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Kyla Marshell recently wrote an essay for The Poetry Foundation about poet, teacher, musician, and scholar of black literature, Sarah Webser Fabio, whose work has not gotten the attention it deserves. Marshell writes:

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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.”

Much of her work is out of print, but some of it is available through JSTOR.

In an essay called What is Black? written for College Composition and Communication in December of 1968, she asks, “What is Black language?”

Two examples of definitions of black language and important black words are:

1. That language particular to all biologically black persons; it is, to them, their own means of communication defying explanation.

a. rapping-to talk to someone for a period on a subject pertaining to blackness
b. together-an adjective describing a person’s philosophy and total awareness pertaining to blackness

2. A dialect of English; a means by which a black person can comfortably communicate with another black person without the fear of using improper rhetoric because he is correct every time his improvisational words ring true.

a. come down-explain; stop beating around the bush
b. jive-phony; not for real.

Download and read the poem/essay for free on JSTOR.


Saga of a Black Man (A Pageant Drama) published in the extraordinary “Black Writing” issue of the Iowa Review in Spring 1975 is also available. Darwin T. Turner introduces the work by positioning it in “the tradition of the historical pageant:”

a form more frequently used in Black theater than in modern American theater as a whole. Always intended for a Black community audience, the pageant, created by such Blacks as Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and LeRoi Jones, does not imitate the well-made-play structure of initial situation, rising action, climax, and dénouement. Instead, mixing historical with fictional characters and incidents, the dramatist, by means of episodic vignettes, sweeps the audience from the historical past of Blacks to a climactic present.

Download and read the play for free on JSTOR and browse through the rest of the issue, which includes Lucille Clifton’s Homage to My Hair and other classics.


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College Composition and Communication, Vol. 19, No. 5, Intergroup Relations in the Teaching of English (Dec., 1968), pp. 286-287
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
The Iowa Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, Black Writing (Spring, 1975), pp. 99-128
Published by: The University of Iowa