Sonia Sanchez

After a lifetime of achievements, poet, educator and activist Sonia Sanchez, 87, won this year’s Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. 

The prize honors individuals who devote their life’s work to pushing artistic and social boundaries. 

“I was chosen for this award this year for my contribution to what they called, ‘the beauty of the world,’” Sanchez told the Amsterdam News.

I also added to that later on to not only ‘the beauty of the world,’ but to the word also. You take the L out of world and you have word. That’s what we do as poets and playwrights and singers. They continue ‘and to mankind,’ I inserted woman’s kind.”

Through the estate of Lillian Gish and her sister, actress Dorothy Gish, the honor is annually bestowed upon, “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” As a token of their groundbreaking dedication, winners receive a cash award of about $250,000 sponsored by the J&P Morgan Private Bank. 

Since its 1994 establishment, artists from various genres including Suzan-Lori Parks, Ava DuVernay, Chinua Achebe, Ingmar Bergman, Bob Dylan, Bill T. Jones, Ornette Coleman, Laurie Anderson, Robert Redford, Spike Lee, Maya Lin, and the latest, Sonia Sanchez received the prize.

Throughout Sanchez’s career, she internationally gifted humanity with dozens of poems and over 20 books including “We a BaddDDD People,” “Love Poems,” “I’ve Been a Woman,” “Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems,” “Homegirls and Handgrenades,” and most recently “Collected Poems.” Additionally, she also uses her artistic abilities to write plays and children’s literature. Sanchez’s art reflects the social themes of Black studies, civil rights, women’s liberation, feminism, peace and radical justice. To spread her work across the world, Sanchez has traveled to various continents including Africa and Asia and visited over 500 college and universities as a guest lecturer. 

The numerous works of Sanchez all strive towards answering one ultimate question: what does it mean to be human? “I tried to bring us all closer together to answer the question of what it means to be human,” Sanchez said. “Not just pretty, or brilliant, or smart, or well-to-do, or a billionaire, or a millionaire, but what does it mean to walk upright as a human being?” After touching the minds and hearts of thousands across the globe, the poet believes that her winning the Gish Prize award further shows that this question did not fall on deaf ears. 

“This award to me says there are some people who have put up trust to honor some people contributing to or trying to answer one of the most important questions that we must answer,” Sanchez said. “What does it mean to walk upright as a human being?”

Each year, the arts community nominates recipients for the Gish Prize. A committee of distinguished art leaders and experts then select the winner. This year’s committee included 

choreographer Garth Fagan, filmmaker Mira Nair, sculptor Martin Puryear, composer Alvin Singleton, President Emerita of The Museum of Modern Art Agnes Gund and Senior Advisor for Global Programs at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and President Emerita of the Asia Society Vishaka Desai. 

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