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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Sonia Sanchez
(b. 1934)

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Sanchez has taught creative writing and African American literature in at least eight universities across the United States. Now a professor of English at Temple University, she has performed her poems and given poetry workshops in Australia, England, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Africa, as well as the States. No other American figure blends the roles of mother, teacher, poet, and political activist more sincerely and energetically than Sanchez.

Her poems manifest the spiritual link between art and politics. If her earlier poems are to be appreciated, the reader must forget all conceptions of what the “poem” is, and listen attentively to Sanchez’s attacks on the Euro-American political, social, and aesthetic establishments. Her work is intentionally non-intellectual, unacademic, and anti-middle-class. “To blk/record/buyers” is characteristic of her work which aims at teaching blacks to know themselves, to be self-reliant, and strong. In this poem she attacks the Righteous Brothers for their aping a style which originated with black performers such as James Brown. What appears to be a list of the activities in the black urban community contains over three hundred years of black history. Sex, language and retorts, drinking, mocking war materials, crime, and religion are the placeboes blacks have used for comfort. Sanchez’s poem ends with the “AAAH, AAAH, AAAH, yeah” which both affirms her point and echoes the style of popular artists like Aretha Franklin and James Brown.

Sanchez’s language comes out of her immediate surroundings and accents her characters’ lifestyles. Her refusal to use standard, academic English is a part of a political statement which undermines the use of language as a tool for oppression.

Two of her more important thematic concerns are her interest in the relationship between black men and black women, and her interest in black children. Two of her books are written for the young: It’s a New Day and A Sound Investment. In these texts, too, Sanchez’s purpose is to teach black people to know themselves, to be themselves, and to love themselves.

By the time of the publication of It’s a New Day, Sanchez had become a member of Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim community. Her Islamic ideology infuses her fourth and fifth books of poetry, Love Poems and Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women; there she expresses her spiritual, mystical nature. And from this influence, her poetry becomes more mystical, more suggestive and abstract. While she experiments with the spatial possibilities in her earlier collections, Homegirls & Handgrenades, her sixth volume of poetry, introduces several prose-poems such as the very moving “Just Don’t Never Give Up on Love” that looks like prose, but has many of the characteristics of poetry. Under a Soprano Sky, Sanchez’s last collection to date, demonstrates both the fact that she has perfectly honed her skills at repetition, hyperbole, and invective, and that she has become more captivated by the sounds of language and the use of metaphor and imagery.

Joyce Ann Joyce
Chicago State University

In the Heath Anthology
to blk/record/buyers (1969)
Just Don't Never Give Up on Love (1984)
A Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King (1984)
Masks (1984)
Father and Daughter (1985)

Other Works
Homecoming (1969)
Liberation Poem (1970)
We a BaddDDD People (1970)
Ima Talken bout the Nation of Islam (1972)
Love Poems (1973)
I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems (1981)
Homegirls & Handgrenades (1984)
Under a Soprano Sky (1987)

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Sonia Sanchez poet/playwright
Part of PBS's "I'll Make Me a World" site, provides a biography.

Sonia Sanchez speaks
From Seattle Times, audio files of Sanchez speaking about Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Academy of American Poets
Biography, list of works, and links.

Voices from the Gaps
Offers a biography, criticism, a primary and secondary list of works, and links.

Secondary Sources