Sonia Sanchez’s literary reputation rests primarily on her poetry. She has published more than ten volumes of poetry, beginning with Homecoming in 1969; had her poems included in numerous anthologies; and edited several poetry anthologies. She sees her plays as an extension of her poetic art, saying that their longer form gives her more room to express her ideas. She has written short stories, children’s books, essays, literary criticism, and social commentary. She has an impressive record as a university teacher and political activist and has been a driving force behind the movement to include writings by African American authors in the college curriculum. She frequently gives public readings, performances that are noted for their dramatic power and include music, drum beats, and chanting. Some of her best-known works were inspired by the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s, and her later writings have continued to focus on African American themes.
The work of Sonia Sanchez has been widely recognized by both the literary establishment and the public. Her early poetry earned a PEN Writing Award (1969), a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1970), and a National Endowment for the Arts award (1978-1979). She has received recognition for her commitment to teaching and to social activism from community organizations including the Black Students of Smith College (1982), the Mayor’s Commission for Women in Philadelphia (1987), and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Women Pioneers Hall of Fame (1992). She won a PEN fellowship in the Arts (1993-1994) and was given the Legacy Award from Jomandi Productions (1995). She has been a distinguished poet-in-residence at Spelman College and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Wilberforce University.
Principally a poet, Sonia Sanchez (SAHN-chehz) has also included prose in her collections of poetry, most notably in Homegirls and Handgrenades. Interspersed through the four sections of poems, she includes autobiographical narratives. Other distinguished works are plays: The Bronx Is Next (pb. 1968), Sister Son/ji (pb. 1969), Uh, Huh; But How Do It Free Us? (pb. 1974), Malcolm Man/Don’t Live Here No Mo’ (pr. 1979), and Black Cats Back and Uneasy Landings (pr. 1995). In addition, she has published speeches in Crisis in Culture: Two Speeches by Sonia Sanchez (1983) and stories and poems for children.
A political activist of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, Sonia Sanchez has been recognized for her considerable poetic talents. Called “a lion in literature’s forest” by poet Maya Angelou, Sanchez has authored many books. From her critically acclaimed Homegirls and Handgrenades, winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1985), to her academic recognition as director of the women’s studies program at Temple University, Sanchez has earned worldwide accolades for her art, which was born out of her political activism. As part of her major role in the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s, she began teaching the first black studies curriculum in the United States at San Francisco State College in 1969 with fellow Black Arts movement members Askia Toure and Amiri Baraka.
A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Award and the Peace and Freedom Award from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1988-1989, Sanchez represents the best in American literature. In her works, she has described the struggles of people of color and other global themes, earning recognition for both her work and those humanistic ideals. Her Does Your House Have Lions? was nominated for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award. She received the Langston Hughes Award from the City College of New York in 1999, the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 2001, and the Robert Creeley Poetry Award in 2009. Sharing her poetry in Africa, Cuba, China, Norway, and Nicaragua, she has also traveled to more than five hundred universities and colleges in the United States, lecturing and providing poetry readings.
Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth, ed. Introduction to Sister Son/ji, by Sonia Sanchez. In Wines in the Wilderness: Plays by African American Women from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present. New York: Praeger, 1990. Editor Brown-Guillory provides a synopsis of the play and analysis of Sanchez’s work as a whole.
De Lancey, Frenzella Elaine. “Refusing to Be Boxed In: Sonia Sanchez’s Transformation of the Haiku Form.” In Language and Literature in the African American Imagination, edited by Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Focuses on Sanchez’s use and adaptations of the haiku form.
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. Offers insight into critical views of Sanchez’s use of language and culture.
Joyce, Joyce A. Ijala: Sonia Sanchez and the African Poetic Tradition. Chicago: Third World Press, 1996. A comprehensive look at Sanchez’s body of work and its primary influences, covering almost thirty years.
Lynch, Doris. Review of Wounded in the House of a Friend, by Sonia Sanchez. Library Journal, March 15, 1995, 74.
Sanchez, Sonia. “As Poets, as Activists.” Interview by David Reich. World, May/June, 1999, 1-11. Sanchez describes the process of writing Does Your House Have Lions? as well as other significant familial experiences.
Reich, David. “As Poets, as Activists.” World, May/June, 1999, 1-11. In a revealing interview, Sanchez describes the process of writing Does Your House Have Lions? as well as other significant familial experiences. Details personal and historical events that influenced her poetry. Provides both personal and literary philosophy.
Sanchez, Sonia. “Disciple and Craft: An Interview with Sonia Sanchez.” Interview by Susan Kelly. African American Review 34, no. 4 (Winter, 2000): 679-687. Sanchez discusses the body of her work, her literary influences and personal history, and the importance of discipline and craft.
Sanchez, Sonia. “Exploding Myths: An Interview with Sonia Sanchez.” Interview by Herbert Leibowitz. Parnassus, Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter, 1985, 357-368. Points to important themes chronicled in Homegirls and Handgrenades. Links poetic analysis to poetic intent and purpose. Furnishes an examination of the award-winning collection.