine with her family to the Harlem community of New York City. She graduated from Hunter College (B.A., 1955) and did postgraduate work at New York University, where she studied with poet Louise Bogan.

Sanchez worked in the civil rights movement and became further radicalized as a result of hearing Malcolm X. Becoming involved with the burgeoning black arts movement in Harlem during the 1960s and early 1970s as a poet and dramatist, Sanchez became one of the most forceful and best known of the cultural nationalist African American writers of that period. In 1966, she began teaching at San Francisco State College where she was a founder of the nation's first black studies program. Sanchez has since taught at a number of colleges and universities and has been a faculty member at Temple University since 1977.

Following in the tradition of such writers as Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, and Margaret Walker, Sanchez is widely credited as one of the writers most important in the establishment of "Black English" as legitimate literary diction. In addition to her use of a distinctly African-American syntax and phonetic spelling, she often, particularly in her early work, broke the lines of her poems unusually and used unorthodox spellings that were not phonetic—leaving out certain vowels, for example—forcing the reader to look more carefully at the words themselves and to consider them as a distinctive African-American cultural product. Sanchez also constructs her poetry and her short fiction so as to emphasize the oral performative aspect she sees both as an important part of the African-American tradition and as more accessible to popular audiences. Some of Sanchez's best work engages with African-American music, as in "a / coltrane / poem" from We a BadddDDD People (1970), in which Sanchez literally attempts to re-create the structure and sound of John Coltrane's music while connecting it to the oppression of black people and the fight against that oppression.

Sanchez's poems and short stories both celebrate the survival and strengths of the black community in the U.S. and chronicle its losses. Since the beginning of her career, she has gradually adopted a stance rooted in her experiences as an African-American woman that addresses itself beyond a specifically black context to concern with all oppressed peoples. The powerful and moving "MIA's" in homegirls and handgrenades (1984), for example, links the disappearance of black children from the streets of Atlanta in the early 1980s to the death squad disappearances in El Salvador and the death of Stephen Biko in South Africa. The volume won the American Book Award for poetry in 1985.

Her concern with social justice has also led Sanchez to write a number of books for children, who she sees as having been particularly poorly served by literature. These include a volume of inspirational poems, It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (1971); The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head (1973); and a collection of stories, A Sound Investment (1980), which invites children to draw moral meaning from the tales.

Since the beginning of her career, Sanchez has been a voice for the concerns of women even during the black arts era, when such concerns were generally muted. In this respect, she consciously sets herself in the tradition of female blues, jazz, and rhythm and blues singers who are tough, strong, loving, and often betrayed by love in a harsh world. Several poems in Wee a BadddDDD People reflect the suffering in her marriage to poet Etheridge Knight, who had a severe drug problem. Love Poems (1973) demonstrates the poet's lyricism, but here too the poems of man—woman relationships reflect their difficulty as well as their passion. Sanchez's work celebrates the power, pride, and solidarity of black women; she also portrays the personal betrayals of love—which often have a larger social implication—as in the poem "Blues" and the short story "After Saturday Night Comes Sunday." A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1974), written while Sanchez was a member of the Nation of Islam (1972-75), praises black women, "Queens of the Universe," and urges them to turn away from false values to "embrace Blackness as a religion / husband." Her concern for women's lives and their freedom reverberates through such later volumes as I've Been A Woman (1978) and Under a Soprano Sky (1987).

Sanchez has also written a number of significant plays, including The Bronx is Next (1968, produced 1970), where she speaks "symbolically" about the need for blacks to destroy urban centers, "to move out of that which is killing them," and the autobiographical Sister Son/ji (1969). Sanchez remains one of the most powerful writers, and readers, of poetry, drama, and prose in the U.S. Her voice speaks forcefully, and at times bittersweetly, about racism, sexism, oppression, and the need for revolutionary change. She is also one of the most poignant chroniclers of the social and emotional experience of a woman in the late 20th century in the United States.

In 1995 Sanchez was featured reading her poem "I Have Come into the City" on Sweet Honey in the Rock's CD, Sacred Ground. Her poetry has been featured in many other mediums also, such as in the movie lovejones, in various black magazines, or on rapper D-Knowledge's CD.

