Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wideman Reading Here Latest Work to Look at Tragic Family History of Slain Emmett Till

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wideman Reading Here Latest Work to Look at Tragic Family History of Slain Emmett Till

Article excerpt

John Edgar Wideman isn't quite sure what he'll be reading today at the Hill House's Kaufmann Center.

"I will look at the audience and, depending on who's there, well, I have options," said the 73-year-old Homewood native and internationally acclaimed writer. He'll be in Pittsburgh for a Duquesne University symposium and free Hill House reading at 4 p.m., which is open to the public.

Mr. Wideman does have a lot to choose from in his vast body of work: novels, memoirs, nonfiction, short story collections, essays, columns and "micro" stories. He has always been about accessibility and availability - even if his writing, which often flouts narrative conventions, requires some effort on the part of the reader.

"Maybe some kids will come from school, maybe they'll be older. I like to look at my audience first before deciding what to do," he said in a phone interview Wednesday from his home in New York.

Mr. Wideman's urgent, deeply felt investigations into race, class, love and family in America have earned him countless literary awards and a MacArthur Foundation grant, but he has never completely opted into the solitary life as a writer. He just retired from 10 years of teaching at Brown University and is still working, even though at this stage of life it's a different kind of labor.

His preoccupations include not just the daily travails of being black in America, but the crime and punishment that so often follow. With a brother and a son serving life sentences for murder, Mr. Wideman told a panel last fall that "I have a longtime, very personal, very intimate and very intense relationship with the question of incarceration in these good old United States."

His 1984 book about Robert Wideman, "Brothers and Keepers," won a 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award, catapulting him onto the national literary scene. …

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