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 writing out of her black identity. Despite criticism from her friends and family, she adopted a natural hairstyle and joined the Nation of Islam, a religious organization she later abandoned after political...
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