Syncopated Rhythms: Sonia Sanchez



who is this woman we honor tonight she is a woman who believes in the revolutionary act of reading a librarian at the Schomburg taught her that she is a woman who knows about building cultural communities and Black Studies programs from New York to California and back again she is a woman who won't remain silent when witness to truth is salvation she and a band of grandmothers risk jail in Philadelphia because the truth about the war had to be told she is a woman who's a peacemaker inspiring peace murals and peace benches all over the city of brotherly love she is a woman who will resist anyone or anything that threatens to take away our humanity for she is the keeper of our human values she is a mother poet playwright teacher activist sister friend she is complex yet so simply real she is bad this Birmingham born New York bred woman with razors in her teeth she is a singer in syncopated rhythms channeling our ancestors making our traditions come alive in her words who is this woman well let me just say it the way she might say it intensifying her adjectives with adverbs to make her point clearly clear you know she does that so on behalf of the furious flower poetry Center and split this rock and the national poetry the National Portrait Gallery it should be poetry Portrait Gallery please help me to bring to the stage the beautifully beautiful spiritually spiritual bravely brave amazingly amazing Sonia Sanchez [Applause] what an honor it is to be in this beautiful beautiful sight well many of these amazing portraits finally are about some black folks and we thank you for that we thank you felony for that vision I have on my jacket and we all need to resist but we need to do it seriously now seriously serious because these are very dangerous times we are now living in we thought Bush and Reagan and Nixon and I live to those people so some of the young people have come up to me said what do you do what do you do what do you do what do we do what do you do because we have Trump I said it's the same person just a little bit louder and you need to look up in the dictionary I have it in my book trumpery have you looked it up had me mind my Ronnie would you mind handing me my inside I looked it up for you because I started a long piece called trumpery now I just hope that I'm following what I usually do when I do this I usually put it on a page at the end of the month and that month when I discover something here it is January 31st every now and then you know I'm 82 now people so you got to understand at some point I lose some of this stuff but I always tell people when you can't bring up a name and meaning you understand because I've said it to you know sister Joyce and sister Sarah is sister Joanne sister Brenda just say to your brain I want that information in 15 minutes no really and it'll come because you know we have so much up there now in our 70s and 60s and 50s you can't pull it up right away and so therefore it takes 15 or 20 minutes to get it but I do want to thank the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and split this Rock and the furious flower poetry Center and I want to thank all the poets who came up I've seen him at some of the workshops and I've listened to them and I smiled because we need to always make sure that we have the poets you know whether we agree or disagree that's never the point the point is that you write you write and you write and you resist and you resist and you resist and the dictionary trumpery means showy but worthless finery that's how it begins and then it continues nonsense rubbish deception trickery fraud from Old French Tom Perry to cheat look it up and I know some of you always wonder why you bring me places you say you disrupt the National Gallery no I don't the National Gallery is here with some amazing people I've come in this place quietly quietly quiet and looked at some of these porches some of them who did not understand what it meant to have Africans among them you know that some of them who decided to enslave people and said nothing about our death our dime but one of the great things about being a poet one of the great things about being an african-american poet it's okay honey oh thank you that's my son my Ronny one of my twins I just wanna I did a piece called the centennial of Langston and nicolás guillén I traveled to kuba for an International Writers Conference in the late 70s after I had read a paper to an appreciative audience some of the organizers asked me if I won anything I said yes I'd like to meet nicolás guillén they hesitated said he was not feeling well told me they would attempt to arrange the meeting two hours later they gathered me up and as I entered his office he was standing in the middle of the room feet planted on Cuban Earth legs no longer strong but arms strong like Elizabeth countless black women's arms he said Sonia Sonia Sanchez Como Langston Como Langston Hughes and I smiled a smile of recognition folded myself into his arms and he held me so hard that I couldn't breathe and I thought hold it I didn't come all this way just to die in Cuba then I realized that if I just stop struggling leaned into his breath I would be okay I leaned into his breath and we began to breathe as one that is what Langston Hughes his poetry