Sanchez's poetry includes a mixture of styles, languages, and dialects, specifically the Black English she has brought to the surface of the literary world. Her 13th book, Wounded in the House of a Friend, explores the plights of the African-American people, from the terrain of Africa to the poverty-stricken urban areas of America. It is a journey into racism, anger, and many issues that have faced blacks throughout history. Does Your House Have Lions (1997) mixes the many speech patterns, tones, and styles Sanchez is known for to create and speak of her characters. It recounts her brother's death from AIDS and her family's reaction to the tragedy.

Her 1998 collection, Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums: Love Poems, expresses the passions and fire of a new generation. She has dedicated these works to such persons as Ella Fitzgerald and Tupac Shakur. Her recent book, Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (1999) is a collection from over 30 years of her work. It comes soon after her 1998 nominations for both the NAACP Image and National Book Critics Circle awards. It includes selections from her previous books as well as some unpublished works. Ann K. Van Buren of Library Journal said of the collection, "This retrospective of 30 years of work leaves one in awe of the stretches of language Sanchez has helped to legitimize throughout her career."

Donna Seaman of Booklist said, "Her ringing voice gives voice to the emotions of many." Yet praise of Sanchez from the literary and black communities is sparse. However, another great black writer, Maya Angelou, has said "The world is a better place because of Sonia Sanchez: more livable, more laughable, more manageable." She goes on to say, "I wish millions of people knew that some of the joy in their lives comes from the fact that Sonia Sanchez is writing poetry. I wish they knew it so they could write her, and thank her, and love her up as I do."

Other Works:

Home Coming (1969). New Plays from the Black Theatre (edited by E. Bullins, 1969). Ima Talken bout the Nation of Islam (1972). Uh Hub: But How Do It Free Us? (1975). Malcolm Man Don't Live Here Anymore (1979). I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't (1982). Culture in Crisis: Two Speeches by Sonia Sanchez (1983). Generations: Selected Poetry, 1969-1985 (1986).

Bibliography:

Baker, H. A., Jr., "Our Lady: Sonia Sanchez and the Writing of a Black Renaissance," in Black Feminist Criticism and Critical Theory (1988). Curb, R., "Pre-Feminism in the Black Revolutionary Drama of Sonia Sanchez," in The Many Forms of Drama (1985). Madhubuti, H., "Sonia Sanchez: The Bringer of Memories," in Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation (1984). Melhem, D. M., Heroism in the New Black Poetry: Introductions and Interviews (1990). Black Women Writers at Work (1983). Voices From the Gaps: Women Writers of Color (1998).

Reference works:

CANR (1988). CLC (1976). DLB (1985). FC (1990). MTCW (1991). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). SATA (1981).

Other references:

Beacon Press Online (1999). MELUS (Fall 1985, Spring 1988). Parnassus: Poetry in Review (Spring-Winter 1985).

—JAMES SMETHURST,

UPDATED BY DEVRA M. SLADICS

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Sanchez, Sonia

SANCHEZ, Sonia


Nationality: American. Born: Birmingham, Alabama, 9 September 1934. Education: Hunter College, New York, B.A. in political science 1955; New York University, 1959–60; Wilberforce University, Ohio, Ph.D. in fine arts 1972. Family: Married Etheridge Knight, (divorced); one daughter and two sons. Career: Staff member, Downtown Community School, 1965–67, and Mission Rebels in Action, 1968–69, San Francisco; instructor, San Francisco State College, 1967–69; lecturer in black literature, University of Pittsburgh, 1969–70, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1970–71, Manhattan Community College, New York, 1971–73, and City University of New York, 1972; associate professor, Amherst College, Massachusetts, 1972–73, and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1976–77; associate professor of English, 1977–79, since 1979 professor of English, Faculty Fellow, Provost's Office, 1986–87, Presidential Fellow, 1987–88, and Laura Carnell Chair in English, Temple University, Philadelphia. Columnist, American Poetry Review, 1977–78, and Philadelphia Daily News, 1982–83. Awards: P.E.N. award, 1969; American Academy grant, 1970; National Endowment for the Arts award, 1978; Smith College Tribute to Black Women award, 1982; Lucretia Mott award, 1984; Before Columbus Foundation award, 1985; PEW fellow, 1993; Legacy award, Jomandi Productions, 1994. Honorary doctorate: Baruch College, 1993. Address: Temple University, Women's Studies, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Homecoming. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1969.

