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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life October 26, 2016

Poet and Activist Sonia Sanchez Will Speak on Otelia Cromwell Day

Sonia Sanchez speaking at a podium
Award winning poet and educator Sonia Sanchez is the keynote speaker for this year's Otelia Cromwell Day celebration.

Poet Sonia Sanchez, a prolific writer, activist and architect of the black studies movement, is the keynote speaker for this year’s Otelia Cromwell Day celebration at Smith, which has as its theme “Advancing Change: The Responsibility of Higher Education in Times of Crisis.”

Sanchez will offer the keynote address at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, in John M. Greene Hall for the annual gathering in honor of Smith’s first African American graduate. Sanchez’ talk, titled “Activism in Art: An Afternoon with Sonia Sanchez,” is open to the public at no charge.

An award-winning author of poems, plays and essays, Sanchez will also offer a poetry workshop at 2:45 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room.

Additional workshops planned for the Nov. 3 celebration include two sessions by women’s rights activist Loretta Ross on “Making the Revolution Fun and Irresistible.”

Ross—a former activist-in-residence at Smith and director of the Women of Color Programs for the National Organization for Women—was interviewed for the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project in the Sophia Smith Collection and is featured in Smith’s new MOOC on The Psychology of Political Activism.

In addition, Otelia Cromwell’s niece, Adelaide Cromwell ’40, will lead a workshop session on “My Mothering Aunt.” The workshop will focus on the Cromwell family, issues determining educational choices and how the Smith College environment before World War I affected the life and values of Otelia Cromwell, a member of the Smith Class of 1900.

Musical performances, gallery talks and a social justice “learnathon” are also part of this year’s Otelia Cromwell Day activities. Afternoon and evening classes are cancelled on November 3. A full schedule of events is available online.

Dwight Hamilton, Smith’s vice president for inclusion, diversity and equity, said the theme of this year’s Otelia Cromwell Day celebrations arose from discussions among campus community members this past summer after a series of “seemingly unrelenting tragedies” involving police killings of African Americans.

“We talked about whether higher education has an obligation to find solutions to the societal conditions from which crises arise,” Hamilton said. “The theme of our Otelia Cromwell Day celebration is part of that ongoing conversation at Smith.”

About Sonia Sanchez

A native of Birmingham, Ala., Sanchez evolved from a shy child with a stutter to one of the most prominent members of the black power and black arts movements of the late 1960s. A graduate of Hunter College, Sanchez was also a pioneering advocate of black studies programs and the first to teach a U.S. college course on black women and literature.

Sanchez is the author of more than 16 books, including HomecomingWe a BaddDDD People and Love Poems. Called a “a lion in literature’s forest” by fellow poet Maya Angelou, Sanchez is the recipient of the P.E.N. Writing Award, the American Book Award and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award, among other honors.

Sanchez’ activism has encompassed civil rights, black power and international women’s rights. She is a sponsor of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and serves on the board of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization.

Sanchez is one of 20 African American women featured in “Freedom’s Sisters,” an interactive exhibition created by the Cincinnati Museum Center and Smithsonian Institution Traveling Service. She is also the subject of a documentary film, Sonia Sanchez: BaddDDD, that will be shown on campus Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. in Weinstein Auditorium. Andrea Hairston, Smith’s Louise Wolff Kahn Professor of Theatre and Professor of Africana Studies, will introduce the screening.

About Otelia Cromwell Day

Otelia Cromwell Day is named for Smith’s first African American graduate, who passed away in 1972 at the age of 98. Born in Washington, D.C., Otelia Cromwell was also the first African American woman to receive a degree from Yale University.

A teacher and scholar, Cromwell accomplished her most significant work, The Life of Lucretia Mott, after she retired from teaching. The book, published in 1958 by Harvard University Press, continues to be cited by contemporary scholars.

Smith President Emerita Mary Maples Dunn initiated Otelia Cromwell Day in 1989 as an opportunity for education and reflection by the campus community about issues of diversity and racism.