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Sun, 09.09.1934

Sonia Sanchez, poet and sister

Sonia Sanchez

*Sonia Sanchez was born on this date in 1934. She is an African American writer and literary activist.

Born Wilsonia Benita Driver in Birmingham, Alabama, her mother was Lena Jones Driver and her father was Wilson L. Driver. Her mother died a year after her birth, and Sanchez lived with her paternal grandmother and other relatives for several years. In 1943 Sanchez moved to Harlem, NY with her sister to live with their father and his third wife. She earned a B.A. 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 poets Amiri Baraka, Haki R. Madhubuti, and Larry Neal. With Madhubuti, Nikki Giovanni, and Etheridge Knight, she formed the "Broadside Quartet" of young poets, promoted by Dudley Randall. She married and divorced Albert Sanchez, a Puerto Rican immigrant whose surname she has used when writing, and the poet Etheridge Knight, with whom she had three children. During the early 1960s she began to focus more on her Black heritage from a separatist point of view. Sanchez 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.

Sonia Sanchez is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (Beacon Press, 1999); Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums: Love Poems (1998); Does your house have lions? (1995), which was nominated for both the NAACP Image and National Book Critics Circle Award; Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995); Under a Soprano Sky (1987); Homegirls & Handgrenades (1984), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems (1978); A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1973); Love Poems (1973); Liberation Poem (1970); We a BaddDDD People (1970); and Homecoming (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). Her 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).

Sanchez has received many honors including: 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 (WILPF), the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She 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.

Sanchez is a recent recipient (2001) of the Robert Frost medal in poetry, one of the highest honors awarded to a nationally recognized poet. One of the most important writers of the Black Arts Movement; Sanchez is the author of sixteen books and lives in Philadelphia.


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