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Bontemps, Arna (1902—1973)


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Sarah Webster Fabio


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(1928–1979), poet, educator,

and leading figure and pioneer in the Black Studies and Black Arts movements. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, on 20 January 1928, Sarah Webster Fabio was the precocious daughter of Thomas Webster and Mayme Louise Storey Webster. Fabio graduated from Nashville's Pearl High School in 1943. At age fifteen, she entered Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia; however, she did not graduate. Returning instead to Nashville, she graduated from Fisk University in 1946, and married Cyril Fabio, a young dental student at Meharry Medical College.

After her husband completed his degree, he joined the military and they were sent to Florida, where her first son was born in 1947. Another son was born in 1948, and a daughter in 1949. Despite the strictures of being a military wife frequently forced to move and mothering small children, Fabio, on one of their moves back to Nashville, enrolled in graduate school. Before she could complete her degree, the family was stationed in Germany. Two other children were born in 1955 and 1956. In 1957, the family settled in Palo Alto, California, where her husband opened a dental practice.

The mothering of five children delayed Fabio's education until 1963, when she enrolled in San Francisco State College. She earned her degree in 1965, on the day that her oldest son graduated from high school, and she landed a job teaching at Merritt College in Oakland, a seed-bed for the Black Power movement in the West. Bobby Seale and Huey Newton of the Black Panther Party, as well as Malauna Ron Karenga of the U.S. Organization, were students at Merritt. These were exciting times for Fabio, who had been writing since high school and had studied poetry under Arna Bontemps at Fisk. Fabio defined black poetry as works containing themes drawn from and saturated with language, images, and rhythms of the African American experience.

Fabio's training (a master's degree in language arts, creative writing with an emphasis on poetry) enabled her to combine Western metaphor with black realism. Grounding her work in the oral tradition and performing her poetry to jazz accompaniments, Fabio reached a wide and diverse audience. In 1966, she performed at the First World Festival of Negro Art in Dakar, Senegal. Returning home, she lectured at the California College of Arts and Crafts and the University of California at Berkeley, where she worked to create their Black Studies department.

Fabio's first collection of poetry, Saga of a Black Man (1968), was followed by A Mirror, a Soul (1969). In 1972, she recorded two albums on Folkways Records. Doubleday published Black Talk: Shield and Sword (1973). Other books include Dark Debut: Three Black Women Coming (1966), Return of Margaret Walker (1966), Double Dozens: An Anthology of Poets from Sterling Brown to Kali (1966), and No Crystal Stair: A Socio-Drama of the History of Black Women in the U.S.A. (1967).

Fabio's poetry reflects the Black Arts movement with its trendy emphasis on the Black Aesthetic, yet is classic in its subtle blending of non-Western and Western literary metaphors. Fabio skillfully handles both traditions.


Subjects: Literature

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