Brent Staples: Biography & Essays

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
If your father was an alcoholic and your family was very comfortable with poverty, would you want to follow in their footsteps? Or would you choose a different path and better yourself? Read on to learn how writer and editor Brent Staples took the road less traveled.

Early Life

Brent Staples was born on September 13, 1951 in Chester, Pennsylvania. His father, Melvin, was a truck driver, and his mother, Geneva, was a stay-at-home mom.

Brent was the oldest son out of nine children, and he had a lot of responsibility in the family. This is typical for the oldest son, but Brent had even more pressure put on him once his dad became an alcoholic. Brent started to resent his family and got frustrated with the poverty of his home life. Things were so bad financially that Brent and his family had to leave their house because they could no longer pay the rent. This happened over and over again.

The Staples family ended up moving eight times before Brent was in 7th grade. Brent hated this lifestyle and decided to distance himself from his family. Eventually, he would pull this off, not only making a name for himself, but becoming a respected writer and editor for one of the most famous newspapers in the country.

Brent Stapes


When did you begin preparing for college? Did you decide on a whim or did you strategically plan during your high school years? Brent Staples was an average student in grade school and didn't give much thought to college. He didn't even take the SAT. But one man gave him some encouragement that changed his life.

Eugene Sparrow was a college professor who saw potential in Staples and encouraged him to apply to a college prep program called Project Prepare. It was a summer college prep program at Philadelphia Military College. Staples applied and was accepted to the summer program and later to the college for admission as well. In 1973, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the school, which was changed to Widener University while he was there. He later earned his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in 1977.

Scattering the Pigeons

How do you deal with tough situations? When people are mean to you or treat you unfairly do you lash out at them or laugh it off? Staples decided to turn offenses towards him into a game.

In college and at other times in his life, Brent had to deal with racism. People would automatically treat him differently, and this bothered him. One of his famous quotes is, 'All of us in this country (USA) have more in common than we have differences.'

As a heavy, black male, his presence made others uncomfortable. In his writings, he says that Caucasian women would clutch their purses closer and move to the other side of the street when they saw him walking near them. Brent was offended because he knew that he meant them no harm.

At first, he did nothing, but as the attitudes toward him did not change, he turned the situation into a game he called scattering the pigeons, where he actually tried to scare the people who seemed fearful of him.

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