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Brent Staples Essays

Brent Staples (born 1951 in Chester, Pennsylvania) is an author and an editorial writer for the New York Times.[1] His books include An American Love Story[2] and Parallel Time: Growing up In Black and White,[3] He writes about political, social and cultural issues, including race[4] (his 1986 essay in Ms. Magazine "Just Walk on By: Black Men and Public Space" is deemed canonical[5]) and the state of the American school system.[6][7]

He is a graduate of Widener University (B.A.) and the University of Chicago (Ph.D). His essay "How Hip Hop Lost Its Way and Betrayed Its Fans" was included in Read, Reason, and Write book, edited by Dorothy U. Seyler. His memoir Parallel Time was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.[8]

Early years and education[edit]

Before Staples was born, his parent moved from rural Virginia to Chester, Pennsylvania, as part of the Great Migration of blacks to industrial cities in the North and Midwest. Chester was then a prosperous small city with a huge shipbuilding industry. The oldest son of nine children, Staples was born in 1951. His family had no money for tuition, his grades were average, and he had taken only a few high-level academic courses in high school, so the expectation was that he would go straight to work. However, he was admitted to Widener University, where he graduated in 1973. Staples then undertook graduate study in psychology at the University of Chicago,[9] earning a master's degree in Behavioral Sciences (as the department was known at that time) in 1976, and a PhD in the same field in 1982.[10]

Years later, his younger brother, a cocaine dealer, was murdered by one of his clients, and Staples reconsidered his childhood.[citation needed]


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Staples joined the staff of the New York Times as an editor of the Book Review in 1985, and subsequently became assistant metropolitan editor.[11] In 1990 he was appointed to the newspaper's editorial board.[11]

In a 1994 interview with Paul Galloway of the Chicago Tribune,[12] Staples reflected: "Being black enriches my experience; it doesn't define me .... I'm writing about universal themes – family and leaving home and developing your own identity – which all Americans can enjoy and understand." As a writer, he has worked to correct the myth that the American "black experience" is defined only by poverty, violence, and crime.[9] In the same interview, he stated: "I despise the expression ['black experience']. There is no such thing. Black people's lives in this country are too varied to be reduced to a single term."[9]


  1. ^"Brent Staples". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  2. ^Staples, Brent; Penelope Falk; Jennifer Fox (1999). An American Love Story. Random House. ISBN 0375502998. 
  3. ^Staples, Brent (1995). Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White. HarperCollins. p. 288. ISBN 0380724758. 
  4. ^Brent Staples (2005-10-31). "Why Race Isn't as 'Black' and 'White' as We Think". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  5. ^Grønstad, Asbjørn; Vågnes, Øyvind (2010). Coverscaping: Discovering Album Aesthetics. Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 130. ISBN 9788763507745. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  6. ^Editorials/Op-Ed (2005-11-25). "Are Japan's Schools Really Better?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  7. ^Staples, Brent (2017-04-20). "Where Did All the Black Teachers ago?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  8. ^"The New York Times Editorial Board: Brent Staples – Education, Criminal Justice, Economics". The New York Times. 2016-05-02. Retrieved 2017-04-21. 
  9. ^ abc"Brent Staples." Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 8. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 1994. Retrieved via Biography in Context database, 2017-04-21.
  10. ^Chung, Jeanie (Fall 2015/Winter 2016). "Knowledge through the decades: Alumni from the past 50 years recall their experiences in the Division of the Social Sciences". The University of Chicago Magazine: Dialogo (alumini publication for the division of Social Sciences). Retrieved 2017-04-21.
  11. ^ ab"Brent Staples Is Appointed to Times's Editorial Board". The New York Times. 1990-06-07. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  12. ^"Brent (A.) Staples." Contemporary Authors Online. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2005. Retrieved via Biography in Context database, 2017-04-21. Also available online via

Journalist and author Brent Staples was born on September 13, 1951, in Chester, Pennsylvania. His father, Melvin Staples, was a truck driver; his mother, Geneva, a homemaker. The oldest son of nine children, Staples grew up in Chester, but, due to his family’s financial problems, moved seven times before finishing junior high school. After being approached by the only African American professor at Widener University, then the Pennsylvania Military College, Staples was accepted into Widener through a program called Project Prepare. He graduated from there in 1973 with his B.A. degree in behavioral science. Staples was awarded two doctoral fellowships; one from the Danforth Foundation and another from the Ford Foundation. He went on to receive his Ph.D. degree in psychology from the University of Chicago in 1982.

From 1977 until 1981, Staples taught psychology at various colleges in Pennsylvania and Chicago. Then, in 1983, he was hired at the Chicago Sun-Times as a science writer. In 1985, Staples moved to The New York Times, where he was hired as an editor of The New York Times Book Review. Staples also frequently contributed to the Times Magazine and the Book Review. In 1986, he published the essay, “Just Walk on By” in Ms. magazine, a piece that would eventually be required reading for college courses throughout the country. Staples became an assistant editor for metropolitan news at The New York Times in 1987, and was appointed a member of The New York Times Editorial Board in 1990.

In 1994, Staples’ autobiography Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White, was published. Parallel Time was awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 1995, and was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In 2000, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Mount St. Mary College. In 2006, Staples was awarded a Fletcher Foundation Fellowship for his book-in-progress, Neither White Nor Black: The Secret History of Mixed-Race America. He has also served as a visiting fellow for multiple organizations including the Hoover Institution, the University of Chicago and Yale University.

Brent Staples was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 18, 2013.