We a BaddDDD People. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1970.

Liberation Poem. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1970.

It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1971.

Ima Talken bout The Nation of Islam. Astoria, New York, Truth Del.,c. 1971.

Love Poems. New York, Third Press, 1973.

A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women. Detroit, Broadside Press, 1974.

I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems. Sausalito, California, Black Scholar Press, 1978; revised edition, Chicago, Third World Press, 1985.

Homegirls and Handgrenades. New York, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1984.

Under a Soprano Sky. Trenton, New Jersey, Africa World Press, 1987.

Wounded in the House of a Friend. Boston, Beacon, 1995.

Does Your House Have Lions? Boston, Beacon, 1997.

Like the Singing Coming off the Drums: Love Poems. Boston, Beacon, 1998.

Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems. Boston, Beacon, 1999.

Recordings: Homecoming, Broadside Voices, 1969; We a BaddDDD People, Broadside Voices, 1969; A Sun Woman for All Seasons, Folkways, 1971; Sonia Sanchez and Robert Bly, Black Box, 1971; Sonia Sanchez: Selected Poems, 1974, Watershed, 1975; IDKT: Captivating Facts about the Heritage of Black Americans, Ujima, 1982; Sacred Ground, with Sweet Honey in the Rock, EarthBeat! Records, 1995.

Plays

The Bronx Is Next (produced New York, 1970) Published in The Drama Review (New York), summer 1968.

Sister Son/ji (produced Evanston, Illinois, 1971; New York, 1972). Published in New Plays from the Black Theatre, edited by Ed Bullins, New York, Bantam, 1969.

Dirty Hearts '72, in Break Out! In Search of New Theatrical Environments, edited by James Schevill. Chicago, Swallow Press, 1973.

Uh, Uh: But How Do It Free Us? (produced Evanston, Illinois, 1975). Published in The New Lafayette Theatre Presents, edited by Ed Bullins, New York, Doubleday, 1974.

Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No Mo' (produced Philadelphia, 1979).

I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't (produced Atlanta. 1982).

Black Cats Back and Uneasy Landings (produced Philadelphia, 1995).

Short Stories

A Sound Investment. Chicago, Third World Press, 1980.

Other

The Adventures of Fathead, Smallhead, and Squarehead (for children). New York, Third Press, 1973.

Crisis in Culture. N.p., Black Librarian Press, 1983.

Editor, Three Hundred Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin' at You. New York, 5X, 1972.

Editor, We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans. New York. Bantam. 1973.

*

Critical Studies: "Sonia Sanchez and Her Work" by S. Clarke, in Black World (Chicago), June 1971; "The Poetry of Three Revolutionists: Don L. Lee, Sonia Sanchez, and Nikki Giovanni" by R. Roderick Palmer, in CLA Journal (Baltimore), September 1971; "Sonia Sanchez Creates Poetry for the Stage" by Barbara Walker, in Black Creation (New York), fall 1973; "Notes on the 1974 Black Literary Scene" by George Kent, in Phylon (Atlanta), June 1974; Black Women Writers at Work edited by Claudia Tate, New York, Continuum, 1983; Black Women Writers (1950–1980) edited by Mari Evans, New York, Doubleday, 1984; "Pre-Feminism in the Black Revolutionary Drama of Sonia Sanchez" by Rosemary K. Curb, in The Many Forms of Drama, edited by Karelisa Hartigan, Lanham, Maryland, UPs of America, 1985; "Sonia Sanchez: Will and Spirit" by D.H. Melhem, in MELUS (Amherst, Massachusetts), 12(3), fall 1985; "Our Lady: Sonia Sanchez and the Writing of a Black Renaissance" by Houston A. Baker, in Black Feminist Criticism and Critical Theory, edited by Baker and Joe Weixlmnn, Greenwood, Florida, Penkevill, 1988; "Sonia Sanchez's Homegirls and Handgrenades: Recalling Toomer's Cane" by James Robert Saunders, in MELUS (Amherst, Massachusetts), 15(1), spring 1988; "The Southern Imagination of Sonia Sanchez" by Joanne Veal Gabbin, in Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, edited by Tonette Bond Inge and Doris Betts, Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1990; "Refusing to Be Boxed In: Sonia Sanchez's Transformation of the Haiku Form" by Frenzella Elaine De Lancey, and "The Blue/ Black Poetics of Sonia Sanchez" by Regina B. Jennings, both in Language and Literature in the African American Imagination, edited by Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood, 1992; "The Black Arts Poets" by William W. Cook, in The Columbia History of American Poetry, edited by Jay Parini and Brett C. Miller, New York, Columbia University Press, 1993; The X-Factor Influence on the Transformed Image of Africa in the Poetry of Haki Madhubuti and Sonia Sanchez: Issues of Re-Naming and Inversion (dissertation) by Regina B. Jennings, Temple University, 1993; Keepers of the Oral Traditions: An Afrocentric Analysis of Representative Plays by African-American Females, 1970–1984 (dissertation) by Julyette Tamy Adams, Bowling Green State University, 1995; interview with Danielle Alyce Rome, in Speaking of the Short Story: Interviews with Contemporary Writers, edited by Farhat Iftekharuddin, Mary Rohrberger, and Maurice Lee, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

