Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver in Birmingham, Alabama on September 9, 1934. When Sanchez was only a year old, her mother died and Sanchez was sent to live with her paternal grandmother. She then lived with family and friends until 1941, when she moved to Harlem to live with her father, her sister, and her stepmother who was her father's third wife. In 1955, she received a B.A. in Political Science from Hunter College, where she had also taken several creative writing courses. Later, Sanchez completed postgraduate work at New York University where she studied poetry with Louise Bogan. Although her first marriage to Albert Sanchez did not last, Sonia Sanchez would retain her professional name. Sanchez then married poet Etheridge Knight. They later divorced. In 1972, she joined the Nation of Islam, but left the organization after three years in 1975 because her views on women's rights conflicted with theirs. She has three children and 3 grandchildren.
Sanchez has taught as a professor at eight universities and has lectured at over 500 college campuses across the US, including Howard University. She advocated the introduction of Black Studies courses in California. Sanchez was the first to create and teach a course based on Black Women and literature in the United States. Sanchez was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University where she began working in 1977, where she held the Laura Carnell chair until her retirement in 1999. She is currently a poet-in-residence at Temple University. She has read her poetry in Africa, the Caribbean, China, Australia, Europe, Nicaragua, Canada, and Cuba. Sanchez has also appeared on Bill Cosby's CBS show in the 1990s.
Sanchez is a member of the Plowshares, the Brandywine Peace Community and MADRE. She also supports MOMS AND in Alabama and the National Black United Front. Sanchez was a very influential part of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement. Sanchez was an advocate for the people. She was a member of CORE (Congress for Racial Equality), where she met Malcolm X. She wrote many plays and books that had to do with the struggles and lives of Black America. Sanchez has edited two anthologies on Black literature, We Be Word Sorcerers: 25 Stories by Black Americans and 360° of Blackness Coming at You.
Sanchez is also known for her innovative melding of musical formats - like the blues - and traditional poetic formats like haiku and tanka. She also tends to use incorrect spelling to get her point across.
In 1969, Sanchez was awarded the P.E.N. Writing Award. She was awarded the National Education Association Award 1977-1988. She also won the National Academy and Arts Award and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Award in 1978-1979. In 1985, she was awarded the American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades. She has also been awarded the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Humanities, and the Peace and Freedom Award from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
- Homecoming, Broadside Press, 1969
- We a Baddddd People (1970), Broadside Press, 1973
- Love Poems, Third Press, 1973
- A Blues Book for a Blue Black Magic Woman, Broadside Press, 1974
- Autumn Blues
- Continuous Fire: A Collection of Poetry
- Shake Down Memory: A Collection of Political Essays and Speeches
- It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs (1971)
- Homegirls and Handgrenades(1985) (reprint White Pine Press, 2007, )
- Under a Soprano Sky, Africa World Press, 1987,
- I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Third World Press, 1985,
- Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995,
- Does Your House have Lions, Beacon Press, 1997,
- Like the Singing Coming Off of Drums, Beacon Press, 1998
- Shake Loose My Skin. Beacon Press. 2000. ISBN 9780807068533.
- Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (2001)
- Morning Haiku. Beacon Press. 2010. ISBN 9780807069103.
- Black Cats and Uneasy Landings
- I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't (1982)
- The Bronx is Next (1970)
- Sista Son/Ji (1972)
- Uh Huh, But How Do It Free Us? (1975)
- Malcolm Man/Don't Live Here No More (1979)
- I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't and Other Plays (Duke University Press, 2010)
- It's a New Day
- A Sound Investment
- The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head, The Third Press, 1973,
- We Be Word Sorcerers
- 360 Degrees of Blackness Coming at Ya!
- Robert Bly, David Lehman, ed (1999). The Best American poetry, 1999. Scribner. ISBN 9780684842806.
- Junot Díaz, ed (2001). "A Poem for My Father". The Beacon Best of 2001: great writing by women and men of all colors and cultures. Beacon Press. ISBN 9780807062395.
- Arnold Rampersad, Hilary Herbold, ed (2006). "answer to yo / question of am i not yo / woman even if you went on shit again". The Oxford anthology of African-American poetry. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195125634.
- Joyce Ann Joyce, ed (2007). Conversations with Sonia Sanchez. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781578069521.
- A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry (Folkways Records, 1971)
- Every Tone a Testimony (Smithsonian Folkways, 2001)