Friday, October 16, 2020

Pittsburgh Current Takes the Wideman Challenge with a Triple Feature

Pittsburgh's newest alternative weekly, Pittsburgh Current, has taken up the Wideman Challenge with three pieces on John Edgar Wideman in one issue:

First, Pittsburgh Current staff writer and editor Jody DiPerna writes a bit about Wideman's legacy in books and in Pittsburgh, and interviews Homewood librarian Denise Graham: 

[Graham on Writing to Save a Life]: “'The depth of the research he did to find out about this man that nobody knows about....Everybody knows about [Emmett Till's] mom taking that stand to make sure the casket was open. But nobody knows about the sad and almost tragic life his dad had. I like the depth of his research. He turned this forgotten person into a person.'"

PEN Prison Writing Award winner Eric Boyd reviews Brothers and Keepers, including the new afterword by Robert Wideman:

"....throughout Brothers and Keepers, Wideman examines the power of language and the ways it is lacking: the origins of the word jail, the impossibility of making prisoners invisible from society, and the unstoppable force of time itself...."




And Allegheny County Jail writing teacher Michael Bennett shares an essay on his students' reaction to reading The Homewood Books and getting a visit from Wideman himself:

"In fiction, Tommy is never caught or sent to prison. He finds safe haven behind the house of the old woman at the top of Brushton Hill who offers him food in exchange for yard work and his company. The students could easily identify — they all knew what it was like to run from police, scared for their lives."


Keep the conversation going! Take the Wideman Challenge as a reader, reviewer, editor, bookseller, librarian, or book club.  Read John Edgar Wideman, and stay tuned for more reviews.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Week Two of The Wideman Challenge: Pub Day, Robby Wideman, and Pittsburgh Book Review on God's Gym

Yesterday was publication day for TWO books by John Edgar Wideman that are being reissued by Scribner.  Brothers and Keepers, a memoir (1984), and Philadelphia Fire, a novel (1990). A Wideman Challenge review of Brothers and Keepers (the first one I assigned!) is set to come out next week, and there may be a review for Philadelphia Fire coming in the next month. With the Wideman Challenge, I am aiming to find at least one book reviewer for each book written by writer and Pittsburgh native John Edgar Wideman.


The new edition of Brothers and Keepers features an afterword by Robert Wideman. Robert ("Robby" in the book) is John's brother and his incarceration is the subject of the memoir. Robert was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his involvement in a botched robbery that resulted in a man's death. But after at least one major development in the case and 44 years in prison, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf commuted Robert's sentence in 2019.  Robert Wideman gave a virtual talk last Friday at the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival about his experience: “Life Sentences: The Amazing Journey of Walking Out of an American Prison.” Watch the talk here on Youtube.

God's Gym: Stories: Wideman, John Edgar: 0046442711999: Books 

Today at the Pittsburgh Book Review, poet and editor Kristofer Collins reviews God's Gym, John Edgar Wideman's book of short stories from 2005. He writes, "All families struggle with the stories that they don't want told. The secrets and fears, the shames and sadnesses that once said, once given flight by simple words, can soar back at us with cold talons, unsheathed and razor sharp, cutting the flesh and rending the heart. These are the hidden stories never to be uttered aloud. A writer in the family just plays havoc with such things." Please enjoy Kris' essay and then pick up a Wideman book to Read, Reflect, and Review!