Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

For Sonia Sanchez, politics and poetry have always been inextricably linked. She wrote one of her first poems about an aunt who spat in a bus driver’s face when he ordered her to leave a bus that was filling up with white people and published her first book of poetry, Homecoming, in 1969 after becoming involved with the organization of a black studies curriculum at San Francisco State College in the mid-1960’s. “One of the things which has propelled me all my life is when a principle is violated. America has violated many principles as far as black people are concerned,” Sanchez states, and the selections from her earlier volumes that are gathered in I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems are a record of her attempts to “eradicate” these violations of human rights, civil liberties, and social justice.

In discussing the origins of her work, Sanchez recalls both the racial slights (“There were simple things, like going to a house where my grandmother worked, and we were in the kitchen and heard the way she was talked to”) and the sexual contempt (“I watched white men pinch black women on their behinds”) that she recognized as a child. When the surge of inspirational energy released by the doctrines of Black Pride and Black Power swept out of the 1960’s, Sanchez found a direction, a style, and a voice for the feelings that she had been harboring since her youth. Because the dominant mode of expression for writers involved in the Black Arts movement was one of defiance mingled with rage, and because there was a sense of exhilaration and liberation produced by speaking without restraint, Sanchez’s poetry in the selections from Homecoming are informed by the confidence engendered by a new realization of the self’s possibilities. “Homecoming” asserts that the poet has “returned/ leaving behind me/ all those hide...

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I've Been a Woman Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In order to help her students understand the conditions of her life and art, Sanchez has asked classes in black autobiography, in a consideration of Zora Neale Hurston, “What was it like to have been a Black woman artist in your grandmother’s time?” Noting the prevalence of “the chauvinism that exists today,” she is attempting to give her classes a picture of what has been called a revolution within the revolution, wherein black women have had to confront, in the critic Stephen E. Henderson’s words, their position as “victims not only of racial injustice but of a sexual arrogance tantamount to a dual colonialism.” Within this context, Sanchez has dedicated her second book We a BaddDDD People to “blk/wooomen: the only queens of this universe” and has specifically mentioned that her enduring contribution to the Nation of Islam was her fight against the inferior status that it assigned to women. Yet she has also made a particular point of not permitting women to see themselves only as victims, because she believes that people should not be “programmed for defeat and victimization.”

Instead, her work has been designed to demonstrate the persistence and determination of women across time, frequently using the specific facts of her own life and experience as an anchor in an unsteady flux of communal and national assaults. She chose to publish her first book with Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press, a publishing house supporting black writers, rather than seeking a more prominent established publisher, and she was willing to face the criticism of a generally supportive fellow artist such as Madhubuti, who “did not understand” her experiments in language in We a BaddDDD People, because she thought that she could not give in to fear in her own life when she was exhorting her readers about the “values of change.” Without suggesting that women are superior to men, Sanchez does believe that “Women are quite different from men in what they feel and think and how they view the world. I use feminine imagery that is drawn from ancient cultures.” An indication of the success and impact of her work are comments from Madhubuti that “Sanchez has been an inspiration to a generation of young poets” and that “in a real fight, this is the type of black woman you would want at your side.”

I've Been a Woman Bibliography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Evans, Mari, ed. Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. One of the essential critical texts for a study of African American poets. Includes an interview with Sanchez and several incisive critical essays.

Gabbin, Joanne Veal. “The Southern Imagination of Sonia Sanchez.” In Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, edited by Tonnette Bond Inge. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990.

Gibson, Donald, ed. Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1973. Includes an essay by R. Roderick Palmer, “The Poetry of Three Revolutionists,” that covers Sanchez.

Jennings, Regina B. “The Blue/Black Poetics of Sonia Sanchez.” In Language and Literature in the African American Imagination, edited by Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Joyce, Joyce Ann. “The Development of Sonia Sanchez: A Continuing Journey.” Indian Journal of American Studies 13 (July, 1983): 37-71.

Melhem, D. H. Heroism in the New Black Poetry. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. A compilation of critical essays and interviews with Sanchez and some of her peers, such as Jayne Cortez, Gwendolyn Brooks, Haki Madhubuti, Amiri Baraka, and Dudley Randall. Includes a useful bibliography.

Sanchez, Sonia. “Exploding Myths: An Interview with Sonia Sanchez.” Interview by Herbert Liebowitz. Parnassus: Poetry in Review 12-13, nos. 2-1 (Spring-Winter, 1985): 357-368. A pointed, probing discussion with Sanchez conducted by the publisher of Parnassus.

Tate, Claudia, ed. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1983. Contains an interview with Sanchez in which the poet expresses her opinions and ideas about politics, black studies programs, poetics, and her early life. Provoca-tive, candid, and appealing.