Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Sonia Sanchez was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934, as Wilsonia Benita Driver. When Sanchez was one year old, her mother died in childbirth. She and her sister were cared for by her grandmother, a woman whom Sanchez has celebrated in her poetry. This grandmother died when Sanchez was five years old, an event she says traumatized her. For several years she and her sister were passed around among relatives. She has described herself as a shy, introspective child who stuttered.
When she was nine years old, her father remarried and moved the family to New York City, where Sanchez was introduced to the African American heritage of Harlem, a culture that has had a strong influence on her work. She graduated from Hunter College in 1955 with a degree in political science. Although she had read the work of African American poets in school in the South, the encouragement of librarians and a visit to the Schomburg Library, a black culture museum, opened her eyes to the history of slavery and to the works of other African American writers. Sanchez did graduate work in poetry with Louise Bogan at New York University, who she says taught her the craft of poetry.
In the 1960’s she became politically active. During the Civil Rights movement, Sanchez was an integrationist, believing that blacks and whites shared cultural values and could work together for social justice. However, after listening to Malcolm X, she rejected the white world and began...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
On September 9, 1934, Wilsonia Benita Driver, who later took the name Sonia Sanchez, was born to Wilson Driver, a drummer in a jazz band, and Lena Driver in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother, who was expecting twins, died in childbirth only a year after Sanchez’s birth, resulting in tremendous upheaval for her and her older sister. Often cared for by her paternal grandmother, Sanchez grew attached to “Mama,” the woman whom she credits with teaching her to read at age four and encouraging her great love of language. Describing how she used to fall to the floor laughing at her grandmother’s words, Sanchez states: “I used to take the words and mull them over my tongue and give them back to her.” When her grandmother died, the six-year-old Sanchez started to stutter. Her stuttering left her shy and somewhat isolated, but it also left her alone to write poetry, sometimes hiding it under the family’s old, standing bathtub, which she was responsible for cleaning once a week.
When Sanchez was nine, her father moved the family to New York City. Living with her father and stepmother, she struggled with her shyness and stuttering. Being conscious of the rhythm of the black dialect spoken in the city streets but not permitted in her parents’ home, she absorbed a vernacular that became an important influence on her poetry. Her poetry also gave her an outlet for her dismay at family changes—including three different stepmothers—and an often-distant...
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Sonia Sanchez’s emergence as a writer and political activist in the 1960’s marked the beginning of the career of a poet, playwright, and cultural worker. Sanchez is noted as a poet and as a black activist committed to the belief that the role of the artist is functional. Sanchez’s political interpretation of the situation of African Americans informs the creative forms she produces. The activist spirit has remained a constant in her work.
Sonia Sanchez’s mother died when Sanchez was one year old. Her father, Wilson Driver, Jr., a jazz musician, moved the family to New York when Sanchez was nine years old; she was thrust into the jazz world of her father. She entered Hunter College and received her bachelor’s degree in political science in 1955. As a graduate student, Sanchez studied with Louise Bogan at New York University. Bogan, a poet and literary critic, wrote restrained, concise, and deeply intellectual poetry, often compared to that of the English metaphysical poets. Bogan’s influence upon Sanchez is most evident in the conciseness of her lyrical poetry; Bogan’s encouragement caused Sanchez to pursue the life of a poet. Sanchez formed a writers’ workshop and soon began reading poetry around New York City.
Sanchez’s early works were published in little magazines; later they were published in black journals. Homecoming, Sanchez’s first anthology of poetry, placed her among poets who espoused a philosophy of...
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Biography (The Sixties in America)
Born Wilsonia Benita Driver in Birmingham, Alabama, she lost her mother, Lena Jones Driver, at age one and was raised by her grandmother and later her father. In 1943, she and her sister moved to Harlem, New York, to live with her father, Wilson L. Driver, a musician. Through him, she was exposed to jazz artists such as Billy Holiday, Art Tatum, and Count Basie, whose music influenced her poetic style. She studied poetry and political science at Hunter College, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1955. She continued studying poetry under professor Louise Bogan at New York University.
The Black Power movement, particularly Malcolm X, influenced Sanchez, who began publishing her poetry in African American and left-wing periodicals such as Liberator and The Journal of Black Poetry. In addition, her poetry was featured in Hoyt Fuller’s Negro Digest (later renamed Black World), a prominent journal of the period. In 1969, Homecoming, a collection of poems that was her first book, was published by Broadside Press.
Sanchez’s other interests included education. She held numerous positions in the field, starting as a staff member of the New York City Downtown Community School from 1965 to 1967. During this period, she also worked with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and helped establish the first black studies program...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Sonia Sanchez (SAHN-chehz) is one of the most influential and enduring writers to come to prominence during the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s; her activism, editing, teaching, and performances have established her as one of the sustaining voices in what many critics regard as a second renaissance in black American letters and culture. She was born Wilsonia Benita Driver to Wilson and Lena (Jones) Driver; she later acquired her surname from a marriage to Puerto Rican immigrant Albert Sanchez and continued to use it after their divorce. Sonia experienced a tumultuous childhood. Her mother and the twins she was carrying died in childbirth when Sonia was a year old, after which she and her sister Pat spent their early years with various members of the extended family. Her beloved grandmother died when Sonia was six, prompting a stutter that would later encourage Sanchez to turn to writing. When she was nine years old, her father moved the family to Harlem, New York, where she came of age both enriched and provoked by the gaps between formal education and the verbal agility of black language in the street community.
In 1955 Sanchez received her undergraduate degree in political science from Hunter College in New York City, and in the next year she studied poetry with Louise Bogan at New York University. Following two more years of postgraduate study, Sanchez pursued an integrationist social ideal by working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a...
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Biography (Poetry for Students)
Originally named Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934, poet Sonia Sanchez was reared in the American South. She was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and her mother died in childbirth when Sanchez was only a year old. Sanchez was reared by her grandmother until she also died when Sanchez was only six years old. At this time, she and her siblings returned to Harlem to live with their father, who was a schoolteacher. It was also at this time that Sanchez began to write. The loss of her grandmother and the development of a stutter prompted her to find expression through writing. In Harlem Sanchez learned the dialect of the street that would later characterize so much of her writing. In New York, she learned that racism was not confined to the South, although its northern manifestation was different.
Sanchez acquired much of her education in New York, first earning her bachelor’s degree at Hunter College before attending New York University for post-graduate study. She went to Ohio to attend Wilberforce University, where she completed her doctorate. As a professor and lecturer, Sanchez has worked all over the United States, including San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York City, Amherst, and Philadelphia. In addition to being a respected teacher and scholar, Sanchez won awards for her other activities, her poetry, children’s books, her other publications, and her work as a social activist. Over the course of her career, Sanchez was honored by her peers,...
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