Sarah Webster Fabio

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Sarah Webster Fabio (January 20, 1928 – November 7, 1979) was an American poet, literary critic and educator.

Early life[edit]

Sarah Webster was born in Nashville, Tennessee to Thomas Webster and Mayme Louise Storey Webster.[1]

Showing an interest in poetry, she began writing as a high school student. Intellectually adroit and talented, Webster was accepted to and attended Spelman College. She didn't graduate. Instead, she returned to Nashville, Tennessee where she graduated from Fisk University. There she studied poetry under Arna Bontemps. She then married Cyril Fabio, a dental student who later graduated from the historically Black Meharry Medical College. She then changed her surname to Fabio.

Upon her husband's graduation from dental school, he enlisted in the military, which greatly delayed Fabio's graduate education. She had 3 children (born 1947, 1948 and in 1949) while her husband was stationed in various locations across America. When they were stationed in Nashville, Fabio enrolled in graduate school; but then her husband was deployed to Germany and Fabio was forced to delay her studies yet again. During her time in Germany she had another child, born in 1954, her fourth and finally, when they moved back to the Wichita, Kansas US the fifth child, born in 1956.

Merritt College[edit]

In 1963 Fabio attended San Francisco State College, where she earned her masters degree in Language Arts (with a focus on poetry). She graduated in 1965, on the same day her eldest graduated from high school. Shortly after she got a job teaching at Meritt College in Oakland, California. Meritt college was well known as a hot-bed of Black activist activity during the Civil Rights era. Students at the time included Maulana Karenga, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton.

Fabio's poetry quickly became associated with the Black Arts Movement through her work in establishing Black Arts departments throughout the West Coast, thereby identifying a Black aesthetics.


Fabio's time at Merritt College enabled Fabio to expand upon her poetry, combining western styles with Black narrative and realism. She read her poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Art in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966. Upon her return, she began lecturing at the California College of Arts and Crafts and the University of California, Berkeley. There, she worked to create their first Black Studies department.

She wrote several collections including poetry and prose. Fabio also performed poetic recordings (four albums in 1972 under Folkways Records).[2] Her records, and the entire Folkways collection, are found in the "Smithsonian Folkway" collection online.[3] She published an anthology in 1966. Her seven-volume series Rainbow Signs is considered one of her most impressive works.[4]

Notable works[edit]

  • Saga of a Black Man (1968)
  • Mirror, a Soul (1969)
  • Black Talk: Shield and Sword (1973)
  • Dark Debut: Three Black Women Coming (1966)
  • Return of Margaret Walker (1966)
  • Double Dozens: An Anthology of Poets from Sterling Brown to Kali (1966)
  • No Crystal Stair: A Socio-Drama of the History of Black Women in the U.S.A. (1967)
  • Rainbow Signs (1973) the Seven Volume Series of poetry books(Black Back, Back Black; Boss Soul; My Own Thing; JuJus and Jubilees; Together to the Tune of Coltrane; Soul Aint Soul is; and JuJus: Alchemy of the Blues)

Later life and death[edit]

Fabio divorced her husband in 1972.[5] She then accepted a faculty position at Oberlin College until 1974. While pursuing her PhD in American and African Studies at the University of Iowa in 1976 and whilst teaching at the University of Wisconsin she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Fabio spent her last two years with her oldest daughter born in 1949, and died at the age of 51 on November 7, 1979.[6]


Cheryl Fabio, Fabio's daughter produced the documentary film of Fabio's life and work Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio as her MA thesis in communications at Stanford University in 1976. In 2012, The Black Film Center at Indiana University was awarded a preservation grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to remaster and preserve the film.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Page, James (1977). Selected Black American Authors: An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography. pp. 81–82. ISBN 9780816180653.
  2. ^ "Discography".
  3. ^ "Discography".
  4. ^ Ward, Jerry. "Reading South: Poets Mean & Poems Signify – a Note on Origins". African American Review. 27 (1).
  5. ^ Oxford Companion to African American Literature.
  6. ^ Warren, Nagueyalti; Smith, Jessie (1992). Notable Black American Women (vol. 1 ed.). pp. 332–333.
  7. ^ "Black Film Critic".
  8. ^ Fabio, Sarah Webster (1968). "What Is Black?". College Composition and Communication. 19 (5): 286–87.

External links[edit]