The author is inspiration: Admired literary figure Sonia Sanchez shares messages of beauty and peace

Mal Hartigan

Sonia Sanchez, a revered author, poet and playwright, visited the Education Building as a keynote speaker on Friday night, sponsored through the Black Studies Program.

The UMKC Division of Diversity, Access and Equity cosponsored the event, along with the College of Arts and Sciences and the English Department.

Sanchez, a scholar and activist, travels the world to share her wisdom and insight derived from growing up during a time of hardship and oppression against the African American community. Sanchez has lectured at more than 500 universities, discussing black culture and women’s liberation.

She also advocates issues such as racial equality and peace.

Sanchez was the first poet laureate of Philadelphia in December 2011. She advocated Black Studies courses in California, becoming the first to create and teach a course focused on black women and literature in the U.S., just one of her many accomplishments during her life-long pursuit of equality for African-Americans.

As a pivotal literary figure, Sanchez was motivated by her observations in the African-American community, publishing more than 21 books. The event drew in a diverse audience, and Sanchez was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the crowded lecture hall.

The lecture was a broadcast interview between Sanchez and Susan Wilson, Ph.D., followed by a reading of Sanchez’s work.

Chancellor Leo Morton introduced and praised Sanchez, saying she “gave a voice to the struggles of the African-American community.”

Sanchez discussed various sources of inspiration, recalling childhood events: “It isn’t the pain that propelled me as a writer, but the beauty,” she said.

Sanchez praised her mother and her childhood as examples of such beauty.

“She let me run and be what I wanted to be. I am forever indebted to her for that,” Sanchez said.

She recalled memories of playing with boys, such as climbing trees. While fighting for leadership with childhood friends, she was even daring enough to jump out of a second story window, resulting in scrapes and bruises.

Sanchez recounted another inspirational memory. When one of her family members was sitting on a crowded bus, the blacks were forced to move to the back so the whites could have seats. When the bus became too crowded, the bus driver stopped the bus and demanded the Blacks to leave.

Instead of complying, her family member spit in the driver’s face, resulting in an arrest. Sanchez always looked up to her family’s courage.

“I carried that memory with me,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez also discussed her life-long passion for literature.

“I have always been that child who loves books,” she said.

She started writing at a young age, and kept her writing secret by hiding notebooks under the bathtub. “It’s something that saved my life on so many levels,” she said.

Sanchez’s passion for writing never ceased. She took a creative writing course in graduate school. Not only was she was the only African-American, but she was one of only three women in the course. This course prompted her to send poems to various journals. Eventually, her poems were published in the “Transatlantic Review.”

“I brought bottles of wine into NYU and celebrated with my class,” Sanchez said about her accomplishment. She continued to meet for two years with the members of the class, holding workshops for poetry.

Sanchez emphasized the importance of opening up universities to diversity and exposing oneself to enriching programs such as Women’s Studies, Asian Studies and Civil Rights.

Sanchez continually reminded the audience about the significance of teaching children, especially about peace. She explained it was crucial for children to have open hearts.

She emphasized the importance of peace within America in order to obtain equality and justice.

She also passionately urged the audience to always fight against oppression.

“You don’t let people limit you anywhere you go,” she said.

She used the Occupy movement as an example of combatting oppression.

“This movement, the Occupy movement, it’s very important. I want to tell them what an important thing they’re doing. They need to know that,” Sanchez said. “It’s part of a long American tradition called resistance. Always bring up what is incorrect in America. We must work together, always, against any type of oppression.”

Interviewee Wilson finally asked Sanchez what she considered to be her best accomplishment. After a moment of contemplation, Sanchez said, “I walk upright as a human being, and I have taught.”

[email protected]