Ma Xiu Jia

1. Biographical Notes

John Edgar Wideman was born on June 14th, 1941 in Washington D.C, as the firstborn of the African American couple Edgar Wideman and Lizabeth French. Less than a year after his birth, his parents moved to Homewood, a deprived black neighbourhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both John"s mother and father have their roots in Homewood. Wideman claims the neighbourhood started its growth after Sybela Owens and Charlie Bell, fourth-generation ancestors of Wideman"s mother, settled on the local Bruston Hill. Sybela Owens, a slave in Cumberland, Maryland, was involved in an amorous relationship with Charlie Bell, her master"s son. When her master became suspicious of the affair, he planned to sell Sybela so as to separate the two lovers and avoid disgrace. Charlie Bell and Sybela Owens fled before he could do so. In 1859, they travelled 500 miles and settled near Pittsburgh, a fast expanding industrial city on the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio rivers.

Some eighty years later, John Wideman"s father, Edgar, continuously toiled, sometimes in as many as three different jobs at the same time. Having been thwarted in his ambitions of becoming a dentist, he wanted "to make the American Dream a reality for his five children."(1) Working as a welder and garbage collector for the city or waiting at Kaufman"s department store and paperhanging, he was able to move his family out of the marginal Pittsburgh section of Homewood when John was about ten years old. The Wideman household took up their residence in the more well-to-do and predominantly white Shadyside neighbourhood, which once had harboured most of the wealthy patrons of the Pittsburgh coalmining, glass and steel industries.(2)

As a Shadyside resident, John attended the local Peabody High School, which, like his neighbourhood, was mostly peopled by Anglo-Saxon Americans. In part because he understood the pains his parents were taking to allow him to get a decent education, partly because he wanted to avoid winding up in the same poor socio-economic situation as he had seen among a lot of the Homewood populace, and probably also as a means of sublimating the constant rejection he was confronted with because of his skin color, he achieved well in all fields. His academic performances needed no embellishment. At Peabody High, he was president of the senior class, class valedictorian on his graduation in 1959 and a member of the National Honor Society (NHS), which "is the nation's premier organization established to recognize outstanding high school students."(3)

Yet, Wideman did not, as a high school pupil, envision an academic life. His hopes were set on a career as a player in the NBA, the United States" National Basketball Association. As a nimble athlete, he starred in Peabody"s football and track teams, and excelled in the basketball team. He was chosen outstanding high school basketball player of Pittsburgh twice. Wideman had been fascinated at a young age by the street version of the basketball game. He loved to go and play in the municipal parks of Pittsburgh with an ever changing flow of neighbourhood kids. As Raymond Janifer writes: "He loved the game so much as a youngster that he often shoveled the snow off the courts during the biting Pittsburgh winters to practice."(4)

Several testimonies furnish evidence for Wideman"s original ambitions to make professional basketball his ticket out. In a 1984 interview for The Washington Post for instance, he said: "I always wanted to play professional basketball ever since I saw a basketball and learned you could make money at it."(5) In fact, his academic achievements are in some sense a by-product of these ambitions, as Wideman believed the road to professional basketball crossed college basketball. "I thought I wanted to play pro basketball, and I knew in order to play pro basketball you had to play college basketball and to play college basketball you had to get a scholarship, so things kind of dovetailed and it was a lockstep type of future I had figured out for myself."(6)

Wideman had planned his future well. Due to his outstanding record of academic and athletic achievements in high school, the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia offered him a Benjamin Franklin Scholarship in 1959. After a short-lived attempt to study psychology, Wideman rapidly switched to English "when he discovered he was to study rats rather than psychoanalytic theory."(7) As he continued his high school spree of academic and athletic successes, he came to be known as "the Amazing John Wideman". His intellectual achievements earned him a place on the dean"s list several consecutive semesters and garnered him a Phi Beta Kappa Key.(8)

At Penn, Wideman also demonstrated his improving basketball skills. "As a freshmen basketball player he set a scoring record for the season, as a sophomore he averaged 11 points a game on the Penn varsity, as a junior while playing outstanding defense he led the varsity team in rebounding and tied for top scoring honors with his roommate Bob Purdie. The team also finished the season that year undefeated. Because of his outstanding athletic prowess and leadership skills he was named captain of the team his senior season."(9) His basketball talent was also recognized outside Penn"s ivy-covered walls. He played among some of the US" finest promising basketball players as a member of the All Ivy League basketball team and he was honoured with a place in Philadelphia"s Big Five Basketball Hall of Fame.

