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 married and divorced Albert Sanchez, a Puerto Rican immigrant whose surname she kept. She was also married for two years to Etheridge Knight.
Sanchez 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 Knight, Madhubuti, and Nikki Giovanni, she formed the “Broadside Quartet” of young poets, introduced and promoted by Dudley Randall.
During the early 1960s, Sanchez 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 Black people would never be truly accepted by white people in the United States, she focused more on her Black heritage from a separatist point of view.
Sanchez is the author of over twenty volumes of poetry, including Collected Poems (Beacon Press, 2021); 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 (Third World Press, 1980); The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head (Third Press Review of Books, 1973); and It’s a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (Broadside Press, 1971). She has also edited two anthologies: We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans (Bantam Books, 1973) and Three Hundred Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin’ at You (Broadside, 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. In 2022, Sanchez was the recipient of both the Edward MacDowell Medal and the Jackson Poetry Prize.
Sanchez began teaching in the Bay 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 1968–69. She has lectured at more than five hundred universities and colleges in the United States and had traveled extensively, reading her poetry in parts of 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 Philadelphia.