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Busboys and Poets' Peace Ball: Voices of Hope and Resistance
Poet Sonia Sanchez attends a 2017 ball at the National Museum Of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Busboys and Poets

Sonia Sanchez wins Gish Prize for lifetime achievement

NEW YORK — Poet, educator and activist Sonia Sanchez is this year's winner of the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, a $250,000 lifetime achievement honor previously given to Chinua Achebe, Bob Dylan and Maya Lin among others.

Established in 1994 through the estate of Lillian Gish, the silent film star and sister of fellow actor Dorothy Gish, the prize is awarded 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."

Sanchez, 87, first achieved prominence with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and has been widely cited as an innovative poet who often draws upon street slang, a popular speaker and a pioneering teacher of Black studies. Her previous prizes include the Wallace Stevens Award and Robert Frost Medal, both given for lifetime achievement in poetry. Her collected poems came out this spring.

"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?" Sanchez said in a statement Thursday.

"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."

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