Yet, his plans to try and enter the small world of professional basketball were counteracted by a newfound interest in writing. At the University of Pennsylvania, he was seized by an active taste for writing, probably discovered in the creative writing course he took there. Still studying at Penn, Wideman started publishing short stories and articles. He won the Phi Sigma Creative Writing Prize for a one-act play, an assignment for his course of creative writing. The play was produced and staged on campus by the university"s drama company, the Penn Players. Wideman, in an interview to the Daily Pennsylvanian in 1963, commented upon this work as follows: "It is a domestic one act play about a disillusioned woman, and her struggle between good and evil. She is married to a seemingly pious preacher who in reality turns out to be a force of evil. The wife finds this out from her half witted son to whom she is greatly attached."(10) His writing at that time was already promising, to the extent that established literary figures, among whom the poet Archibald McLeish, praised his work.(11)

It was, to a large degree, his fondness for writing, and the aspirations to be an author that came with it, that made Wideman apply for a Rhodes Scholarship.(12) In 1986, looking back on the genesis of his authorship, he explained the importance of this move in an interview: "I thought writing was something connected to Europe. I didn't want to be a good American writer, let alone a black writer. I wanted to be world class, man, and to be world class you had to be Thomas Mann and you had to be Marcel Proust and you had to walk along the Champs Elysees and you had to know about bullfights. Those were the kinds of things which were stirring around in my head. I wanted to go where the action was, and going to Europe was a very conscious attempt to become part of that tradition."(13)

Winning a Rhodes Scholarship and thus receiving support for two years of academic training in Oxford (in the United Kingdom), was one way of going to Europe. Wideman passed the several obligatory psychological and intellectual tests with flying colours and was awarded with the prestigious Scholarship, which is annually granted to only 32 American students. In the fall of 1963, after having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Wideman left for Europe in search of a "world class" literary voice.

At Oxford"s New College, he concentrated on eighteenth century literature. He wound up quite naturally in the local basketball scene. With his roommate Bill Bradley, who was later to become professional NBA-player, senator of New Jersey and candidate to the US-presidency in 1999 (only to be defeated in the Democratic Party primaries by Al Gore), Wideman played on and coached an All England team that went on to win an amateur championship. According to Janifer: "[they] were the best players on the team. Bradley would return to a lucrative professional basketball contract with the New York Knicks in the NBA, but Wideman was voted the Most Valuable Player of their team in England."(14)

In 1965, still a student at Oxford, he married Judith Ann Goldman, a white Virginian girl and former law student whom he had secretly started dating at Penn. She was "one of those pretty, affluent white girls that made Penn such a dreamy place. She was slim-waisted and high strung, with brown hair and a deep devotion to ideals. We were both demanding, volatile, and passionate. We honeymooned in Greece."(15)

After Wideman graduated from Oxford with a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1966, he returned to the US and spent a year as a Kent Fellow at the University of Iowa"s Writers" Workshop.(16) During his stay in Iowa City between 1966 and 1967, he finished his first novel, A Glance Away (1967). The novel, reflecting Wideman"s literary ambitions at that time, reveals a thorough influence of modernist rhetoric. Thus, A Glance Away was rather Joycean in design, and elicited from a critic the observation: "[the plot is] like a scenario exploding during its 24-hour time-span"(17). The two main characters, Eddie Lawson (a recovering African American drug addict) and Robert Thurley (a gay white English professor), and their struggle to understand themselves are exposed to the reader by means of interior monologue.(18)

In 1967, Wideman returned to what he has recently coined his "alma mammy"(19). He accepted a job as assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and thus became the first African American faculty member. Though he wanted to be an author, he thought it safe to have a regular job on the side. He thrived at Penn. Within a few years, he received the title of tenured professor. In 1970, he published his second novel, Hurry Home. The plot follows Cecil Otis Braithwaite, who was one of the first African American students to attend and graduate from a prestigious law school, but has become "estranged from the traditional African American ethnic culture and unsure of his relationships with other African Americans."(20) In an attempt to pacify the warring halves, black and white, within him, he travels to Europe and Africa, but he cannot merge the two poles.(21)

