This post is part of our blog series that announces the publication of selected new books in African American History and African Diaspora Studies. Broad Sympathies in a Narrow World: The Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois was recently published by Wayne State University Press.
The author of Broad Sympathies in a Narrow World is Sandra Staton-Taiwo. She earned a doctorate in African American literature from Howard University in 2001. Dr. Staton-Taiwo has taught at several colleges, including Penn State York and Gettysburg College, and is presently a faculty member at Alabama State University. She has taught courses in English Composition, Black American Literature, poetry, the Harlem Renaissance, Black Aesthetics, African American Studies, and a seminar on W. E. B. Du Bois. Publications include essays about faculty of color, W. E. B. Du Bois’s literature, and Langston Hughes’s poetry. As a current resident of Montgomery, Alabama, which is near Lowndes County, she is working on a manuscript surrounding Du Bois’s 1906 sociological input in Lowndes County he transformed into literary output in his first novel, The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Her new book, Broad Sympathies in a Narrow World: The Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois (Wayne State University Press), is a collection of poems that reflects Staton-Taiwon’s exploration of and engagement with Du Bois’s personal and political lives.
Broad Sympathies in a Narrow World: The Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois by Dr. Sandra Staton-Taiwo is a collection of poetic reflections on the public and private life of an American intellectual giant. For more than half of the twentieth-century, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois (1868—1963) was a major voice in every significant debate concerning political policies and strategies impacting the lives of African Americans and other people of color.
Though Du Bois is recognized as the founder of the discipline of sociology, his scholarship spanned multiple arenas of research and discourse, including history, literary criticism, philosophy, and political science. Du Bois was also a novelist and a poet. For his anti-war activism and his powerful protests as a public intellectual against racial inequities in the United States, he was harassed by the U.S. government, and ultimately left this country to live in exile in Ghana, West Africa, invited there by President Kwame Nkrumah.
Staton-Taiwo’s poems celebrate the greatness of Du Bois’s political vision and engagement, while intuiting the unhappy lives of the women who lived in his shadow. Several poems assess twenty-first century race relations in the U.S. in the light of Du Bois’s twentieth-century insights. Allusions to well-known themes and iconic lines from Du Bois’s writings weave a unifying thread throughout the collection. Readers will be challenged and delighted by Staton-Taiwo’s rich, sophisticated perspectives and artistry.
“Dr. Sandra Staton-Taiwo has brought to the page, with her cultural consciousness and lyrical sensibilities, a differently angled lens through which readers might encounter the broad sympathies in a narrow world of Black life. There is a serious melody playing in the foreground—the legacy of Du Bois, a poet himself, rich and complex, varied and undeniable. [She] is a distinctly African American voice, singing both her uniquely inspired songs and ours in the key of yesterday, today and tomorrow. What taps within these deeply hued poetic units is best stated in the poet’s own verse as “new impressions known before shown and ready for release, like still wet oil on canvas.” Much praise should be given to this fine poet, who picks up the pen to celebrate our beloved Du Bois—scholar, historian, sociologist, Pan-African activist and educator, or as Dr. Staton-Taiwo so aptly identifies him, a “prophet for the promise.” This is a read-worthy collection of poetry, a necessary voice in the peculiar climate of our times.” – Haki R. Madhubuti, poet and publisher of Third World Press, Chicago
Phillip Luke Sinitiere: Please share with us the creation story of your book—those experiences, those factors, those revelations from your engagement with W. E. B. Du Bois’s work and legacy that influenced the assembly of poems in this unique volume.
Sandra Staton-Taiwo: I have always wanted to write. I edited and wrote for my school’s publications in high school, college, and graduate school. I taught high school English and later wrote manuals for government agencies. In 2001, I received a Ph.D. in Black American literature where my research focused on W.E.B. Du Bois. The influences on my Du Bois poetry include corresponding with Naomi Long Madgett. Her guidance enhanced my work. A second influence would be my own marriage and divorce along with my perpetual study of Du Bois. Not only could I identify with Du Bois’s scholarship, I could also identify with his wife and daughter. Their experience, literally, became my experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In 2011, I completed a close reading of David Levering Lewis’s second biography, W. E. B. Du Bois, 1919-1963: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, where he included extensive details of Du Bois’s philandering. From public lectures I gave at the time, and from feedback on my own work coupled with reading Lewis I gained new perspective on his life’s complexities. Conversations with Dr. Wilson J. Moses have also been very instrumental in my Du Bois studies. I read his Afrotopia, his chapter in Lure and Loathing, and his introduction to the Oxford University Press edition of Black Folk: Then and Now. In fact, I quote from Dr. Moses’s introduction in one of the poems, “Forgiven,” when I say Du Bois borrows “copiously.”
Finally, I resonated with Du Bois because I admired his tenacity concerning scholarship and equality at a time when scholarship and equality eluded the Black American. I identified with Du Bois as one who would have been in my high school class, if had I been born 100 years earlier. Also, it was in Great Barrington during high school that Du Bois lost his mother; my mother died in 1984, when I had been a teenager, and, like Du Bois, that death changed the course of my college education. The timing of winning the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Contest was perfect, especially during the 150th anniversary of Du Bois’s birth. The process of completing the book was both intellectual and spiritual. Collectively, these are the experiences, factors, and revelations from my engagement with Du Bois’s work and legacy that influenced the assembly of the poems in my unique volume.