Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez

Notes on Sonia Sanchez.


These notes are provided as annotations to Wolk’s 1972 interview with James Baldwin.

SONIA SANCHEZ (1934-):  Sonia Sanchez is one of several authors mentioned in the interview whose book(s) I can’t find (others were Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Ellison’s Invisible Man, Wright’s Black Boy, and John A. Williams’s The Man Who Cried I Am.) I live in a house made of books. They might’ve been alphabetized, arranged by height, by color, by weight, by date. By genre makes some sense. Show me a reader’s house where every book is localized and I’ll bet that it’s not a home but a library.

But I did come across a play by Sanchez in my copy of Cavalcade: Negro American Writing from 1760 to the Present (ed. Arthur P. Davis and Saunders Redding, Houghton Mifflin, 1971), its title The Bronx Is Next (it had been published in The Drama Review, Summer 1968). Among the cast of characters is Black Bitch. There is a struggle between Black Bitch and Charles. Here’s the stage direction that leads into a line from Black Bitch:

Black Bitch runs across the stage and with that run and cry that comes from her she grabs Charles and hits him and holds on. Charles turns and knocks her down. The white dude turns away. Jimmy moves toward her.

Black Bitch: No. Watch this boy. You still strong. Watch me. Don’t touch me. Watch me get up. It hurts. But I’ll get up. And when I’m up the tears will stop. I don’t cry, when I’m standing up. All right. I’m up again. Who else? Here I am, a black bitch, up for grabs. Anyone here for me. Take your choice—your pick—slap me or fuck me—anyway you get the same charge. [818]

In the interview Baldwin and I speak of Sanchez as a writer who would put words on the page as she hears them, and perhaps spells them as such. An example: hearing shoudov and choosing should of, rather than should’ve, something I’ve seen even in the writing of Ursula Le Guin.

Of course, what should of suggests in the hands of a writer (Baldwin, Himes, Le Guin) is deliberate: what it signifies is so-called illiteracy.

Now for a paragraph which any sane editor would cut, though in defense it provides the essence of the interviewer who shares a name with me:

Note that my earliest academic publication, an article with the title “The Passive Mystique: We’ve Been Had,” published in English Journal in March of 1969. I took on the teachers who say avoid passive voice by doing a statistical count of passive structures per sentence in places like The Atlantic, Harper’s, Scientific American, even Playboy. What I discovered was about a third of all sentences had a passive structure. (I remember one that forced me into the domain of fractions, about Vietnam soldiers “who flew or were airlifted home.”) Then, for the fun of it, I did a count on the introductions in the handbooks which were unilaterally in opposition to passive voice—and found about double the use from my literate sample. To obey the dictum “Get out of the passive” would require revising about a third of their sentences.

What I recall best of Sonia Sanchez’s language carries with it a tale: I had mimeographed some of her poems. Single-sided pages. The extras came home, were useful for notes, whatever, thanks to the blank side. By chance a few got into the hands of one of my young daughters for crayoning, for writing Happy Birthday, Aunt Jane. Then the loving pages were posted off to great-aunt Jane back in Cleveland. About two weeks later, Aunt Jane (in her 90s) mailed the sweet missives back home, having seen only the side with Sonia Sanchez’s poems, upon which Aunt Jane wrote, WHAT IS THIS FILTH! We never heard from her again, despite our apologies. Which poems were they, how many times did the word fuck show up?

Sonia Sanchez, now eighty-four—and what a smile! Sanchez, the author of dozens of poetry collections, short stories, essays, children’s books, plays. Who is a recipient of the Robert Frost Medal for Poetry, a domain that includes Wallace Stevens, Carl Sandburg, Allen Ginsberg, William Stafford, Richard Wilbur, Adrienne Rich, Galway Kinnell, Gerald Stern, on and on. Many awards and medals, but from Aunt Jane: nada.

Richard Wright

Richard Wright

George Jackson

George Jackson