From "This is Not a Small Voice" by Sonia Sanchez
An internationally acclaimed poet, Sonia Sanchez is an Alabama-native with a twenty-seven yearlong writing career and has helped innovate the craft to what it is today. Sanchez was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934, and describes herself as a voice from the South as well as from urban, northern areas, such as Harlem, where she moved to as a little girl.
In over a dozen books of poetry her topics range from emotive contemplations on womanhood and femininity, to compelling discussions on race, to direct conversations with real people, such as her poems dedicated to Toni Cade Bambara, Cornel West, and Tupac Shakur.
The language of Sanchez's poetry––highly intricate but also accessible and often vernacular, is a result of having carefully observed language shifts between Birmingham, Harlem, and Philadelphia; of eagerly listening to the conversations of adults as a child; and of having had a stutter when young. The poet's keen attention to language makes her poems read with striking fluidity. That Sanchez insists on using vernacular in her poetry communicates a tender message: daily language is worthy of poetic observation and is itself poetry.
In her book Like the Singing Coming off the Drums, the poet discusses romantic intimacy from the perspective of a woman told in the vernacular. Her tactful incorporation of everyday language into poetry is present in her political poetry as well, including in her poem "Progress Report" that was featured in the powerful book The 1619 Project as a response to the death of George Floyd.
Even her un-anthologized poetry is a political force. After the bombing that killed four little girls in 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, she traveled back to Birmingham and tacked a poem she'd written––never published––unto the church wall, using poetry as a healing and galvanizing vessel.
Her powerful command of the English language has earned her numerous accolades, such as the Harper Lee Award for Alabama Distinguished Writers, the Langston Hughes Poetry Award, the Governor's Award for Humanities in Pennsylvania, the American Book Award for her collection Homegirls and Handgrenades, the Wallace Stevens Award, and more.
In addition to her career as a poet, Sanchez has lectured at over 500 universities across the country and was a professor at San Francisco State University and Temple University in Philadelphia. Her poetic merit and talent as a teacher made her a major figure in the Black Arts Movement, where she worked with major figures such as Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, Toni Cade Bambara, and others. She helped solidify the teaching of African American literature into university curriculum, as well as insist that Black English has a place in the world of poetry.
At 89 years old, she is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University.
Lanker, Brian. I Dream a World. Edited by Barbara Summers. New York: Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, 1989.
Sanchez, Sonia. Conversations with Sonia Sanchez. Edited by Joyce Ann Joyce. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007.
Sanchez, Sonia. "This is Not a Small Voice." Chicago: Poetry Foundation.
About the Author
Sarah Scarcliff is a junior majoring in English and minoring in Spanish. She was born in Mobile, AL., and loves hiking and bringing nature inside by an abundance of houseplants. Scarcliff enjoys reading and writing. Also, she is the editor of Marr's Field Journal, an undergraduate literary arts publication.