Many writers are asked what books matter to them the most. While this question may give me pause, on this day, September 9, I can easily say who’s one of my favorite writers and why.

I believe it was around this time, autumn, at the Library of Congress when I met Sonia Sanchez. There’s an organization named Visionary Project that allowed young people to interview and archive an elder over the age of 70. So there I was watching Jackie Robinson’s widow and other luminaries, when a little woman walks out, with a voice that filled the room. She charged us with living an examined life and even offered her phone number. We all laughed at this mighty little woman’s boldness.

Towards the end, I brought one of her books and asked her to sign it. So many people swarmed around her, making it difficult for me to say anything. About a year later, I spotted Ms. Sanchez at Union Station on New Year’s Day. I walked up to her and said “Happy New Years, Ms. Sanchez.” She gave me a hug with a quickness that caught me off guard. She invited me to call her. And ever since, I’d send her a postcard, see her in Washington D.C. I even got to honor her at the National Press Club reading from her work with three other poets.

Today, Ms. Sanchez turns 73, and I’m sure that she has no plans of slowing down. She is still as fierce as she was in her youth when she help found the Black Arts Movement with Amiri Baraka, and her work appears in many of the seminal texts of that exciting period.

Here’s a poem I heard her read to a mixed crowd at SummerStage at Central Park, NYC last summer.

Ballad

by Sonia Sanchez

(after the spanish)

 

forgive me if i laugh

you are so sure of love

you are so young

and i too old to learn of love.

 

the rain exploding

in the air is love

the grass excreting her

green wax is love

and stones remembering

past steps is love,

but you. you are too young

for love

and i too old.

 

once. what does it matter

when or who, i knew

of love.

i fixed my body

under his and went

to sleep in love

all trace of me

was wiped away

 

forgive me if i smile

young heiress of a naked dream

you are so young

and i too old to learn of love.