I first met Sonia Sanchez in the basement of her parents’ house in 1997. I was seventeen then. Standing in front of hundreds of my father’s books, he placed Does Your House have Lions? into my hands. He told me to always, always have the courage of Sonia Sanchez in my poetry. I read her poems ravenously, trying to find that spark. “How to learn to love me amid all the pain?” Sonia asked. My heart ripped open.
What I learned from experiencing Sister’s Sonia’s lectures and performances over the last decade was how not to be a poet that pats herself on the back, but to be a poet that embraces others, holds them to her bosom, heartbeat to heartbeat, and shouts, “Sister!” This philosophy has made it easy to search through our submissions, not only for level of technique, but for the emotional core, the substance that connects one human to another.
Moved by Sister Sonia’s commitment to action, as well as to words, I began to hold events bringing together poets, artists and writers to raise money for underserved communities at home and abroad. At one of them I met Lillian. And what was once an idea pressed firmly to our hearts—to actively spread love and understanding in Philadelphia through literature—became APIARY Magazine.
I’ve heard Professor Sanchez read many times, and have always been inspired by her radiant peacefulness and conviction. But because of this moment in Philadelphia’s history — a season of rallies against school closings, marches for immigrant rights, and protests against the funding of new prisons — her simple explanation of why her poetry and her activism are one and the same resonated deeply with me this spring.
From getting arrested for protesting at an Army recruitment center, to teaching students the “sedition” of peace, each anecdote she told illustrated how she fights for what she believes in everywhere she goes.
Our city, our communities, and our families face very real trouble. For many of us, it can feel hard to know what to do in the face of so much chaos.
But as Sister Sonia says, “This thing called poetry keeps us all human.” We founded APIARY, and chose our tagline, because we believe her claim.
And when we hear one another’s stories, grand or trivial, we wake up to one another. We wake up to ourselves. We might not know where to start just yet. But we can let these voices in. They’re our neighbors, our brothers and our sisters. We can read. We can listen. Perhaps our fellow humans will point the way.