In a new short story collection, John Edgar Wideman—the acclaimed author of Writing to Save a Life—explores subjects from the historical to the imagined, with a cast of fictional and real-life characters as diverse as Frederick Douglass, Jean Michael Basquiat, and his own family.
John Edgar Wideman, lauded throughout his career, is a master at many forms. His latest offering, a collection of complex, charged stories, is a stunning marriage of the personal and historical.
“JB & FD” re-imagines conversations between John Brown, the White antislavery crusader who famously raided Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and Frederick Douglass, the Black abolitionist and orator. “Maps and Ledgers” examines a painful incident in the narrator’s childhood and his relationship with his father. “Williamsburg Bridge” follows a man contemplating suicide. “My Dead” considers the narrator’s departed brother and uncle. These stories are spellbinding narrative reflections on abolitionists and artists, fathers and sons, the bonds of family and the pull of memory.
Wideman’s fiction challenges the boundaries of the form. His stories operate on many levels, weaving together historical fact, imagined conversation, philosophical kernels, and deeply personal vignettes. As a whole, American Histories amounts to more than the sum of its parts, an extended meditation on family, history, and loss. This is Wideman at his best, most emotionally precise, and most intellectually stimulating.