plays short stories taught us the necessity to learn to lean into each other's breath and breathe as one so listen listen gentle persons I come to you this afternoon with two voices I come to praise this man this brother this genius this holy man this Weaver of words threading silver and gold into our veins I come with the voice of the praise that I come with voice of the poet I come to you to praise this man who gave us his eyes and we shown became perennial who piled us into the slow blood stream of America and we tag behind walking on tiptoes heard his words like jazz like blues like seculars agitating keeping us on the edge of ourselves breathing in our own noise and we became small miracles something underneath your hands Langston man something mighty something human something radical in your hands accenting our blue flesh observing us in a familiar city called Harlem New York the world where we return as Birth blood water death where we became traveling men and women turning corners moving like black trains across the country Landis men and women immortal in our moving living with nothing dying from everything and when you said Astra mama and we attempted to do so the country turned over in its blood said what mama mammy sapphire and Jamar you talking about say who your mama is is my money and all your mama's Stood Still blow him back black in the wind thank you and you gave us early morning names Madame Alberta Johnson just be simple Susanoo Jones Scottsboro Boys Guillen Laura Lumumba inclu ma Fidel Nasser Bebop men imploding spaces and how to resist in the quarter of the Negroes you gave us but still Harlem air the darker brother star the Christ in Alabama sky the knowledge that we were two nations under one America so much life coursing through your pages man so many vacancies filled by your eyes man you made us figure out the humor and tragedy the tragedy in humor taught us what we were really missing in our lives why we live 20 years and 10 you knew already that we make our history but only so much of it as we are allowed to make so listen gentle men gentle women pull your hearts out of your armpits get your tuxedos out of mothballs put your long red dress on girl and snap your breasts into place as we go dancing on Langston Hughes tongue living speaking without a crutch this is his centennial his birthday tonight is a political act oh yes oh Allah God oh it is today today has arrived oh boy Alucard Oh esta mañana today is today tomorrow has arrived woke up this morning with my eyes on Langston I say woke up this morning with my eyes on Langston woke up this morning with my eyes on Langston gonna live gonna love gonna resist just like him and you can't ask your mom about that you got to do it yourself ask yourself can I resist can I resist for Langston woke up this morning with my eyes on Langston say woke up this morning with my eyes on Langston woke up this morning with my eyes are nice and gonna live gonna love gonna be sis this is just like that's for Langston [Applause] this is Coco you know I had this long interview in France and one of the people asked me if you had to do it over again would you just write poems and not write stuff there but in sight and make people angry make a whole country angry at you sometimes you know we look like arts poets you know that because so many of you decided you went right like us I heard that oh yeah we are not going to write like you because you got in trouble because you know you had difficulty in America and that is so true we did have difficulties in America but you know my sisters and my brothers that's what you do in this country that's what you do in a country that will bring you here as Africans and turn you into Negroes and to niggas you know into auntie's and Mami's that's what you do in this place called America you write and your question and your challenge you know we want to blame everything on Trump that is not true but you got to understand is that the 1% of the people who run the world got Trump into office and they said we would get drop into office as the Democrats are punks many of them you know if it had not been for idea brother in the Congress who got up and said simply I'm going to resist this president most of the Democrats would have gone along so by golly by G here we are we need people to begin to say simply this is really our country this is really our land we got to stand up and say something don't tell me you're afraid of your job we've always been afraid of a job I travel across America people you know that my father used to say to me if you just shut up Sonia you could get tenure just shut up just teach and I said daddy if I shut up I can't teach you see I was blessed to meet some people who made me understand I can never be a fool on a stage I could never lie on a stage people when they meet Robson when you meet the boys and his wife Shirley when you make me mother more when you meet Jean Hudson who was the curator at the Schomburg who set me down one day in the Schomburg and gave me three books I had as an ad in the New York Times and the ad they need a writer for their firm and I set this letter out and my CV and I got a telegram they don't do telegrams anymore I gotta talk to him on the Saturday they report to work on Monday you are hired I would stick