Both of Wideman"s first novels received a considerable amount of critical acclaim, though they were not immediate commercial successes. As the Norton Anthology of African American Literature observes: "Because of the formally complex nature of his work, critics located Wideman in the tradition of Joyce, Eliot, and Faulkner."(22) Janifer, moreover, claims that Wideman"s first novels were met with disapproval by "leaders of the Black Arts Movement like Baraka and Karenga (...) because they maintained it was a novel [A Glance Away] which was steeped in the Western Cultural Aesthetic."(23) Janifer goes so far as to accuse Wideman almost: "[he] didn't bother telling [his] students that his writing at this point in his career was designed to address a European-American intellectual audience; designed to show he knew and could apply the Western Cultural Aesthetic as well or better than anyone who was European-American."(24)

Whether or not Janifer"s implicit criticism is justified (since, as an author one should have a high degree of freedom in one"s artistic production), Wideman himself admitted in a 1968 interview to the Negro Digest that he was not familiar with "that school of black writers which seeks to establish the black aesthetic."(25) Yet, he did evolve in his writing, and he began to incorporate more African American elements. This was stimulated by some events, which could even be called epiphanies, in light of Wideman"s literary output afterwards. One early event in particular had a large impact on Wideman. At Penn, some students came to him in their quest to find someone to teach them a grade course of African American literature. "I gave them the jive reply that it wasn't my field (...) I was one of the few black faculty members at Penn; they came to me for all sorts of soulful reasons, and I gave them the stock academic reply, which was true. But I felt so ashamed that I got back in touch with them and agreed to teach the course, and began my second education. "(26)

Wideman doesn"t recall having read anything more than Ralph Ellison"s Invisible Man before that time. Delving into the rich reservoir of African American writings, he felt both surprised and embarrassed. He sensed that he had willingly turned his back on a valid source for his writing. His reading grew more intensive as he was invited to edit an anthology of African American literature for the publisher W. W. Norton. In addition, his focal point grew wider, so as to include African and Caribbean literature as well. All this led to Wideman becoming the first chairman of the newly initiated African American Studies Program at Penn in 1972.

The evolution in his own literary voice is already noticeable in his third novel, The Lynchers (1973), in which Wideman describes how four disillusioned Philadelphia blacks conspire to lynch a white policeman. They wish to actuate a symbolic vengeance for the thousands of lynchings of black people that have taken place all through American history. The plan ultimately fails. The novel signaled a turnabout in Wideman"s literary career. Whereas the questions in his first two novels were "not so much racial as existential"(27), he now showed an involvement with racial and historical questions, and he introduced black vernacular in his work.

Soon after he finished The Lynchers, he decided to leave Penn "to get away from that Ivy League competitiveness, the pressure to be somebody."(28) He accepted a position at the much smaller University of Wyoming, where he began teaching in 1973. Leaving behind Pennsylvania, his native soil, he settled in the quiet provincial town of Laramie. He was called back to Pittsburgh shortly afterwards though, as his grandmother had passed away. The events surrounding her funeral made him realize, once more, that he had been searching his literary voice and matter much too far.

As family and friends sat late into the night, fueled by drink, food, talk, by sadness and bitter loss, by the healing presence of others who shared our grief and our history, the stories of Homewood"s beginnings were told (...). It became clear to me on those nights in Pittsburgh in 1973 that I needn"t look any further than the place I was born and the people who"d loved me to find what was significant and lasting in literature. My university training had both thwarted and prepared this understanding, and the tension of multiple traditions, European and African American, the Academy and the Street, animates these texts.(29)

Then, on November 15th, 1975, his brother, Robert, was involved in an armed robbery in which a man was killed. Robby, as Wideman mostly refers to his brother, went on the run and remained a fugitive for three months. On February 11th, 1976, he visited his older brother in Laramie, Wyoming. Two days later, he was arrested in Colorado for driving a stolen car and sent back to Pennsylvania to face a murder trial. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Both his grandmother"s death and his brother"s crime seem to have temporarily paralyzed Wideman"s literary voice. He did not publish anything for eight years. Wideman felt that most of what he had achieved in his life had led him away from his family and background. In constructing a new personal image, he had not reckoned with the crude reality; a reality in which the line between being a college professor and a convicted criminal was far too vague. As Wideman observes:

