She began a long teaching career in 1965 teaching at the Downtown Community School in New York. At San Francisco State University shortly afterwards she was a pioneer in developing Black Studies courses. From 1977 she enjoyed a long period of teaching at Temple University, retiring in 1999.
Sanchez's first two published volumes of poetry, Home Coming (1969) and We a BaddDDD People (1970) are written from a black militant, anti-white perspective influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X. In "Malcolm," from the first volume, Sanchez quotes the slain leader:
"fuck you white man. we have been curled too long. nothing is sacred now. not your white faces nor any land that separates until some voices squat with spasms."
Her poem "to blk/record/buyers" begins:
don't play me no righteous bros.
white people ain't rt bout nothing no mo.
Elsewhere she praises the jazz musician John Coltrane for not taking the route of mainstream white commercial music. The poems in these and other early books experiment with idioms and with sound arrangements, using these and slang, dialect, and profanity, to undermine conventional grammar, spelling, and syntax in an attempt to capture black speech rhythms. The poem "blk / wooooomen / chant" from her second book, for example, contains the lines:
blk/mennnnnNN do u SEEEEEEE us? HEARRRRRR us? KNOWWWW us? black/mennnnNNN/we bes here.
waiten. waiten. WAITEN. WAITENNNNNN
A long AMURICAN wait. hurrrrreeehurrrrreeehurrrrreeeeeeeeeee blacKKKKKKKKKKKKmennnnnnnnnn/ warriors
In the early 1970s Sanchez joined the Nation of Islam, although she left in 1976 because of the movement's treatment of women. The movement's influence is strongest in her fourth and fifth books of poetry, Love Poems (1973) and A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1974). Sanchez's later work is more feminist in its political orientation and themes, and the 1984 volume Homegirls & Handgrenades is particularly important. The long poem Does Your House Have Lions? (1997) was nominated for a National Book Critics Award. The poem is a more sympathetic treatment of her father than the earlier "A Poem for My Father" from 1970. Shake Loose My Skin (1999) is a useful selection from some earlier books, as well as containing a number of new poems.
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