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Sarah Webster Fabio

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Sarah Webster Fabio (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, she became interested in Black Studies at a young age and later on juggled the life of a young mother/ student.

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.

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