Once, in Wyoming, I saw a gut-shot antelope. A bullet had dropped the animal abruptly to its knees. It waggled to its feet again, tipsy, dazed. Then it seemed to hear death, like a prairie fire crackling through the sagebrush at its heels. The antelope bolted, a flat-out, bounding sprint, trailing gust like streamers from its low-slung potbelly. I was running that hard, that fast, but without the antelope"s blessed ignorance. I knew I was coming apart.(30)

When, in 1981, Wideman resurrected as an author, he did so with bravura. Two books, Damballah and Hiding Place, were intentionally published as paperback originals. Though Mel Watkins of the New York Times implicitly complimented Wideman when he wrote "[t]hat they were published originally in paperback perhaps suggests that he is also one of our most underrated writers"(31) he was wrong. Wideman clearly wanted a larger readership. Although he still might have wanted to be "world class", he wanted the people about whom he wrote to be included in that readership.

Both Damballah, a book of interrelated short stories, and Hiding Place, a novel, are deeply rooted in Wideman"s family history and geographical background. Homewood, the setting in the two books, metaphorically expands to signify "home"—in all possible ways the locus of Wideman"s genesis. When he describes the history of his family, he describes Homewood"s history, and vice versa. In Damballah, he collected twelve of his family"s most striking stories, beginning with "Damballah", which describes the brutal slaughter of the heathen slave Orion, and working up to "The Beginning of Homewood", in which he connects the joyous occasion of his great-great-great-grandmother Sybela Owens" escape from slavery with the painful memory of his brother in chains, "the real thing, old-time leg irons and wrist shackles and twenty pounds of iron dragged through the marbled corridors of the county courthouse in Fort Collins."(32)

In Hiding Place, Wideman elaborates on the theme of Tommy, grandson of John French and fugitive wanted for a murder he did not commit. Tommy seeks refuge in the home of the alienated aunt of his grandmother, Mother Bess, in a set-back house atop Bruston Hill, a Homewood hill overlooking Pittsburgh. Mother Bess is unwilling to help Tommy. She has cut off ties with her family in an attempt to isolate herself from pain, after she lost her only son in the Second World War and her husband some ten years later. In an enquiry into themes such as the meaning of family, the harshness of reality and people"s reactions to it, Wideman aptly sketches the loneliness of the fugitive. The character of Tommy is undoubtedly inspired by his brother. Both these books carry as a preface a family tree which, on the one hand, evokes more than coincidentally John Wideman"s own family (he mentions the actual names of his grandfather John French, his parents, himself and his children). On the other hand, some names are fictionalized. There where one would expect to see Robert and Omar, the name of his brother and his brother"s son, the tree states Tommy and Clyde.

Damballah and Hiding Place were followed in 1983 by Sent For You Yesterday. Together, these three books form The Homewood Trilogy. In Sent For You Yesterday , again, Wideman takes a plunge into Homewood"s fictionalized history. In disparate temporal nodes, he stages the relationship between his uncle Carl and Brother, Carl"s African American albino friend. Between the 1920s and the 1970s, Carl and Brother and Lucy Tate roam the Homewood streets. Wideman himself appears in the novel as well. Sent For You Yesterday established Wideman"s fame among writers and critics. It won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner award, the only American award presented by authors, in 1984. Sent For You Yesterday was also voted one of the fifteen best books published in 1983 by the New York Times Book Review.

In 1984, Wideman published what was to become his most widely known and best selling book. Radicalizing the steps he took in writing his Homewood Trilogy, in Brothers and Keepers he openly deals with deeply personal material. This autobiographical memoir can be considered a confession attempting to come to terms with the radically different turns the lives of two brothers took. Wideman himself tries to expose why he wound up so far from his family and background. His brother Robby, in loosely transcribed interviews, talks about the crime for which he is incarcerated, his life as a fugitive and prison-life. Brothers and Keepers was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Non-Fiction award in 1985 and won the DuSable Museum Award for Non-Fiction that same year. Up till this day, it is frequently included in lists of obligatory class-readings, at colleges all over the United States and in such different curriculi as English Literature, Psychology and Law.

