Mother of Black Studies

Sarah Webster Fabio was an influential scholar, poet, and performer. Why isn't she better known?

Published in 2014, SOS—Calling All Black People is a reader of the Black Arts Movement, the 1960s creative complement to the Black Power Movement. The anthology, edited by Sonia Sanchez, John H. Bracey Jr., and James Smethurst, features many recognizable names: Sanchez herself, Amiri Baraka (from whose work the book takes its title), Haki Madhubuti, Askia Touré, and Nikki Giovanni, but there are others who didn't become go-to names for black revolutionary poetry. One is Sarah Webster Fabio.

Fabio was a poet, teacher, and scholar of black literature; the author of numerous collections of poetry; editor of several anthologies on black and women's literature; and a performer: she recorded four albums of her poetry on Folkways Records in the 1970s. She is often credited with helping to build a West Coast presence for the Black Arts Movement and to establish black studies as an academic discipline. She has even been called the "mother of black studies." She taught for three years in the late-1960s at Merritt College in Oakland, where the Black Panther Party formed; Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were students at Merritt during her tenure.

Despite her key role in these creative and political movements, Fabio's work has not enjoyed the same resilient popularity as that of her peers and mentors.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.