Sonia Sanchez and Lucille Clifton in Conversation
with Eisa Davis, 2002
This excerpt is from the transcript of a conversation jointly sponsored by Cave Canem and the New School, which was the first in an ongoing series of evenings with Cave Canem. Originating in 1996 as a vision of a retreat to support African-American poets, Cave Canem is a vital catalyst in the American poetry renaissance with summer workshops, regional workshops, public readings and public programs along the lines of this convocation of two remarkable writers. The full transcript appears in An Elder Homage section of Letters to the Future.
Mos Def said, speech is my hammer, bang my world into shape, now let it fall. That’s a bad brother.
These are some remarks I gave when I got an honorary degree at a place called Temple University where I taught for 22 years.
President Liacouras, Provost, Deans, trustees, students, parents, guests, fellow participants on this stage.
How can I bind you together, my brothers and sisters?
How can I bind your old wounds so that they stay dormant until newer
surgical methods come about?
How can I bind you together, my brothers and sisters, away from Racism.
Sexism. Homophobia. Exploitation. Militarism. Extreme
with varying shades of color moving the world in tune to sanity,
love for self and others’
respect for self and others,
ambition without exploitation.
How can I weave you into a rainbow symmetry, letting your
brown, yellow, white and black laughter sprinkle our lives with
How can I bind you Asians. Latinos. Whites. Africans. African-Americans.
Jews. Chicanos. Muslims. Lesbians. Gays. Into a future world away from
the Orwellian image of the future of a boot smashing a human face forever?
How can I bind you to responsibility in a non-responsible world?
How can I bind you to yourselves so that you know the human face will
triumph over the boot forever?
Perhaps through telling you that if we drop our twin seasons of privilege
and inferiority, we will see a world free of myths and social ills.
If we act in the interest of world humanity. If we help improve life for our
sisters and brothers in our country and in the world.
Then we will truly move as human beings
standing upright in a world that is fed by passions of greed and envy and
jealousy and hatred;
You are an important generation to us, my brothers. My sisters. You have
come to us through centuries of man’s, woman’s inhumanity to man,
I say, listen to Tolstoy:
there are men who say,
I sit on a man’s back, choking him
and making him
me and yet
I assure myself
that I am sorry
for him and wish to lighten his load
by all possible means
except by getting off his back.
You are important to us because the earth can no longer hold
those people who choke or who are choked.
We need you, my brothers and sisters, to learn to build, to lead,
to educate, to respect, to love,
but in a way that your eyes take on different landscapes and
become more human.
For if we lose you to Saturday afternoon murders, extreme
materialism, drugs, alcohol, selfishness
if we lose you to Wars. Pollution. Red, white and blue rhetoric.
Then we are finished.
And I, for one, shall not give you up to a life of just three cars, two and a half
children, and four martinis before dinner.
You didn’t ask to be born at this point. At this time. But you are here looking
at the 21st century and you must look it squarely in the eye so that there
will be a 22nd century.
Your fate is to be blessed and burdened with knowledge that no other
generation has known or tasted.
You will walk with a technology that stuns the mind;
You will walk with a history of Africans jumping screaming into an ocean
in protest to that obscenity called slavery in the Americas;
You will walk with a history of Native Americans defending their country
against invaders, walking their blue death walk of relocation;
You will walk with a history of Jews and others dying in concen-tration
camps, their children moving in a rain of ash unraveling minds;
You walk with the Japanese in Hiroshima where open flesh was replaced
with commemorative crust;
You will walk with madmen goose-stepping in tune to Guernica; You will
walk with Africans slaughtering two hundred thousand in four months in
You will walk with the slaughter and rapes in Bosnia, the many massacres
of the spirit and body;
You will walk with New York City startled by the blood in steel and glass
skyscrapers, the morning whispering wings of precocious human birds in
an avalanche of smoke;
You will walk with drugs in suburbia, North Philadelphia, South
Philadelphia, Manhattan, the Bronx, Beverly Hills, Park Avenue.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Here s/he is. Step right up, step right up, step right
up, right up. A good sale on girls and boys today. Now give me my crackcrack-
crack-crack-crack-ing my mind.
We must finally say, I hear your daughter’s laughter in the wind, I see
your son riding in the morning waves there in our eyes and we never let
these intoxicating ideas of race superiority, economic superiority, social
superiority, sexual superiority, religious superiority, terrify the earth until
it swallows itself whole again.
Your fate today as you begin your walk toward abundance is to say, I
remember, I remember. I shall always wear memory on my forehead; I
shall never forget the earth. The sea. The people. Love for peace. Justice.
And truth. I shall always be arriving, as I am today, a ceremony of thunder
waking up the earth
and if you do, if we do, then we know it will get better on this earth.
It’ll get better.
So I say to you new graduates on this taffeta day, dropping blue white
Inaugurate, across the sound of your words not symbols and serums,
not peepholes and posturing, not lesions and lechery,
Inaugurate a new day, a new way for all Americans and people. Inaugurate
like new men and women should, coming out of themselves toward peace
and racial, sexual and social justice. So come with yourselves, singing
lifeeeee, singing eyessss, sing-ing handssss.
Alarming the death singers for we have come to celebrate life. Until we
become seeing men and women again,
Until we become seeing men and women again, Inaugurate a new way of
breathing for the world, a new way of breathing for the world,
and it will get better.
EBE YIYE! EBE YIYE! EBE YIYE!
It’ll get better! It’ll get better! It’ll get better!
Pages 326-363 of Letters to the Future: Black Women / Radical Writing.
Sonia Sanchez. Poet. Mother. Professor. National and International lecturer on Black Culture and Literature, Women’s Liberation, Peace and Racial Justice. Sponsor of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Board Member of MADRE. Sonia Sanchez is the author of over 20 books including Homecoming (Broadside Press, 1969), We a BaddDDD People (Broadside Press, 1970), Homegirls and Handgrenades (White Pine Press, 1984), 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), and most recently, Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010). In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies, she has edited an anthology, We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans, and has been the recipient of many awards, including the 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades, the National Visionary Leadership Award for 2006, and the 2009 Robert Creeley Award. Her book Does Your House Have Lions? was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2011, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter selected Sonia Sanchez as Philadelphia’s first Poet Laureate, calling her “the longtime conscience of the city.” Photograph by Jim Alexander.
This excerpt from the Sonia Sanchez/Lucille Clifton 2002 conversation is part of KPI’s small experiments of radical intent series: Postcards to the Future: Protest in Place running July-Nov 2020, to uplift and celebrate Black women’s voices. Navigate through this series by following the tag Postcards, at left.