Sonia Sanchez is a poet of the highest order. She is consistent in her nonconformist call to arms and to love. The author of more than 14 books — including Wounded in the House of a Friend, Homegirls and Handgrenades, Shake Loose My Skin and the newly released collection of poetry Morning Haiku, her first in more than a decade — drenches her words in honey goodness so they sound like the sweetest thang you've ever heard:
"This is not a small voice you hear / this is a large voice coming out of the cities / This is a love colored with iron and lace / This is a love initialed Black Genius / This is not a small voice you hear." ("This Is Not a Small Voice," 1995)
But as sweet as her words sound, they still have the ability to cut deep. The award-winning poet, activist and scholar infuses her writing with the type of historical and cultural significance and power that makes each word sharp as a razor blade and as hard as any Tupac lyric.
It's no wonder that the producers of this year's Harlem Book Fair, which took place July 17, decided to honor Sanchez. "Women in Word and Power" was this year's theme, and appropriately, the fair featured a number of dynamic female authors, including Terry McMillan, Bernice McFadden and Gloria Browne-Marshall, but it seemed as if everyone was there to see the woman whom Maya Angelou has described as "a lion in literature's forest."
I had the opportunity to spend some time with Sanchez on that hazy, hot Saturday afternoon on 135th Street, and she shared her thoughts on the future of black books and street lit and also talked about which books she's reading now.
Nicole Moore: Are you more excited or saddened by the future prospects of black literature?
Sonia Sanchez: Well, my dear sister, because there is something called black literature, I am always excited about it. It just means that people are still writing, that they're still pushing the idea of black literature. In America, they still don't believe black literature exists. We've had to push the idea of black literature, of Latino and Asian literature, of lesbian and gay literature. It all exists right here. There is a different kind of literature other than white literature that continues to permeate everything.
NM: How do you feel about the proliferation of "street lit"?
SS: I'm delighted that young people are writing. I'm delighted even about street literature. I believe we should write everything. Everybody else writes everything; why shouldn't we? When I was growing up, I used to read what we called racy literature. I was at the library every bloody day, and racy literature kept me reading, and then one day I finally got to Pushkin. I think reading is better than watching the "idiot box" because what it says is that the spirit of fire and the spirit of words resides in all of us, and we are going to express it in many ways.
NM: What books are you reading now?
I'm reading the biography — the only biography — of John Oliver Killens [John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard], a great novelist who died too early, too young. I make sure all of my students read him.
I'm also reading Isabel Allende's new book, The Island Beneath the Sea (La isla bajo el mar). I just love Isabel and what she writes and the musicality of her work.
I just got in the mail yesterday Nairobi Heat, a detective novel by Mukoma wa Ngugi, Ngugi's son, that I can't wait to start reading.
And I'm reading the manuscript for this new anthology on rap, so I'm immersing myself in Chuck D, Rakim and Talib Kweli. I'm so happy this book is happening and that they asked me to write a blurb for it because they said I was one of the older people who support young rappers. And I do. I get up in the morning now and I play Rakim's "Casualties of War" to remind myself about the dead bodies that come home every day because of the two wars we are involved in.
Nicole Moore is founder and editor of theHotness.com and can be found on Twitter @thehotnessgrrrl.