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Sonia Sanchez

1934–

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)
 

Sonia Sanchez
Photo credit: Marion Ettlinger

By This Poet

11

Ballad

	      (after the spanish)


forgive me if i laugh 
you are so sure of love 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

the rain exploding 
in the air is love 
the grass excreting her 
green wax is love 
and stones remembering 
past steps is love, 
but you. you are too young 
for love 
and i too old.

once. what does it matter 
when or who, i knew 
of love. 
i fixed my body 
under his and went 
to sleep in love 
all trace of me 
was wiped away

forgive me if i smile 
young heiress of a naked dream 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.

14 haiku

(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
wild stars embracing
southern eyes

5.
footprints blooming
in the night remember
your blood

6.
in this southern
classroom summer settles
into winter

7.
i hear your
pulse swallowing
neglected light

8.
your limbs
fly off the ground
little birds...

9.
we taste the
blood ritual of
southern hands

10.
blue midnite
breaths sailing on
smiling tongues

11.
say no words
time is collapsing
in the woods

12.
a mother's eyes
remembering a cradle
pray out loud

13.
walking in Mississippi
i hold the stars
between my teeth

14.
your death
a blues, i could not
drink away.

A Poem for Ella Fitzgerald

when she came on the stage, this Ella
there were rumors of hurricanes and
over the rooftops of concert stages
the moon turned red in the sky,
it was Ella, Ella.
queen Ella had come
and words spilled out
leaving a trail of witnesses smiling
amen—amen—a woman—a woman.

she began
this three agèd woman
nightingales in her throat
and squads of horns came out
to greet her.

streams of violins and pianos
splashed their welcome
and our stained glass silences
our braided spaces
unraveled
opened up
said who's that coming?
who's that knocking at the door?
whose voice lingers on
that stage gone mad with
      perdido. perdido. perdido.
      i lost my heart in toledooooooo.

whose voice is climbing
up this morning chimney
smoking with life
carrying her basket of words
                               a tisket a tasket
                               my little yellow
                               basket—i wrote a
                               letter to my mom and
                               on the way i dropped it—
                               was it red...no no no no
                               was it green...no no no no
                               was it blue...no no no no
                               just a little yellow

voice rescuing razor thin lyrics
from hopscotching dreams.

we first watched her navigating
an apollo stage amid high-stepping
yellow legs
we watched her watching us
shiny and pure woman
sugar and spice woman
her voice a nun's whisper
her voice pouring out
guitar thickened blues,
her voice a faraway horn
questioning the wind,
and she became Ella,
first lady of tongues
Ella cruising our veins
voice walking on water
crossed in prayer,
she became holy
a thousand sermons
concealed in her bones
as she raised them in a
symphonic shudder
carrying our sighs into
her bloodstream.

this voice, chasing the 
morning waves,
this Ella-tonian voice soft
like four layers of lace.
                               when i die Ella
                               tell the whole joint
                               please, please don't talk
                               about me when i'm gone...

i remember waiting one nite for her appearance
audience impatient at the lateness
of musicians,
i remember it was april
and the flowers ran yellow
the sun downpoured yellow butterflies
and the day was yellow and silent
all of spring held us
in a single drop of blood.

when she appeared on stage
she became Nut arching over us
feet and hands placed on the stage
music flowing from her breasts
she swallowed the sun
sang confessions from the evening stars
made earth divulge her secrets
gave birth to skies in her song
remade the insistent air
and we became anointed found
inside her bop
                               bop bop dowa
                               bop bop doowaaa
                               bop bop dooooowaaaa

Lady. Lady. Lady.
be good. be good
to me. 
             to you.              to us all
cuz we just some lonesome babes
in the woods
hey lady. sweetellalady
Lady. Lady. Lady. be gooooood
ELLA ELLA ELLALADY
        be good
                     gooooood
                                   goooooood...

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