Women of the Black Arts Movement

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Sonia Sanchez. Public Domain

The Black Arts Movement began in the 1960s and lasted through the 1970s . The movement was founded by Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) following the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. Literary critic Larry Neal argues that the Black Arts Movement was the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of Black Power.”  

Like the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement was an important literary and artistic movement that influenced African-American thought.

During this time period, several African-American publishing companies, theaters, journals, magazines and institutions were established.

The contributions of African-American women during the Black Arts Movement cannot be ignored as many explored themes such as racism, sexism, social class and capitalism.

Sonia Sanchez

WIlsonia Benita Driver was born on September 9, 1934 in Birmingham. Following the death of her mother, Sanchez lived with her father in New York City. In 1955, Sanchez earned a bachelor’s in political science from Hunter College (CUNY). As a college student Sanchez began writing poetry and developed a writer’s workshop in lower Manhattan. Working with Nikki Giovanni, Haki R. Madhubuti and Etheridge Knight, Sanchez formed the “Broadside Quartet.”

Throughout her career as a writer, Sanchez has published more than 15 collections of poetry including Morning Haiku (2010); Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (1999); Does your house have lions?

(1995); Homegirls & Handgrenades (1984); I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems (1978); A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1973); Love Poems (1973); We a BaddDDD People (1970); and Homecoming (1969).

Sanchez has also published several plays including  Black Cats Back and Uneasy Landings (1995), I’m Black When I’m Singing, I’m Blue When I Ain’t (1982), Malcolm Man/Don’t Live Here No Mo’ (1979), Uh Huh: But How Do It Free Us?

 (1974), Dirty Hearts ‘72 (1973), The Bronx Is Next (1970),and Sister Son/ji (1969).

A children’s book author, Sanchez has written A Sound Investment and Other Stories (1979), The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head (1973), and It’s a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (1971).

Sanchez is a retired college professor who resides in Philadelphia. 

 Audre Lorde 

Writer Joan Martin argues in Black Women Writers (1950 – 1980): A Critical Evaluation that Audre Lorde’s work “rings with passion, sincerity, perception and depth of feeling.”

Lorde was born in New York City to Caribbean parents. Her first poem was published in Seventeen magazine. Throughout her career, Lorde published in several collections including  New York Head Shop and Museum (1974), Coal (1976), and The Black Unicorn(1978). Her poetry often reveals themes dealing with love, and lesbian relationships. As a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde explores  social injustices such as racism, sexism, and homophobia in her poetry and prose.

Lorde died in 1992. 

Bell Hooks 

Bell Hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins on September 25, 1952 in Kentucky. Early in her career as a writer, she began using the pen name Bell Hooks in honor of her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.

 

Most of Hooks’ work explores the connection of race, capitalism and gender. Through her prose, Hooks argues that gender, race and capitalism all work together to oppress and dominate people in society. Throughout her career, Hooks has published more than thirty books, including the noted Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism in 1981. In addition, she has published articles in scholarly journals and mainstream publications. She appears in documentaries and films as well.  

Hooks notes that her greatest influences have been abolitionist Sojourner Truth along with Paulo Frierre and Martin Luther King, Jr.  

Hooks is a Distinguished Professor of English at the City College of the City University of New York.