By Alicia Cook
On March 23, 2018, Bloomfield College hosted its second biennial “Writing from the Margins.” This event was made possible by a generous grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
“The notion of having a voice that is heard, that has impact, is rooted in the history of poetry,” said President Richard A. Levao, in his opening remarks, stressing the rising importance of being a skilled practitioner of this craft in this day and age.
Renowned poet Sonia Sanchez joined the event as keynote speaker. Bloomfield College Trustees, President Levao, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and guests, gathered to meet Ms. Sanchez and hear her keynote address.
Before speaking herself, Ms. Sanchez called Bloomfield College alumna, Amanda S. Kibler ’12, to the stage to share a piece of her own personal poetry entitled, “An Ode to Sonia Sanchez.”
Ms. Sanchez then made her powerful presence felt as she weaved together her speech with her poetry, delivering poignant and timeless pieces such as Norma, which describes how she used to look up to a girl in her school named Norma. Norma was an intelligent classmate who helped Sonia in her studies. She was really good in French, but once she disrespected the teacher, she did not speak in class again. As they grew up, the school received news that Norma had started using drugs, and was pregnant while she was still in high school. She got kicked out of school, and was not seen for a long time. Then after a few years, Sonia and Norma met again, and agreed to get together often. After leaving, Sonia vowed to herself to never agree to agree again, as she did not accept Norma as her role model anymore.
Her rendition brought many in the audience to tears, with Ms. Sanchez also becoming choked up.
“Someone asked me, “‘Why do you write?’ And I said, ‘Because I wanted to tell people how I became this woman with razor blades between her teeth,’” said Ms. Sanchez.
Ms. Sanchez is the author of over 16 books including Homecoming, We a BaddDDD People, Love Poems, I’ve Been a Woman, A Sound Investment and Other Stories, Homegirls and Handgrenades, Under a Soprano Sky, Wounded in the House of a Friend (Beacon Press, 1995), Does Your House Have Lions? (Beacon Press, 1997), Like the Singing Coming off the Drums (Beacon Press, 1998), Shake Loose My Skin (Beacon Press, 1999), and most recently, Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010).
A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts, the Lucretia Mott Award for 1984, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, and the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, she is a winner of the 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades, the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities for 1988, the Peace and Freedom Award from Women International League for Peace and Freedom (W.I.L.P.F.) for 1989, a PEW Fellowship in the Arts for 1992-1993, and the recipient of Langston Hughes Poetry Award for 1999.
Does Your House Have Lions? was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is 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.
Ms. Sanchez has lectured at over 500 universities and colleges in the United States and has traveled extensively, reading her poetry in Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, the People’s Republic of China, Norway, and Canada. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University and she held the Laura Carnell Chair in English at Temple University. She is the recipient of the Harper Lee Award, 2004, Alabama Distinguished Writer, and the National Visionary Leadership Award for 2006.
The day also consisted of an exciting line-up of writing workshops, readings, and panel discussions with distinguished writers and scholars. The agenda included activities for both high school and college-aged students. Attendees had the opportunity to select from a variety of workshop offerings, which engaged various aspects of the issue of marginality as it pertains to race, culture, class, gender, etc.
The day concluded with readings and book signings by writers include Jane Wong, Ysabel Gonzalez, Roberto Garcia, Kem Joy Ukwu, and Keisha-Gaye Anderson.
Writing from the Margins connected writers and readers in a dynamic exploration of the power and potential of literature.