The Life and Work of John Edgar Wideman

The Life and Work of John Edgar Wideman

The Life and Work of John Edgar Wideman

The Life and Work of John Edgar Wideman

Synopsis

Challenging. Successful. Controversial. All terms used to accurately describe African American novelist and autobiographer John Edgar Wideman. This book examines his life and work- and the connections between them.

Excerpt

John Edgar Wideman is a very successful contemporary American writer. He is the author of 10 novels, five collections of short stories, and four works of nonfiction. He was valedictorian of his high school class, an All-Star basketball player at the University of Pennsylvania, and only the second African American to become a Rhodes Scholar. He is the only author to receive two PEN/Faulkner awards for his fiction, and, among his other honors, he was given a MacArthur “genius” grant in 1993. He has taught literature and creative writing at several major public and Ivy League universities. His daughter, Jamila, has been a star basketball player at Stanford and in the WNBA. His son Daniel and his cousin Albert French are both successful writers. From this quick portrait, he could be said to have achieved the literary version of the American Dream.

But cutting across this Horatio Alger story is tragedy. His parents lived largely separate lives during his late childhood, which meant that John had little emotional connection with his father. Later, his younger brother Robert got involved in drugs and petty crime. When a man died during one of these crimes, Robby was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Ten years later, in 1986, Wideman’s youngest son, Jake, apparently suffered a psychotic break and stabbed to death a fellow camper. He too is in prison for life; in 2011, his first appeal for parole was denied. In 2000, Wideman’s 35-year marriage to Judy Goldman ended in divorce.

These personal experiences are key to John Wideman’s career as a writer. He constantly uses members of his family as characters and places associated with his life as settings for his stories. It is often difficult to distinguish between autobiography and fiction in his work. He . . .

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