In 1986 another tragedy, even more devastating than Robert Wideman"s crime, hit the Wideman household. During a "grand tour" through America with some fellow campers, Wideman"s son Jacob stabbed his white roommate to death. In 1988, Jacob, then 18, pleaded guilty to the murder, and "was sentenced to life in prison in a plea-bargain agreement that prevented him from receiving the death penalty. The sentencing hearing was a particularly bitter affair, with the parents of the murdered child accusing Mr. Wideman of having created the "monster" that is his son."(33)

The openness with which Wideman wrote about the crime his brother committed and the hidden reality it confronted him with, has yet to be demonstrated when it comes to his son (though Wideman muses at some of the occurrences in his 1990 novel Philadelphia Fire). Still, his themes shifted again so as to include a vaster and more trenchant exploration into and description of violence as well. Wideman seemed to have put aside some of the distance he had reserved in talking about political and socio-economic situations. In his 1987 novel Reuben, a plot unravels around the central character Reuben, a Homewood local passing off as a lawyer. One of his clients, Wally, claims to need help in a bribery scandal in the basketball-department of his college, but is in fact pondering other questions. He has killed an innocent white man as a retaliation for the lynching of his parents. He feels no regrets and needs someone to talk about his experience.

In 1989 Wideman published his second book of short stories, Fever. The title story, "Fever", is a direct result of Wideman"s "second education"; his probings into African American literary history. It deals with the yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia in the summer of 1793. To this end it mainly draws on the narratives of Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and one of the driving forces organizing the free black community of Philadelphia into help. Other stories, like "Valaida", "in which a Jewish Holocaust survivor tries to reach out to his African American cleaning woman"(34) and "Little Brother", "about the inability of whites and blacks to live together without mutual hurt"(35) seem to fortify the theme touched upon by the title story, "Fever": although there is a difference in skin colour and although blacks and whites have a history filled with reciprocal torment, there have been instances of reaching out and helping as well, and these are the instances that should be concentrated on. Instead of highlighting those aspects separating blacks and whites, one should emphasize the characteristics uniting them.

Before publishing Fever, and after more than ten years of "self-imposed exile in Laramie, Wyoming"(36) Wideman had moved back east in 1987, when he started teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is still a professor there today. Since his being awarded with the PEN/Faulkner award, and especially since Brothers and Keepers was published, he has been a frequent guest at conferences all across the United States and has received various academic distinctions. In 1985, he made a trip through Europe as visiting Phi Beta Kappa lecturer for the National Education Association.

In 1990, Wideman published Philadelphia Fire, a novel that offers a kaleidoscopic enquiry into the catalysts opening the way to the dramatic 1985 bombing of the headquarters of the MOVE association by Philadelphia municipal police.(37) In the bombing, eleven people were killed and nearly an entire block of houses was destroyed. One of the main themes of the book, the father-son relationship, reaches a climax in the sparse fragments in which Wideman speaks to and about his own incarcerated son. Once more, Wideman received a PEN/Faulkner award for his book. He is, unto this day, the only author to have received this honour twice.

In 1992, he published his third book of short stories, The Stories of John Edgar Wideman: All Stories Are True. In it are included the earlier published collections Damballah and Fever together with some new stories. With its programmatic title All Stories Are True, Wideman muses on what he calls the inadequacy of distinguishing between fiction and non-fiction. The stories in this book, as most of his fiction, intermingle (his family"s) actual history with his imagination.

In the following year, 1993, Wideman was awarded with a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius award". The fellowship is annually granted to some 20 "talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits, and a marked capacity for self-direction. [...] The fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person"s originality, insight, and potential to effect positive change. [...] Currently, each fellowship comes with a stipend of $500,000 to the recipient, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years."(38)

Wideman"s first work after receiving this honour seems to be a response to it. In 1994, he published Fatheralong: A Meditation on Fathers and Sons, Race and Society. Envisioned as a set of essays on what it means to be black, the novel describes Wideman"s relationship to his father by focusing on their visits and their trip to South-Carolina, where the roots of his father"s family lie. Wideman had already written a good deal of straightforward non-fiction. Since his plunge into African American literary history, and especially since the 1980s, he has written on a variety of subjects in magazines and newspapers such as The New Yorker, Vogue, Esquire, Emerge and the New York Times Book Review. Among other things, he published book reviews of African American authors, articles about music, contemplations on illustrious figures like Malcolm X, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan and Emmett Till, and essays on aspects of being black, notably about "the oral tradition of the Black vernacular"(39).

