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About this poet

Sonia Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama. After her mother died in childbirth a year later, Sanchez lived with her paternal grandmother and other relatives for several years. In 1943, she moved to Harlem with her sister to live with their father and his third wife.

She earned a BA in political science from Hunter College in 1955. She also did postgraduate work at New York University and studied poetry with Louise Bogan. Sanchez formed a writers' workshop in Greenwich Village, attended by such poets as Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Haki R. Madhubuti (Don L. Lee), and Larry Neal. Along with Madhubuti, Nikki Giovanni, and Etheridge Knight, she formed the "Broadside Quartet" of young poets, introduced and promoted by Dudley Randall.

She married and divorced Albert Sanchez, a Puerto Rican immigrant whose surname she kept. She was also married for two years to Knight.

During the early 1960s she was an integrationist, supporting the philosophy of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). But after considering the ideas of Black Muslim leader Malcolm X, who believed blacks would never be truly accepted by whites in the United States, she focused more on her black heritage from a separatist point of view.

Sanchez began teaching in the San Francisco area in 1965 and was a pioneer in developing black studies courses at what is now San Francisco State University, where she was an instructor from 1968 to 1969. In 1971, she joined the Nation of Islam, but by 1976 she had left the Nation, largely because of its repression of women.

Sanchez is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010); Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press, 1999); Does your house have lions? (Beacon Press, 1995), which was nominated for both the NAACP Image and National Book Critics Circle Award; Homegirls & Handgrenades (White Pine Press, 1984), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems (Third World Press, 1978); A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (Broadside Press, 1973); Love Poems (Third Press, 1973); We a BaddDDD People (Broadside Press, 1970); and Homecoming (Broadside Press, 1969).

Her published plays are Black Cats Back and Uneasy Landings (1995), I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't (1982), Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No Mo' (1979), Uh Huh: But How Do It Free Us? (1974), Dirty Hearts '72 (1973), The Bronx Is Next (1970), and Sister Son/ji (1969).

Sanchez's books for children include A Sound Investment and Other Stories (1979); The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head (1973); and It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (1971). She has also edited two anthologies: We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans (1973), and Three Hundred Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin' at You (1971).

Among the many honors she has received are the Robert Creeley Award, the Frost Medal, the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom, the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. In 2018, she received the Wallace Stevens Award, given annually to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.

Sanchez has lectured at more than five hundred universities and colleges in the United States and had traveled extensively, reading her poetry in Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Nicaragua, the People's Republic of China, Norway, and Canada. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she began teaching in 1977, and held the Laura Carnell Chair in English there until her retirement in 1999. She lives in Philadephia.



Bibliography

Poetry

Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010)
Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press, 1999)
Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums: Love Poems (Beacon Press, 1998)
Does your house have lions? (Beacon Press, 1995)
Wounded in the House of a Friend (Beacon Press, 1995)
Under a Soprano Sky (Africa World Press, 1987)
Homegirls & Handgrenades (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1984)
I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems (Third World Press, 1978)
A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (Broadside Press, 1973)
Love Poems (Third World Press, 1973)
We a BaddDDD People (Broadside Press, 1970)
Homecoming (Broadside Press, 1969)

Plays

Black Cats Back and Uneasy Landings (1995)
I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't (1982)
Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No Mo' (1979)
Uh Huh: But How Do It Free Us?
(1974)
Dirty Hearts '72 (1973)
The Bronx Is Next (1970)
Sister Son/ji (1969)

Children's Literature

A Sound Investment and Other Stories (Third World Press, 1979)
The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head (1973)
It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (Broadside Press, 1971)
 

Poem for July 4, 1994

For President Václav Havel

1.

It is essential that Summer be grafted to
bones marrow earth clouds blood the
eyes of our ancestors.
It is essential to smell the beginning
words where Washington, Madison, Hamilton,
Adams, Jefferson assembled amid cries of:

       "The people lack of information"
       "We grow more and more skeptical"
       "This Constitution is a triple-headed monster"
       "Blacks are property"

It is essential to remember how cold the sun
how warm the snow snapping
around the ragged feet of soldiers and slaves.
It is essential to string the sky
with the saliva of Slavs and 
Germans and Anglos and French
and Italians and Scandinavians,
and Spaniards and Mexicans and Poles
and Africans and Native Americans.
It is essential that we always repeat:
                           we the people,
                           we the people,
                           we the people.

2.

"Let us go into the fields" one
brother told the other brother. And
the sound of exact death
raising tombs across the centuries.
Across the oceans. Across the land.

3.

It is essential that we finally understand:
this is the time for the creative
human being 
the human being who decides
to talk upright in a human
fashion in order to save this
earth from extinction.

This is the time for the creative
Man. Woman. Who must decide
that She. He. Can live in peace.
Racial and sexual justice on
this earth.

This is the time for you and me.
African American. Whites. Latinos.
Gays. Asians. Jews. Native
Americans. Lesbians. Muslims.
All of us must finally bury
the elitism of race superiority
the elitism of sexual superiority
the elitism of economic superiority
the elitism of religious superiority. 

So we welcome you on the celebration
of 218 years Philadelphia. America.

So we salute you and say:
Come, come, come, move out into this world
nourish your lives with a
spirituality that allows us to respect
each other's birth.
come, come, come, nourish the world where
every 3 days 120,000 children die
of starvation or the effects of starvation;
come, come, come, nourish the world
where we will no longer hear the
screams and cries of womens, girls,
and children in Bosnia, El Salvador,
Rwanda...AhAhAhAh AHAHAHHHHHH

       Ma-ma. Dada. Mamacita. Baba.
       Mama. Papa. Momma. Poppi.
       The soldiers are marching in the streets
       near the hospitals but the nurses say
       we are safe and the soldiers are
       laughing marching firing calling
       out to us i don't want to die i
       am only 9 yrs old, i am only 10 yrs old
       i am only 11 yrs old and i cannot
       get out of the bed because they have cut
       off one of my legs and i hear the soldiers
       coming toward our rooms and i hear
       the screams and the children are
       running out of the room i can't get out
       of the bed i don't want to die Don't
       let me die Rwanda. America. United
       Nations. Don't let me die..............

And if we nourish ourselves, our communities
our countries and say

       no more hiroshima
       no more auschwitz
       no more wounded knee
       no more middle passage
       no more slavery
       no more Bosnia
       no more Rwanda

No more intoxicating ideas of
racial superiority
as we walk toward abundance
we will never forget

       the earth
       the sea
       the children
       the people

For we the people will always be arriving
a ceremony of thunder
waking up the earth
opening our eyes to human
monuments.
    And it'll get better
    it'll get better
if we the people work, organize, resist,
come together for peace, racial, social
and sexual justice
  it'll get better
  it'll get better.

From Shake Loose My Skin. Copyright © 1999 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

From Shake Loose My Skin. Copyright © 1999 by Sonia Sanchez. Used with the permission of Beacon Press.

Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez received the 2018 Wallace Stevens Award, given annually to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry.

by this poet

poem

love between us is
speech and breath. loving you is
a long river running.

poem

let me be yo wil
derness let me be yo wind
blowing you all day.

poem

(for Emmett Louis Till)

1.
Your limbs buried
in northern muscle carry
their own heartbeat

2.
Mississippi...
alert with
conjugated pain

3.
young Chicago
stutterer whistling
more than flesh

4.
your pores