*  *  *

As a mature poet, Sonia Sanchez continues to write for political, economic, and social purposes, seeing no necessary dichotomy between cause-oriented, utilitarian writing and art. Earlier, as a leading poet of the black arts movement and believing that African-Americans were expressing thoughts that previous generations had been afraid to utter, she saw the times as propitious and urgent for black artistic militancy. "I write because I must," she once declared, and "if you write from a black experience, you're writing from a universal experience as well."

In an early poem Sanchez writes, "white people /ain't rt bout nothing," and she chastises blacks who adopt white values and lifestyles. To blacks who "have come to / believe that we are/ not" she gives the prescription "inhale the ancient black breath." Thus, she teaches that African-Americans must know their enemies, accept themselves, demonstrate ethnic pride and unity, be moral, act communally, and go about the serious business of intelligent and courageous self-direction. In delivering such messages, then and now, much of her poetry is direct, uncompromising, demanding, militant, even abrasive. Yet it is not without tenderness, a quality openly evident in her poems for children and in her love poems, notably those dealing with love among African-Americans and between man and woman.

As her collected works show, Sanchez's poetry has not been static in substance and technique. Homecoming is a young poet's grappling with conceptions of self, others, and the world. We a BaddDDD People stresses black strength and self-love, identification of the human and institutional enemies of black people, "we"ness in place of the personal and subjective "I." It's a New Day, "poems for young brothas and sistuhs," warns of dangers and points out the necessity for unity, wholeness of spirit, and clearness of purpose and actions. Having by this time joined the Nation of Islam, Sanchez in Love Poems tones down her language as she explores the dynamics of healthy relationships among black people. The poet's still evolving technical style is apparent in A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, an autobiographical, perhaps confessional, volume. Addressed to "Queens of the Universe" and divided into the sections "Past," "Present," "Rebirth," and "Future," it is not an anthology or collection but rather thematically united poetry that ironically and satirically echoes T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. While Eliot is pessimistic, however, Sanchez is determinedly optimistic.

I've Been a Woman is a gathering of new and selected poems. In the evolving of her poetry Sanchez has tended not to move from exhorter to persuader, but she is always the teacher. "C'mon yall," she encourages, "on a safari / into our plantation jungle / minds / and let us catch the nigger / roamen inside of us," and she invites, "Come into Black geography / you, seated like Manzu's cardinal, / come up through tongues / multiplying memories." Under a Soprano Sky continues her technical and thematic predilections. The volume especially continues the topicality and real-person subjects in her poems and demonstrates well her use of the specific in the conveying of broader philosophical positions.

In Wounded in the House of a Friend Sanchez's volition for entering the pain-filled corridor of human life is apparent. She supports her own contention that "this is not a small voice / you hear," as she nimbly and powerfully speaks in the multiple voices of the hopeless and the hope filled. She broadens her political, social, and cultural landscape of racism and sexism to include a heightened awareness of the daily and personal traumas of infidelity, drug addiction, abuse, and rape that afflict a global humanity. Sanchez stages the title poem as an absurdist drama in which the loss of shared values destroys a marriage. The male and female speakers trudge through the emotional sludge of suspicion and hurt and of recognition and resolution, finally to understand that the husband's "wolfdreams" of adulterous relationships and his aspirations for a spiraling corporate career are opposed to the wife's penchant for down-to-earth activism.

