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 nationwide at the university level. In the late 1960’s, Sanchez married poet Etheridge Knight, divorcing him soon after. She had two children, Morani and Mungu Neusi.
Sanchez joined the Nation of Islam in 1972, leaving three years later because of their views on women. She wrote thirteen books, including short...
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