1996 saw the publication of The Cattle Killing. In what is overall considered to be his hardest novel, Wideman recycles the historical events on which he had already based his story "Fever": the yellow-fever plague which struck Philadelphia in 1793. He zooms in more directly on contemporary historical figures, like Richard Allen and Benjamin Rush. Wideman describes the historical day on which Richard Allen led a group of African Americans out of church after one of them had been forced to take a seat at the back of the building. Out of this occurrence the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church would later emerge. Benjamin Rush was a physician who seized the chaos surrounding the plague as an opportunity for performing illegal anatomical research, and he proposed some drastic treatments for the disease. In this novel, Wideman succeeds in evoking the despair and frenzy prevailing in those days, and he implicitly presents the yellow-fever plague as a warning and a lesson for our time. Focusing on America"s history, as he does here, also serves a political goal for Wideman: "It seemed an archetypal configuration of the problems, the issues and many of the ironies that have dogged black-white relationships ever since. And it happened so early. It struck me that, boy, we need to understand what happened then, if we're going to begin to try to understand what's happening now."(40)

1998 saw the publication of Wideman"s most recent novel, Two Cities. Set in Homewood, the story follows three people whose lives become closely knit. Kassima and Robert Jones fall in love with each other, but their relationship abruptly ends when Robert is threatened by a ghetto kid with a gun. Kassima, who has lost her imprisoned husband to AIDS and both of her sons to gang violence, cannot stand the thought of losing another man. When Kassima"s tenant, Martin Mallory, a World War II veteran, dies, she contacts Robert again to help her arranging a funeral. It is striking how Wideman, in this novel that has been called a "postmodern love story"(41), manages to weave a thread of hope and love through a work that is filled with despair and signs of urban decay, especially at the end of novel. There, Wideman sketches, in an apocalyptical scene, the bankruptcy of neighbourhood life when young gangsters desecrate Mallory"s coffin and throw him out in the street.

Wideman is currently at work on a novel about the last active season of a professional basketball player who is about to retire. His daughter Jamila is a famous professional basketball player in the recently inaugurated WNBA (the female counterpart of the National Basketball Association). His son Danny is a published author. His other son, Jacob, remains in prison. Furthermore, Wideman recently won the O. Henry Award(42) for his short story "Weight" (2000). This story can be considered a eulogy for the mother of the narrator. The narrator praises the strength of his mother who has passed away recently. Whether or not the narrator coincides with Wideman is hard to say. Yet, as in many of his writings, a lot of biographical elements shimmer through. There is mention of "a brother in prison for life", "my nephews doping and gangbanging" [Omar, son of Wideman"s imprisoned brother died in 1992 due to gang-related violence] and "me and the rest of my limp-along, near to normal siblings". The thematic material, people manifesting strength in spite of towering problems, is, in any way, not new to Wideman.

In spite of a son in prison for life, twin girls born dead, a mind blown son who roams the streets with everything he owns in a shopping cart, a strung out daughter with a crack baby, a good daughter who"d miscarried the only child her dry womb ever produced, in spite of me and the rest of my limp-along, near to normal siblings and their children----in spite of breast cancer, sugar diabetes, hypertension, failing kidneys, emphysema, gout, all resident in her body and epidemic in the community, knocking off one by one her girlhood friends, in spite of corrosive poverty and a neighborhood whose streets are no longer safe even for gray, crippled up folks like her, my mom loves her god, thanks him for the blessings he bestows, keeps her faith he would not pile on more troubles than she could bear. Praises his name and prays for strength, prays for more weight so it won"t fall no those around her less able to bear up.(43)

(1) Janifer, Raymond E. Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood: The Long Journey Home of an African American Rhodes Scholar". (1997). November 29th, 2000. n.p.

(2) see: Galloway, Ed and Miriam Meislik. "An Overview of Pittsburgh History: From the "Forks of the Ohio" to the "Steel City" and Beyond". (1999) December 16th, 2000.

