The poet and activist Sonia Sanchez, 87, a leading figure of the Black Arts Movement, has been awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, the prize trust said on Thursday.
The honor, which carries a cash award of about $250,000, is awarded to an artist who “has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change and paved the way for the next generation.”
Sanchez, the author of more than 20 books, is known for melding musical formats like the blues with traditional poetic forms like the haiku and tanka, using American Black speech patterns and experimenting with punctuation and spelling.
Her work champions Black culture, civil rights, feminism and peace.
“When we come out of the pandemic, it’s so important that we don’t insist that we go back to the way things were,” Sanchez said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We’ve got to strive for beauty, which is something I’ve tried to do in my work.”
This year, the five-member selection committee, led by Zeyba Rahman, the senior program officer of the Building Bridges program of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, chose Sanchez unanimously out of 50 finalists from various artistic disciplines.
Rahman said in a statement that the award recognizes Sanchez’s “extraordinary literary gift and her lifelong commitment to speaking up for social justice.”
On Nov. 11, Sanchez will reprise her role in Christian McBride’s “The Movement Revisited,” in which she will recite the words of Rosa Parks, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.