Sanchez's voice resonates with the clarity of a seasoned eavesdropper as she shares the narratives of human pain. Drug abuse is the dominant theme in "Love Song No. 3," in which an eighteen-year old addict hammers her grandmother to death to gain access to insurance money, and in "Poem for Some Women," in which a drug-addicted mother temporarily trades the "prettiest little girl," her seven-year-old daughter, to satisfy her "jones jones jones / habit habit habit" for drugs. In "Eyewitness:/Case No. 3456" the female speaker "nicks" the reader with the wrenching agony of the knife she endures at the hands of a rapist. Sanchez's ability to gaze at life with an unflinching stare and to capture and manipulate the screaming and moaning voices that enter her cultural, political, and social domain is evident in both the physical and emotional scars of the victims and the psychological wounds of the perpetrators.

Sanchez seeks balance in the work by ending with a signature series of haiku and tanka that breathlessly alter the terrain with fragments of memory: "if i had known then / what i know now, i would have / picked my own cotton." But it is through her tributes that Sanchez's persistent and resilient spirit soars. She weaves the trials of the past with the hopes of the future as she pays homage to Essence magazine, Spelman College, Bill Cosby, James Baldwin, and the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Does Your House Have Lions? is Sanchez's elegy for her half brother who died of AIDS following his youthful trek from the south to "embrace the city and the streets" of New York, where he "enslaved his body to cocaine." In complicated, yet noble rhyme royal stanzas, Sanchez imagines the poignant voices of the estranged family as they make the arduous journey through desertion, alienation, and pain to reconciliation and love. The brother's illicit engagements in New York conjure up all of the family's old hurts and angers. His terminal illness forces them to prepare him for the final journey to their ancestors, who sing out, "come here African," and the brother, who finally accepts his fate, responds, "I am coming." Sanchez tackles a difficult social issue, but, by deft handling of form, language, and tone, she invites us all to participate in restoring our loved ones to a place of dignity and rest.

In Like the Singing Coming off the Drums: Love Poems Sanchez forcefully extends her experimentation with form to create a volume predominantly comprised of Japanese haiku, tanka, and sonku, along with new blues haiku and tributes to notable people like Ella Fitzgerald, Bill and Camille Cosby, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Sanchez playfully redefines the ethnic culture of the haiku by using the black vernacular in "let me be yo wil / derness let me be yo wind / blowing you all day," and she shares an ironic passion in "I have caught fire from / your mouth now you want me to / swallow the ocean." Relentlessly challenged by newness, Sanchez, who has publicly embraced the controversial hip-hop poets and been hailed "an ambassador of hip-hop," includes two poems for slain rapper/poet Tupac Shakur. In "Love Poem [for Tupac]" she writes, "I will not / burp you up / I hold you close to my heart," and in "For Tupac Amaru Shakur" she asserts in a blend of African chants, "ayyee—ayyeeayyee / I'm going to save these young niggaz / because nobody else want to save them / nobody ever came to save me …"

Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems is a compilation taken from Sanchez's most highly regarded works, including I've Been a Woman, Homegirls and Handgrenades, Under a Soprano Sky, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Does Your House Have Lions?, and Like the Singing Coming off the Drums, and it includes a section of new poems. Although the collection can boast of the vast landscape of Sanchez's more mature and technically honed works from 1978 to 1998, it notably excludes her most revolutionary poetry from the black arts movement, with which she first gained prominence.

