Thomson Gale

Thomson Gale

In the following essay, the critic gives a critical analysis of Sanchez’s work.

In addition to being an important activist, poet, playwright, professor, and a leader of the black studies movement, Sonia Sanchez has also written books for children. She introduced young people to the poetry of black English in her 1971 work It’s a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs, created a moral fable for younger children in 1973’s The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head, and produced a collection of short tales for children in 1979’s A Sound Investment and Other Stories. As William Pitt Root noted in Poetry magazine: ‘‘One concern [Sanchez] always comes back to is the real education of Black children.’’

Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her mother died when she was very young, and she was raised by her grandmother until she too died when the author was six years old. Her father was a schoolteacher, and as a result she and her siblings spoke standard English instead of a southern or black dialect. It was not until she and her brother rejoined her father in Harlem, New York, when she was nine years old, that Sanchez learned the speech of the streets that would become so important to her poetry. Sanchez also stuttered as a child; this led her to writing, which she has done since she was very young.

Sanchez also learned about racism at a very young age. She recalled in an interview with Claudia Tate for Tate’s Black Women Writers at Work: ‘‘I also remember an aunt who spat in a bus driver’s face—that was the subject of one of my first poems—because he wanted her to get off as the bus was filling up with white people. . . . Well, my aunt would not get off the bus, so she spat, and was arrested. That was the first visual instance I can remember of encountering racism.’’ She did not leave racism behind when her family moved north, however. She told Tate that ‘‘coming north to Harlem for ‘freedom’ when I was nine presented me with a whole new racial landscape.’’ Sanchez continued, ‘‘Here was the realization of the cornerstore, where I watched white men pinch black women on their behinds. And I made a vow that nobody would ever do that to me unless I wanted him to. I continued to live in the neighborhood, went to that store as a nine-year-old child, and continued to go there as a student at Hunter College. When I was sixteen to eighteen they attempted to pinch my behind. I turned around and said, ‘Oh no you don’t.’ They knew I was serious.’’ She has been fighting racism and sexism ever since.

After graduating from Hunter College in 1955, Sanchez did postgraduate study at New York University. During the early 1960s she was an integrationist, supporting the ideas of the Congress of Racial Equality. But after listening to 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 as something separate from white Americans. She began teaching in the San Francisco area in 1965, first on the staff of the Downtown Community School and later at San Francisco State College (now University). There she was a pioneer in developing black studies courses, including a class in black English.

In 1969, Sanchez published her first book of poetry for adults, Homecoming. She followed that up with 1970’s We a BaddDDD People, which especially focused on black dialect as a poetic medium. At about the same time her first plays, Sister Son/ji and The Bronx Is Next, were being produced or published. In 1971, she...

(The entire section is 1540 words.)

Jennifer Bussey

(Poetry for Students)

Jennifer Bussey

Bussey holds a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a bachelor’s degree in...

(The entire section is 1311 words.)