Acclaimed Poet and Scholar Sonia Sanchez Delivers Stories of Opportunity and Resistance

Tiauna Lewis '19 and Sonia Sanchez

Following her reading, Sonia Sanchez talks with Tiauna Lewis '19 of Denton, Neb.

Last month, acclaimed poet and scholar Sonia Sanchez visited Swarthmore, where she guided engaged listeners through her works and adventures, voicing pieces of a life composed in scholarship and activism. 

Dion Lewis, dean of the junior class and director of the Black Cultural Center, opened the evening with several insightful remarks. “Before we can conceptualize, we must contemplate that intellect does not ultimately determine intelligence and that true revolution begins with revelation,” he said. The importance of Sanchez’s presence on campus became even clearer as Lewis reminded the audience of the nation’s current social climate and the need for reflection and responsibility. 

Following Lewis, Kat Galvis Rodriguez ’17, a sociology and anthropology major from Hillside, N.J., spoke about the ambitions and obstacles she and others face as Hispanic Americans, tackling themes of displacement, status, family, and dignity. Her endearing tone helped set the stage for Sanchez.  

After Galvis' remarks, Sanchez took the stage. A revered professor and respected writer of 16 books, Sanchez’s name is synonymous with the Black Arts Movement, which inspired people of color to establish their own publishing houses, journals, and art institutions. 

As Sanchez swayed up to the podium, she sang in hymn-like rhythm, “Woke up this morning with my eyes on Paris…Woke up this morning with my eyes on Swarthmore. Gonna live; gonna love; gonna resist, just like you.” From there, she immediately began to weave together a myriad of excerpts from novels and poems with a string of powerful riffs. The melodic and maternal came together through her stories of opportunity, disillusionment, sisterhood, and more.

When it seemed like she was going to continue through the whole performance without pause, she coughed. Reaching for her water, she slyly said, “The walk dries out ya’ throat ya’ know.” Those who didn’t laugh watched in awe. She continued without pause for another hour, taking questions from the audience at the end.

Afterwards, attendees were able to meet Sanchez, sharing their admiration and exchanging thoughts. 

Assistant Registrar Keira Stevenson had the opportunity to ask Sanchez about her opinions on the current sociocultural climate in America. “With movements like 'Black Lives Matter' and 'Justice or Else,' I think it's important for young people to seek council from our elders who endured much harsher circumstances for this cause,” said Stevenson. “Ms. Sanchez did not disappoint, reminding us of the importance of engaging those communities most affected. We can rally to raise awareness but this isn't enough. In protecting our communities we most also remember to provide for them.”