(3) Members of the NHS are elected among high school students who excel in the four fields of scholarship (with a required grade point average of 85 percent or higher), service, leadership and character. Wideman"s being elected into the NHS highlights his outstanding academic achievements. (see: "The National Honor Society (NHS)". December 22, 2000. March 5, 2001.)

(4) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(5) quoted in: Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(6) quoted in: ibidem. n.p.

(7) "John Edgar Wideman". Biography. In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 1997. 2326.

(8) Phi Beta Kappa is the US" oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization, founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. As with the National Honor Society, its members can only be put up for election by their school authorities. Candidates usually belong to the upper tenth of the graduating class, they must have completed at least three-quarters of their work in their field of liberal arts or science and they must have mustered knowledge both of mathematics and at least one foreign language. (see: "The Phi Beta Kappa Society: Society and Governance". 1999. March 5, 2001. n.p.)

(9) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(10) quoted in: Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(11) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(12) Aspiring Rhodes scholars are judged on four criteria, as outlined in Cecil J. Rhodes" will. They are required to have an impeccable record of literary and scholastic attainments. Furthermore, they must have the "energy to use one"s talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports". In addition, they must have manifested their preference for "truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship" and possess leadership skills. The Scholarship provides full financial means to study two years, with an optional third year, at one of Oxford"s colleges.

Read like this, the requirements seem to have been written specifically for the academic, athletic and social wonder-boy Wideman. (see: "Oxford and the Rhodes Scholarships". June, 2000. January 11, 2001.)

(13) quoted in: Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(14) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(15) quoted in: Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(16) The University of Iowa Writers" Workshop, inaugurated in 1936 and the first creative writing degree program in a U.S. university, "was made possible by the UI's decision early in the 20th century to grant academic thesis credit for creative work in the arts." (see: "The Iowa Writers" Workshop: Introduction". March 24, 2001.)

(17) Roskolenko, Harry. "Junkie"s Homecoming." New York Times, September 10, 1967. (1998). October 27, 2000. n.p.

(18) see: "John Edgar Wideman". In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2326.

(19) Wideman, John Edgar. Interview. By Al Filreis and Lorene Cary. 2000. Webcast-audio: January 14, 2001.

(20) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(21) see: "John Edgar Wideman". In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2326.

(22) "John Edgar Wideman". In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2326.

(23) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(24) ibidem. n.p.

(25) quoted in: "John Edgar Wideman". In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2356.

(26) quoted in: Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(27) "John Edgar Wideman". In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2327.

(28) quoted in: "John Edgar Wideman". In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2327.

(29) Wideman, John Edgar. Preface. In: The Homewood Books. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992. x.

(30) Wideman, John Edgar. Brothers and Keepers. (1984) London: Picador, 1997. 33.

(31) Watkins, Mel. "Black Fortunes". New York Times. April 11, 1982, October 27, 2000. n.p.

(32) Wideman, John Edgar. "The Beginning of Homewood". In: Damballah. (1981). In: The Homewood Books. 161.

(33) Bray, Rosemary L. "The Whole City Seen The Flames". New York Times, September 30, 1990. October 27, 2000.

(34) "John Edgar Wideman". In: The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2328.

(35) ibidem. 2328.

(36) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(37) The MOVE association is an association that radically disapproves of society. They maintain a naturalist and vegetarian lifestyle, and have had frequent violent encounters with police authorities. In the fourth chapter of this dissertation, I will return to this organization in closer detail.

(38) "Macarthur Fellows Program: Overview." (2001) April 26, 2001. n.p.

(39) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "From Oxford to Homewood." n.p.

(40) Wideman, John Edgar. Interview. By Laura Miller. Salon Online Literary Arts Magazine: November, 1996. November 14, 2000.

(41) Janifer, Raymond E., Sr. "Two Cities: A Postmodern Love Story" (1999). November 29th, 2000. n.p.

(42) The O. Henry Award was instituted in 1918 as a tribute to the writer O. Henry, who died in 1910. The Society of Arts and Sciences, which instituted the award, decided to honor the memory of Henry by rewarding a prize to the two best short stories published by American writers in American magazines over the course of a year. (see: Dark, Larry. "About the O. Henry Awards". 2000. March 26, 2001.)

(43) Wideman, John Edgar. "Weight". (2000) March 19, 2001.