took that that telegram and got in my father's face si si si I can't get a job writing and my father looked at me said aha are you going to show up I said yes and I showed up they said show up at nine o'clock I got that 8:30 I was not going to do CP time and I heard coming down the hallway the click-click-click of hills and this young woman and she said yes can I help you and I took the telegram out of my purse and handed it to her and she looked at the telegram and she looked at me and she looked at the telegram and she looked at me and she looked at the telegram and she looked at me and she opened the door I said come in and have a seat and you know those old typewriters she took off the cover that leather cover and said that's false telling that she went through a door and disappeared and about 10 minutes and 9:00 she came back and sat down and started to type and then our face came up around the door and went back and another face came around the door and finally a guy came out and said yes can I help you and I handed him the telegram and he looked at the telegram and he looked at me and he looked at the telegram and he looked at me and he looked at the telegram and he looked at me and said the job is taken I saw oh I got it I got it you know I'm from New York New York humor I said I got to get to early you said come at 9 o'clock I'm gonna go out the door and come back at 9 o'clock and everything should be all right he said lady the job is taken and I say I got it it's prejudiced you you know you're discriminating against me I'm gonna report you to the Urban League and the guy shrugged his shoulder and went in the back and I we got on the train in New York City and those you know if you get on that train if you go on the number one train you stay on the west side if you get on the number two or three you're gonna end up on the east side and the door closed at 95th Street and I realized that the same train was shaking I don't know if it was shaking because who's going to Harlem but it was shaking and it finally let me off at one 35th Street and I got off in front of the Harlem Hospital across the street and got a quarter caught it in the blot and looked up and a sign said the Schomburg and a guy was I said smoking real fast and I said what is the Schomburg he said lady go inside sign in go inside and you'll see and she's in a glass door and I signed and it went in and I went in and there was a table from about there to about here and nothing but scholars sitting there with books stacked high with their heads down and a glass door and I knocked on the door and Miss Hudson came and said yes my yes and I told her my name I said what is this shaumbra she's all my dear oh my dear this is a library the heads books only by and about Negroes with my freshman nineteen and a half year old mouth I said there must not be many books in here she never let me forget that every time I brought my students from Amherst College Temple University you know New York City to the Schomburg to study all day long she says I have a story to tell you about your professor and you know how your students are they turn and say I got some on you all right and indeed they did have something I mean she set me down make room for me at that table and 20 minutes later she brought me three books souls of black folk up from slavery and their Eyes Were Watching God no you know I started to read and you know we these educated blacks my ears mouth teeth had to get accustomed to the black English it has not died like it is black English those of you who teach okay until I got accustomed to the black English but then I eased up and knocked on the door and I said what's your name again she said Miss Hudson I said how can I be an educated woman and not read this is oh my dear I'm gonna give you lots of books just go sit down and read some more so I went and said that ease in and I read some more and I started to sob I didn't cry I saw there's a difference between crying and sobbing and I got up and knocked on the door again I said I just graduated from Hunter College how could I have not read this she's oh my dear I'm gonna give you many many books and as I sat down this time I tried to this African scholar said Miss Hudson tell there's young woman that she should still or she has to leave and I didn't look for a job for the rest of the summer I came to the Schomburg and she fed me every book that was in there and I said and I read she sent me to mr. Michelle mr. Richard books these black books about you know that you were one of the ones that would teach this I'm so grateful for that woman for that sister for that scholar who taught me and gave me this literature that you young people must continue that you young people must continue and stop stop stop stop arguing amongst yourself about who's the best we're all good there's no such thing as the best the best poet on the planet no no no no no stop just receive each other receive the words relish the words love the words understand at some point that we're all living in the same same fashion some of us say the words differently but the con is that it's all about love is it not you are a wonderful audience thank you for being here and we want to bid you a good night a safe travels home

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