Sarah Fabio was born in Nashville, Tennessee. The eldest female and
the third, of six siblings. Sarah's mother, Mayme Story
Webster, died when Sarah was 14. Tom Webster, her father, solicited the
help of extended family and reared his children. Tom was a railroad engineer in Nashville. On the side, he catered lavish parties for the black and white elite. His kids helped prepare the food and served it. Tom never remarried and he sacrificed to get his kids an education. He intended that all his daughters were well married and he died just before his youngest daughter, Joan. walk the isle.
Sarah, met her husband, Cyril, during the time she attended Fisk University and he was a dental student at Meharry Medical College. After their marriage and completing medical school, Cyril joined the air force to repay his school tuition. The military afforded the young family an opportunity to travel. What affected Sarah most, was a trip to Germany not long after the Holocaust What happened in Germany with the Jews inspired a difference in her creative voice. On her return from Germany, Sarah became a strong force that used writing and poetry to prevent the occurrence of similar atrocities in the US.
Sarah was devoted to articulating visions of African American experiences. As a professor, she encouraged Black students to do the same. Writing both prose and poetry, Sarah frequently contributed to national and international cultural critiques. A particular poem, “Evil Is No Black Thing,” contrasts America's disparaging association of "black" to the "blackness" of African American identity.
FESTAC, festival of arts & culture, Dakar, Senegal, 1966, Sarah was ecstatic learning that she would be reading, on stage, next to Langston Hughes. In addition to Mr. Hughes, FESTAC was attended by many of her writing mentors including Arna Bontemps and Gwendolyn Brooks.
Sarah's poetry frequently referred to African American writers who preceded her. In one poem, she pays an emotional tribute to Phillis Wheatley. Born May 8, 1753, and living until December 5, 1784, Phillis was the first Black woman known to publish a book of poetry. She was also the first known Black woman poet. In the tribute, Sarah celebrates Ms. Wheatley's accomplishment.
Four albums of spoken poetry were recorded by Sarah on Folkways albums. On the recordings, she reads accompanied by a small family band. This treatment transforms her poetry into performance. "Don't Fight the Feelin'" band included sons, Cyril, Thomas and Ronald. Wayne, her son-in-law, also joined the group. Flutist/saxophonist, Leon (Denianke) Williams, lead the band. Other close friends were the occasional guest musician. The band brought a celebrated lyrical element to Sarah's poetry. She envisions this lyricism in her writing evidenced by how the words were laid out on the page. The Smithsonian now distributes the entire Folkway collection. Visit www.folkways.si.edu for more information, or to purchase recordings.
In a 31 minute film, "Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah Webster Fabio," Sarah describes her experiences "as a Black woman, living in America, during the 20th Century." (Produced in 1976, see Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University, Bloomington, www.indiana.edu/~bfca/). Sarah also self-published a 7 volume series of poetry. Recently republished, the booklets are available on the donationtab of this site.
In the mid 1970's, Sarah embarked on a journey to earn her PhD at the University of Iowa. While at University of Iowa, she accepted a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin, it was her last professional engagement. Two years later, after a battle with cancer, she died. She was daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, lover, teacher, scholar, writer, lecturer, critic and performer. Remembered for her "trailblazing ways," she was no ordinary woman. Taking extra-ordinary steps to leave her mark, Sarah was always proud of her roots. She spent her lifetime encouraging others to be proud of theirs! She enjoys a strong literary and musical following, 30 years after her death.