The Poetry Society of America is honored to announce that Sonia Sanchez is the 2016 recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award, presented annually to a living American poet selected with reference to his or her genius by a jury of poets. This year's judges were Fred Moten appointed by the president of the University of California, and D. A. Powell, appointed by the Poetry Society of America.
Recent winners of this award have included Wanda Coleman, Kimiko Hahn, Lyn Hejinian, Angela Jackson, Yusef Komunyakaa, James McMichael, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, Ed Roberson, Eileen Myles, Rigoberto Gonzalez, and most recently D. A. Powell.
A complete list of the distinguished winners of the Shelley Memorial Award is available here.
Sonia Sanchez is the author of numerous books including Homecoming, We a BaddDDD People, Love Poems, I've Been a Woman, A Sound Investment and Other Stories, Homegirls and Handgrenades, Under a Soprano Sky, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Does Your House Have Lions?, Like the Singing Coming off the Drums, Shake Loose My Skin, and most recently, Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010). A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, she is a winner of the 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades, the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities for 1988, and the recipient of Langston Hughes Poetry Award for 1999. Does Your House Have Lions? was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is the Poetry Society of America's 2001 Robert Frost Medalist and a Ford Freedom Scholar from the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Sanchez has lectured at over 500 universities and colleges in the United States and has traveled extensively, reading her poetry in Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, the People's Republic of China, Norway, and Canada. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University and she held the Laura Carnell Chair in English at Temple University.
The Judges' Citation:
Cultural hero, political activist, playwright, performer and consummate poet, Sonia Sanchez fuses jazz rhythms, percussive vocalizations and dexterous typographical play into electric poems empowered and enriched by black aesthetics and traditions. Born in Birmingham, AL, and coming of age in Harlem, NY, Sanchez became and has remained a passionate, relevant, and innovative voice in poetry, revitalizing older forms such as the haiku or Chaucer's rime royal into quick, lively, unconventional lyric expressions of love, instruction, regret, celebration and sorrow. Sanchez embraces the vernacular by making it visible through alternate spellings, slash marks, non-hierarchical capitalization, and abbreviation; her work builds community, celebrates heritage and affirms identity as a thing of beauty and a source of pride. Though Sonia Sanchez has held academic positions at institutions such as Temple University and San Francisco State (where she helped lay the foundation for the first Black Studies programs in the U.S.), Sanchez's work is decidedly free of bourgeois, intellectual or academic concerns; her poetry is open, approachable, egalitarian in mind and spirit without capitulating to the standards of caucasian-heavy official verse cultures. From the early, unabashedly political work of Homecomings and We a BaddDDD People through the eloquent, painful elegy of Does Your House Have Lions? and in her up-to-the-minute spoken word and incantatory invocations of the spirits of community and ancestral powers, Sanchez has maintained immediacy and relevance of vision: "this is for real," she tells us; "my feet," she writes, "are crying/blues." Here is a poet disarmingly present in language as urgent as the daily news. "Sonia Sanchez is a lion in literature's forest," wrote Maya Angelou. "When she writes she roars."
--D.A. Powell and Fred Moten