Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez

About Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez, born Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934 in Birmingham, Alabama, United States, is an African-American poet, playwright and university professor. She is often associated with the African-American artistic movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the Black Arts Movement. Sanchez is the author of a dozen collections of poetry, short stories, critical essays, plays and children's books. She is known for her innovation in mixing musical formats - for example the blues - and traditional poetic formats like haiku and tanka. She also tends to use incorrect spelling to celebrate the unique sound of English spoken by African Americans, which she credits to poets like Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. Her first poetry collection, Home Coming (1969), is noted for its blues influences, both in form and content. This volume describes the difficulties of defining African-American identity in the United States, but also highlights reasons for celebrating black culture. Her second book, We a BaddDDD People (1970), furthered her contribution to the aesthetics of the Black Arts Movement by focusing on the everyday lives of African American community. These poems use urban black vernacular, experimental punctuation, and the spelling, spacing, and performative quality of jazz.
While continuing to emphasize what she sees as the need for revolutionary culture change, Sanchez's later works, such as I've Been a Woman (1978), Homegirls and Handgrenades (1984), and Under a Soprano Sky (1987), tend to focus less on separatist themes (like those of Malcolm X), and more on love, community, and emancipation. She continues to explore haiku, tanka, and sonku forms, as well as blues-influenced rhythms. Her latest works continues her experimentation with forms like the epic in Does Your House Have Lions? (1997) and the haiku in Morning Haiku (2010).
In addition to her poetry, Sanchez's contribution to the Black Arts Movement includes drama and prose. She began writing plays in San Francisco in the 1960s. Many of her plays challenge the macho spirit of the movement, and focus on female protagonists. Sanchez has been recognized as an innovative champion of black feminism.
She has received numerous awards. In 1969, she won the P.E.N. Writing Award, then received the National Education Association Award 1977-1988 and the National Academy and Arts Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award in 1978-1979. In 1985, she obtained the American Book Awards for her book Homegirls and Handgrenades. She was also awarded the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities, and the Peace and Freedom Award from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Sanchez's work has inspired many African-American poets, including Krista Franklin. In 2012, Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), named her the city's first Poet Laureate. In 1999, Temple University in Philadelphia named her professor emeritus.

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