Sonia Sanchez was born in Birmingham, Ala. Her mother died when she was one, and she and her sister were cared for by their grandmother until she died when Sanchez was six. The two girls then lived with family and friends until 1943, when they moved with their father and stepmother to Harlem. Sanchez began stuttering after her grandmother died and continued stuttering until she was sixteen. She felt isolated as a result and spent a lot of time reading, going to the library every day. She also began writing during this period as a way of articulating her thoughts. Sanchez graduated from Hunter College in 1955 with a BA in political science. Several years later, she spent a year doing postgraduate study in poetry at New York University under the direction of Louise Bogan. Sanchez was involved with the Congress of Racial Equality in the 1960s and the Nation of Islam (Black Muslims) in the 1970s. She began teaching in the mid-1960s and was a pioneer in bringing black studies into colleges and universities. She taught for several years in San Francisco and later in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. She joined the faculty of Temple University in 1977 and held the Laura H. Carnell Chair in English from 1988 until her retirement in 1999.
Sanchez began publishing her poems in the early 1960s in journals such as the Liberator and the Journal of Black Poetry. Her first book, Homecoming, was published in 1969. In addition to her poetry, Sanchez has published three books for children and has written six plays. None of her plays has been published on its own, but several have been included in anthologies of black drama. She has also written columns for Muhammed Speaks, the American Poetry Review, and the Philadelphia Daily News. Sanchez has received grants and fellowship awards from PEN, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pew Charitable Trusts. She has also been recognized for her activism for racial and gender equality. Although she has retired from teaching, Sanchez continues to write poetry and to give readings. She lives in Philadelphia.
Sonia Sanchez’s writing arises from her experience as a black woman living in America in the second half of the 20th century. She is interested in the sounds of words as well as their content and frequently uses black English in her poems.
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Photo by Leandre Jackson; courtesy of the Alabama Writers' Forum.
Last updated on May 30, 2008.