| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
John Edgar Wideman was born in Washington, D.C., and
grew up in the black Homewood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Widemanís
parents struggled financially, but managed a decent standard of living for
their family. During Widemanís high school years, circumstances allowed the
family to move out of Homewood to Shadyside, a more economically prosperous
neighborhood; Wideman attended the integrated Peabody High School in Shadyside,
starred on the basketball team, became senior class president, and earned the
honor of valedictorian.
was at Peabody High School that Widemanís remarkable intellectual and creative
career started to emerge clearly. In these early years, Wideman began to
immerse himself in white, Western intellectual influences and traditions, which
caused some estrangement from black cultural traditions and psychological
separation from black people. After high school, he went on to the University
of Pennsylvania to major in English, study the traditional curriculum, and
develop his creative writing skills. He also became an All-Ivy-League
basketball player. These very impressive credentials earned Wideman a Rhodes
Scholarship at his graduation in 1963. Wideman went to Oxford and was one of
the first two black Rhodes Scholars to complete the term in over fifty years.
After Oxford, Wideman returned to the University of Pennsylvania to become that
schoolís first black tenured professor.
order to raise their children in a different environment, Wideman and his wife,
Judy, moved to Laramie, Wyoming and the University of Wyoming after he taught
at the University of Pennsylvania. Widemanís distance from Homewood ironically
drew him back to the African American experience. Listening to family stories
while visiting Homewood for his grandmotherís funeral in 1973, Wideman began to
incorporate influences from the black cultural tradition into his writing (his
first novel had been published in 1967, when he was twenty-six), and to move
psychologically closer to his family and to black people in his personal life.
Wideman spent the years between 1973 and 1981, during which he published none
of what he wrote, studying African American cultural influences. He read a wide
range of books about the black experience, and also studied the culture
firsthand, making his family in Homewood his main source. Wideman and his
family left Laramie in the late 1980s; he now teaches at the University of
Massachusetts at Amherst.
first three novels, the third of which appeared in 1973, show strong influences
from the mainstream modernist tradition that he studied and knew so thoroughly.
These works have black settings and mostly black characters, but Wideman makes
the bleak, pessimistic modernist voice dominant over a black cultural voice.
These novels often show Wideman as a virtuoso craftsman and writer of great
power; however, he did not feel satisfied with what he had done. His writing
after 1981, when he refocused his fiction and himself toward blackness,
displays very strong postmodernist influences, but postmodernism serves the
needs of articulating African American racial concerns and African American
cultural tradition, whose voice is dominant. Wideman has published eleven books
since 1981. The quality and volume of his work place him in the first rank of
contemporary American writers.
James W. Coleman|
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In the Heath Anthology
A Glance Away
Sent for You Yesterday
Brothers and Keepers
The Stories of John Edgar Wideman
Fatheralong: A Meditation on Fathers and Sons, Race and Society
The Cattle Killing
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African American Literature Book Club
A biography and two reviews.
Featured Author: John Edgar Wideman
A compilation of all Wideman-related New York Times articles.
Identity Theory: John Edgar Wideman
A photograph taken by Robert Birnbaum.
The Black Collegian Online
A brief biography.
The Salon Interview
An interview with Wideman by Laura Miller.
Bernard W. Bell, The Afro-American Novel and Its Tradition, 1987
James W. Coleman, Blackness and Modernism: The Literary Career of John Edgar Wideman, 1989
Michael G. Cooke, Afro-American Literature in the Twentieth Century: The Achievement of Intimacy, 1984
Kermit Frazier, "The Novels of John Edgar Wideman," Black World 24:3 (1975): 18-35
Trudier Harris, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals, 1984
Claude Julien, guest editor, "John Edgar Wideman: The European Response", Callaloo special issue, Volume 22, number 3 (summer 1999)
John O'Brien, ed., Interviews with Black Writers, 1978
Wilfred D. Samuels, "Going Home" A Conversation with John Edgar Wideman," Callaloo 6 (February 1983): 49-59