Two Philadelphia poets laureate — the first one and the current one — have won prestigious national awards.
Poet and teacher Sonia Sanchez has won a $100,000 lifetime achievement prize from the American Academy of Poets.
In an announcement Tuesday, the academy said Sanchez, 83, won the Wallace Stevens Award, given annually since 1994 "to recognize outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry." The award requires the poet to be nominated and elected by a majority vote of the academy's board of chancellors, a collection of the country's most prominent poets. Winners have included John Ashbery, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gerald Stern, and Adrienne Rich.
Sanchez has been a major presence on the Philadelphia poetry scene for a long time. She was named the city's first poet laureate, in 2012-13, and is author of such books as the much-admired Morning Haiku (2010) and 1999's Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems.
American Academy of Poets chancellor Terrance Hayes said, "Her life and poems reflect a steadfast devotion to humanity, a love for womanhood, black culture, and education. … There may have never been a more appropriate recipient of an award honoring poetic mastery and originality."
The other local academy winner is current Philadelphia poet laureate Raquel Salas Rivera, whose book x/ex/exis (poemas para la nación) (poems for the nation) won the Ambroggio Prize, a $1,000 publication prize given for a book-length poetry manuscript originally written in Spanish and with an English translation.
Judge Alberto Ríos said, "These poems speak passion and clarity and yearning. More important, they simply speak. In an often wild gallop through language and ideas, unfamiliar leaps across singular experiences, I am thrown off the horse many times, but the speaker keeps talking me repeatedly back into the saddle of these poems."