Sonia Sanchez Additional Biography


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

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 1960’s

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.

Later Life

Sanchez joined the Nation of Islam in 1972, leaving three years later because of their views on women. She wrote thirteen books, including short...

(The entire section is 739 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 principal force in the Civil Rights movement. She contributed regularly to the leading black journals of the time, among them the Liberator, Journal of Black Poetry, Negro Digest, and Black Dialogue. In her long teaching career, which began at San Francisco State University, Sanchez has been an active proponent of black studies programs in college curricula, when such programs were contested by the academic establishment. She also became involved with activists such as Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Maulana Ron Karenga.

During the 1960’s Sanchez’s political views on race relations changed from integrationist to black nationalist. As a result of an introduction she wrote to a book published by Assata Shakur—a member of the Black Liberation Army who had been convicted of the murder of a state trooper, sentenced to prison, and then escaped—she came under the scrutiny of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Her experiences are reflected in a poetic militancy that echoed her nationalist stance. She worked to produce poetry that is accessible to the masses, textured by street culture, and faithful to African American history and experience, and she credited Malcolm X with inspiring her approach to language. Affirming the need for black-controlled publications, Sanchez, rather than seeking more lucrative mainstream publishers, offered her first poetry collection, Homecoming, to Dudley Randall’s Broadside Press, the most influential black publishing house of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In her early work Sanchez employed a style that drew heavily on the oral tradition of the African legacy and contemporary militant speech. Her poetic attack on white America’s refusal to cope with personal and institutional racism was woven from a variety of techniques that included sharp, scornful images of violence and suffering and invective often laced with profanity. Homecoming, although consistently mapping personal...

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(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...

(The entire section is 741 words.)