January 3rd - A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry
A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry - Sonia Sanchez, 1971
Content warning: "To a Jealous Cat" uses the F slur in a homophobic context.
First off, regarding the content warning above - this feels like the best way to deal with historical material that is offensive, because I don't want to ignore it. I picked this album partially because of the amazing cover but also to immediately highlight the diversity of the Folkways records, in content as well as form, and Black Magic is such a great opening track - "a five year plan of kissing ourselves" is glorious - that having the incongruous To a Jealous Cat after it was a huge bummer. I don't want to try to explain it away, but I also don't want to ignore it - it feels deeply weird to be a straight cis white man who grew up in privilege, interrogating the politics of a black woman enmeshed in a very particular political and cultural movement in 1971. I think the album on a whole is a beautiful listening experience, despite To a Jealous Cat and a degree of implied gender essentialism, and probably best considered as both a historical artifact of a political moment and a work of black uplift.
This is a spoken-word album by Dr. Sonia Sanchez, a black poet, activist and educator, recorded in 1971. This album was recorded immediately after Sanchez joined the Nation of Islam, which she left in 1976 because of differences with the Nation over women's issues. I mention this just to give a little more context to this album. I'm the last person on earth who can speak to the specific politics of the album, which are related to Black separatism, but I want to talk about the hope that I hear in this album and other contemporaneous work from the Black Arts movement.
When I was a kid I was bussed to an elementary school in downtown Louisville, Ky, that had been built in 1969. A lot of my teachers were black women who had begun teaching in the late 60s and 70s, and so I was extremely lucky to experience a lot of the Black Arts material that was aimed at children. It's both wonderful and heartbreaking to experience that body of work, enjoying the hope and confidence while knowing exactly how white supremacy would treat the black community in the 1980s. Additionally, as someone not used to listening to spoken word, it's fantastic to hear Sanchez's extremely powerful and personal voice recount her experience and speak to her community.
Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways