Posted January 23, 2012

Philadelphia names Sonia Sanchez first poet laureate

  • AP Photo/Matt Rourke Temple Professor Emeritus Sonia Sanchez was named poet laureate of the City of Philadelphia on Dec. 29.

Temple Professor Emeritus Sonia Sanchez, one of the most influential voices of the Black Arts Movement, was recently named poet laureate for the City of Philadelphia.

“Poetry is an extraordinary and powerful art form, and our great city is filled with an astonishing array of poets who help us to better understand our lives,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who announced the creation of the inaugural poet laureate program in May 2011. “Ms. Sanchez exemplifies the role a poet can play in helping to define a city and helping its citizens discover beauty.”

Sanchez, who celebrated her 77th birthday in September, taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in Temple’s English department for more than 20 years and served as the university’s first presidential fellow.

She is the author of more than 18 books and the recipient of a PEW Fellowship in the arts for 1992-1993, the Langston Hughes Poetry Award for 1999, and the Harper Lee Award for 2004. She is also 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.

Said Sanchez: “I accept this position as poet laureate to remind us how poetry makes us remember the best of ourselves and others. How it keeps us constantly confronting the most important question of this twenty-first century: What does it mean to be human?”

Philadelphia’s poet laureate will serve a two-year term and will participate in a wide range of events, including the inauguration of the mayor, spoken word and poetry events at City Hall, guest author appearances and poetry readings at the Free Library of Philadelphia and the selection of a youth poet laureate to whom the poet laureate will serve as a mentor.

In addition to being a world-renowned poet, Sanchez has made incredible contributions to community-based arts in Philadelphia, said Lorene Cary, executive director of Art Sanctuary and member of the Poet Laureate Governing Committee.

"We in Philadelphia are so lucky to have a prophet in our own land, and we've had her here for many years,” said Cary. “From teaching in prisons for years without any fanfare or any pay, to community centers to universities to the City Hall — she absolutely is our poet laureate and it's about time we caught up to it.”

Sanchez is now collecting haikus about peace from fellow writers and the public for a mural in South Philadelphia, which will be unveiled in June 2012. Her most recent book of poetry, Morning Haiku, is available from Beacon Press.