Sonia Sanchez 2021 Recipient

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Poet, Educator and Activist Sonia Sanchez Is Awarded The 28th Annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

New York, NY [October 7, 2021] — The Gish Prize Trust today announced that poet, dramatist, educator and activist Sonia Sanchez, a leading figure of the Black Arts Movement and an inspiration to generations of writers and scholars, has been selected to receive the 28th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in recognition of her ongoing achievements in inspiring change through the power of the word. Established in 1994 through the will of legendary screen and stage actress Lillian Gish, known as the First Lady of Cinema, the Prize is recognized as one of the most prestigious honors given to artists in the United States and bears one of the largest cash awards, currently valued at approximately $250,000.

The Gish Prize is given each year to a highly accomplished artist from any discipline who has pushed the boundaries of an art form, contributed to social change, and paved the way for the next generation. The selection committee for the 2021 Gish Prize chose Sonia Sanchez from a field of outstanding finalists in the fields of visual and performing arts, literature, and arts administration. She now joins a list of distinguished honorees who have recently included Ava DuVernay, Gustavo Dudamel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Meredith Monk, Spike Lee, Anna Deavere Smith, Maya Lin, Trisha Brown, and Chinua Achebe.

Sonia Sanchez said, “What an honor it is to receive this award, most especially since we as a country are attempting to answer the most important question facing us: what does it mean to be human? I promise, as other artists do, that I will continue to write and talk about the importance of answering this question—the importance of celebrating the beauty of the world and its people.”

Winner of the Wallace Stevens Award of the Academy of American Poets, the Robert Frost Medal and the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, the Langston Hughes Poetry Award, and the American Book Award (for Homegirls and Handgrenades), Sonia Sanchez is the author of more than twenty books, including the recently published Collected Poems (2021, Beacon Press), and is the former Laura Carnell Chair in English at Temple University, where she was the first Presidential Fellow. In December 2011, she was named Poet Laureate of her adopted home city of Philadelphia. She has lectured at more than 500 colleges and universities throughout the United States, as well as traveling extensively overseas to read her poems, and has been honored as a Ford Freedom Scholar of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Among the upcoming activities on her schedule are a performance on November 11 at NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) in Christian McBride’s The Movement Revisited, in which she will recite the words of Rosa Parks, and participation in the 60th anniversary conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to be held virtually October 14-16, 2021.

This year’s Prize selection committee was chaired by Zeyba Rahman, Senior Program Officer of the Building Bridges Program of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and included Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Program Officer, Creativity and Free Expression, Ford Foundation; Duke Dang, General Manager, Works & Process at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Kamilah Forbes, Executive Producer, The Apollo Theater; and Kay Takeda, Deputy Director, Artist Programs, the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Alberta Arthurs serves as advisor to the Gish Prize and selection committee.

Zeyba Rahman said, “The selection committee unanimously and enthusiastically chose to present this year’s Gish Prize to Sonia Sanchez. With it we recognize both her extraordinary literary gift and her life-long commitment to speaking up for social justice. Now in her late 80s, Ms. Sanchez actively continues her vital work today. She is an innovator on the page, an electric presence in performance, a mind-expanding mentor in the classroom, and a resolute, indefatigable force on the frontlines of change. In all these dimensions, she is the embodiment of the qualities that the Gish Prize celebrates.”

J.P. Morgan Private Bank is trustee of the Gish Prize Trust.

About The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize

Established in 1994 through the will of Lillian Gish, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize is given annually to an individual who has “made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Past recipients are Ava DuVernay, Walter Hood, Gustavo Dudamel, Meredith Monk, Elizabeth LeCompte, Suzan-Lori Parks, Maya Lin, Spike Lee, Anna Deavere Smith, Trisha Brown, Chinua Achebe, Pete Seeger, Robert Redford, Laurie Anderson, Shirin Neshat, Peter Sellars, Ornette Coleman, Bill T. Jones, Lloyd Richards, Jennifer Tipton, Merce Cunningham, Arthur Miller, Isabel Allende, Bob Dylan, Robert Wilson, Ingmar Bergman, and Frank Gehry. Prize recipients are nominated by the arts community and chosen by a distinguished committee of arts leaders for their groundbreaking work in their chosen fields. For further information, visit www.gishprize.org.

About Dorothy and Lillian Gish

Dorothy and Lillian Gish followed their mother onto the stage at an early age. The older of the two sisters, Lillian took her first theatrical curtain call in 1902 at the age of eight in the play In Convict’s Stripes. In 1912, the sisters’ childhood friend Mary Pickford introduced them to D.W. Griffith, who launched their film careers. Lillian would become one of America’s best-loved actresses. In her 85-year career, she appeared in more than 100 films—from Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912) to Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987)—and also took numerous roles in television and on stage. Dorothy Gish began her stage career at the age of four and also went on to make more than 100 films, many of them with Lillian. Dorothy’s early work in film highlighted her keen sense of humor, bringing her acclaim as a star of comedy. At the end of the silent era, she turned her attention to the stage, where success in Young Love brought her accolades with New York audiences, on the road and subsequently in London. In 1939 Dorothy and Lillian each played Vinnie Day, wife of Clarence Day, Sr., in two extensive American road company productions of Life with Father. Dorothy returned to film and television in the 1950s. Upon her death in 1968, Dorothy Gish left the bulk of her estate to the arts. Lillian Gish died in 1993 and also left the bulk of her estate to the arts, including a trust for the formation of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.

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Photo Credit: Jim Alexander

Media Contacts:

Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors
Julia Esposito
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J.P. Morgan Private Bank, U.S. Media Relations
Robert Carosella, Jr.
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