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President Valerie Smith's Charge to Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez receiving honorary degree


A renowned scholar, poet, playwright, and activist, Sonia Sanchez has been a dynamic literary and political force for nearly five decades. Her stylistic versatility, fierce intellect, and dazzling performative style have captivated audiences across the globe.

Sonia has authored over 16 books of poetry as well as a remarkable array of short stories, critical essays, children’s books and plays; she was the first poet laureate of the City of Philadelphia. Her work bears the traces of the blues, jazz, and hip hop, as well as the vernacularity of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Through her scholarship, her art, and her activism, Sonia has demonstrated her commitment to justice, compassion, and community.

An inspiring and influential educator, Sonia has taught at many institutions and has lectured at over 500 colleges and universities in this country and abroad.

And now, Sonia, upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Arts.

Sonia Sanchez is an award-winning poet, essayist, playwright, and political activist best known for her role in the Black Arts Movement.

Sanchez has authored more than a dozen collections of poetry, as well as short stories, critical essays, plays, and children’s books. She is the recipient of numerous literary prizes and awards, including a Pew Fellowship in the Arts (1992–93), the Langston Hughes Poetry Award (1999), the Harper Lee Award (2004), and the Poetry Society of America’s Robert Frost Medal (2001).

Famed for her sonic range and dynamic public readings, Sanchez is known for her innovative melding of musical formats, such as the blues, with traditional poetic formats like haiku and tanka as well as the unique sound of Black English.

After spending several years as a teacher in a Manhattan elementary school in the mid-1960s, she accepted a teaching position at San Francisco State University and introduced Black studies courses, the first of their kind at a predominately white university.

Becoming deeply involved in civil rights, Sanchez gained a national reputation after publishing her first book of poetry, Homecoming, in 1969. This collection and her second, We a BaddDDD People, established her as an artistic visionary who used experimental poetic forms to discuss the development of black nationalism and identity.

Sanchez was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she began teaching in 1977. There, she held the Laura Carnell Chair until her retirement in 1999. She has taught as a professor at eight universities, lectured at hundreds of college campuses, and read her poetry in Africa, the Caribbean, China, Australia, Europe, and Canada.

In November 2015, she spoke on Swarthmore’s campus, addressing such issues as the Black Lives Matter movement, women’s liberation, peace, racial justice, and black culture and literature.

She is the author of Shake Loose My Skin, Morning Haiku, Does Your House Have Lions?, Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums, and Wounded in the House of a Friend.