Several new poems in Shake Loose My Skin are riveting in their urgent cry for a unified humanity. The haunting refrain of "Mrs. Benita Jones Speaks" recalls Lorraine Hansberry's award-winning play A Raisin in the Sun. The irony of Sanchez's contemporary monologue is its thematic similarity of racial ostracization; a single mother of three children laments the racial hostility initiated by her new community of white "Christians" that leaves her "shipwrecked by circumstances." In "Morning Song and Evening Walk" the narrator revives Martin Luther King's injunctions against a racist society: "… the storm will / not abate until a just distribution of the fruits of / the earth enables men [and women] everywhere to live / in dignity and human decency. " And in "For Sweet Honey in the Rock," the name of the singing group, the speaker merges poetry and a familiar spiritual, "I'm gonna stay on the battlefield," as she urges a divided society of brown, yellow, black, white, gay, and lesbian people to "come to this battlefield / called life. "

Over the years Sanchez has come to depend less on poetic statement and more on indirection, thereby requiring the reader's active participation in explication. In her later works the thematic concerns are clear: love, reconciliation, and a unified humanity. In her figurative language she favors the imagistic, metaphorical, and ironic. Many of her allusive constructs depend upon emotive and intellectual recognition by African-Americans, a recognition often reliant on what critic Stephen Henderson would call the reader's and hearer's ethnic "saturation." For example, in an ironic image reversal Sanchez writes about patriarchal poet Sterling A. Brown as the "griot of the wind / glorifying red gums smiling tom-tom teeth," and in a poem about singer Billie Holiday she says, "speak yo / strange / fruit amid these / stones." Yet it is abundantly clear in her later works that Sanchez is addressing a wider breadth of social concerns and a broader audience. "Love Conversation [AIDS day 1994 in Philadelphia, for Essex Hemphill]" is an assertive appeal of a female AIDS victim to her African gods: "… oya olukun oya sistah … I ammmmmmm / hiv positive but I ammmm / still, woman, lover, mother, / sistah, artist, organizer, activist."

As to structure, Sanchez usually fits form to substance. Her poems are modern in their nontraditional spatial configurations, unconventional syntax and mechanics, portmanteau terms, and improvisational quality. She occasionally uses the sonnet form and rhyme royal. In her later work she has composed more haiku and tanka, and although they follow line and syllabic conventions, they tend in substance to be statements rather than suggestive evocations of fleeting experiences. Though over time her poetry has shifted from a literal to a more subtle and cerebral tone, it is still characteristically pointed.

Much of Sanchez's poetry is addressed principally to African-Americans, among whom she is highly respected. She also, however, has a sizable following among white readers, especially among those whom she characterizes as "progressive" whites. Critics' assessments of Sanchez's poetry vary. It is not unusual for academic and establishment critics and anthologists, who rely upon traditional, received criteria and canons, to pay only passing attention to her earlier work. Women critics tend to regard her poetry favorably and in fact began paying serious attention to her work well before her rediscovery by African-American critics. African-American critics and literary academicians generally consider Sanchez to be an unusually talented and significant poet.

—Theodore R. Hudson and

B.J. Bolden

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Sanchez, Sonia

SANCHEZ, Sonia

SANCHEZ, Sonia. American, b. 1934. Genres: Children's fiction, Plays/ Screenplays, Poetry, Young adult fiction. Career: Professor of English, Temple University, Philadelphia, 1979- (Associate Professor, 1977-79; Faculty Fellow, Provost's Office, 1986-87; Presidential Fellow, 1987-88). Staff member, Downtown Community School, 1965-67, and Mission Rebels in Action, 1968-69, San Francisco, California; Instructor, San Francisco State College, 1967-69; Lecturer in Black Literature, University of Pittsburgh, Pa., 1969-70, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1970-71, Manhattan Community College, NYC, 1971-73; Associate Professor, Amherst College, Massachusetts, 1972-75, and University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1976-77. Publications: Homecoming, 1969; WE a BaddDDD People, 1970; Broadside No. 34, 1970; The Bronx Is Next, 1970; It's a New Day; Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs, 1971; Sister Son/ji, 1971; Dirty Hearts '72, 1971; (ed.) Three Hundred Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin' at You, 1972; Love Poems, 1973; A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, 1973; The Adventures of Fat Head, Smallhead, and Squarehead (juvenile), 1973; Sound Investment (short stories), 1979; I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, 1979; Homegirls and Handgrenades, 1984; Under a Soprano Sky, 1987; Wounded in the House of a Friend, 1995; Does Your House Have Lions?, 1997; Like the Singing Coming off the Drums, 1998; Shake Loose My Skin (poems), 1999. Address: Dept. of English, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122, U.S.A.

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