Marissa Hank ’20
Assistant Arts Editor
On Otelia Cromwell Day, activist and poet Sonia Sanchez gave the keynote address. Following her remarks, she held a workshop in the Neilson Browsing Room. She spoke of our role as students in enacting change and explored the topic of racial justice. After her inspiring lecture, she read a few of her powerful poems with vigor and emotion. Her poetry left the audience motivated to change the world.
Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver on Sept. 9, 1934. In 1955, she graduated from Hunter College with a B.A. in Political Science. Later, she studied poetry for her postgraduate work at New York University. With her second husband, Etheridge Knight, she had three children: a daughter, Anita, and twin sons, Moran Neuse and Mungu Neuse. Sanchez was the first to create and teach a course based on black omen and literature in the United States. In 1978 and 1979 Sanchez won the National Academy and Arts Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award. In 1985, she was awarded the American Book Award for “Homegirls and Handgrenades”. Sanchez was also awarded the 1999 Langston Hughes Poetry Award. She is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University. From 2012 to 2014, Sanchez became Philadelphia’s first Poet Laureate.
Sanchez focuses on the sound of her poetry, admitting to always reading her poetry aloud. She is known for her sonic range and dynamic public readings and for her innovative blending of musical formats such as the blues and traditional poetic formats like haiku and tanka. She tends to use incorrect spelling to celebrate the unique sound of black English, for which she gives credit to poets such as Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. In an interview with Susan Kelly for “African American Review.” Sanchez concluded, “It is that love of language that has propelled me, that love of language that came from listening to my grandmother speak black English.” Her work not only in poetry but also as an academic reflects Sanchez’s significant influence in black American literature and culture.
Sanchez’s poetry workshop was more a motivational lecture and poetry reading rather than a workshop, like I had expected. However, her dynamism left the audience energized. Various moments throughout her speech inspired audience members, who would snap in agreement. Even though she covered serious topics, she addressed certain issues in ways where laughter was still able to bond everyone hearing her sage words. Every audience member was engaged and on the edge of their seat waiting to listen to the insight she would share next. Listening to Sanchez was more like receiving advice from a mother, than a renowned activist. Her speech was profound poetry, not a pedantic lecture. Her wisdom was reflected in her use of symbols to convey the deeper message of her speech, and the passion behind her words illustrated that she truly cares about fighting for a better tomorrow.
Sanchez’s beliefs left her audience invigorated and questioning how they could become a beacon of change in their own lives. After leaving Sanchez’s workshop, her audience felt empowered to fight for peace. Hearing her poetry invoked inspiration and touched every member of the audience uniquely. It’s not too late to go online and read a few samples of Sanchez’s extraordinary poetry for those unable to attend this workshop.