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All Stories Are True

All Stories Are True: History, Myth, and Trauma in the Work of John Edgar Wideman

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    All Stories Are True
    Book Description:

    In All Stories Are True, Tracie Church Guzzio provides the first full-length study of John Edgar Wideman's entire oeuvre to date. Specifically, Guzzio examines the ways in which Wideman (b. 1941) engages with three crucial themes-history, myth, and trauma-throughout his career, showing how they intertwine. Guzzio argues that, for four decades, the influential African American writer has endeavored to create a version of the African American experience that runs counter to mainstream interpretations, using history and myth to confront and then heal the trauma caused by slavery and racism.

    Wideman's work intentionally blurs boundaries between fiction and autobiography, myth and history, particularly as that history relates to African American experience in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fusion of fiction, national history, and Wideman's personal life is characteristic of his style, which-due to its complexity and smudging of genre distinctions-has presented analytic difficulties for literary scholars. Despite winning the PEN/Faulkner award twice, for Sent for You Yesterday (1984) and Philadelphia Fire (1990), Wideman remains under-studied.

    Of particular value is Guzzio's analysis of the many ways in which Wideman alludes to his previous works. This intertextuality allows Wideman to engage his books in direct, intentional dialogue with each other through repeated characters, images, folktales, and songs. In Wideman's challenging of a monolithic view of history and presenting alternative perspectives to it, and his allowing past, present, and future time to remain fluid in the narratives, Guzzio finds an author firm in his notion that all stories and all perspectives have merit.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-005-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    I remember the first moment that I was introduced to the work of John Edgar Wideman. At the time, I worked as a bookstore clerk. While shelving books—a task I usually enjoyed because it afforded me the chance to read in the back of the store—I grabbed a book that did not belong in the same corner of the store as the rest of the stack in my hands. I looked at its cover—the photograph of a shadowy figure in a jail cell. Reading the blurbs on the back, I was struck by the paradox stated in...

    (pp. 15-47)

    Much of what informs the reading of Wideman’s work in this study has its roots in the discussions of history and historiography in the postmodern era. Since Wideman responds in his writing to the traumatic history of African Americans, an understanding of the relationship between history, postmodern thought and practice, and literary trauma theory would be a fruitful place to begin the examination of the course of Wideman’s philosophy and work. However, it serves little purpose to simply impose a theory of any kind on Wideman’s work; there is clearly evidence in the novels, nonfiction, and Wideman’s own literary criticism...

    (pp. 48-96)

    As we have already seen, much of the early criticism on Wideman operated on the premise that Wideman was alienated from the stories of his culture; his years as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and his long periods of physical isolation from his family while living abroad and then in the Wyoming reinforce this notion. Critics and reviewers “read” Wideman, and thus his work, through the tropological lens of the “alienated African American intellectual.” In Wideman’s vision this is not the only “true” story for himself or others. He critically revoices this narrative and layers it among others, such...

    (pp. 97-143)

    More has been written about Wideman’s “family stories” and genealogical history than on any other characteristic of his work. The novels of the Homewood trilogy (Damballah, Hiding Place, andSent for You Yesterday),Reuben, Brothers and Keepers, andHoop Rootsall center on Homewood. Other works depict the lives of Wideman’s family, includingFatheralong, and there are family stories in the short-story collections and inPhiladelphia Fireas well. Family names are used inHurry HomeandA Glance Away; and even in the novelFanon, Wideman interweaves portraits of his mother with the fictional Thomas and the story of...

    (pp. 144-189)

    Perhaps no area illustrates Wideman’s aesthetic more effectively than his dialogue with recorded or popular history. Through the imagination, he can fill the gaps and silences of African American life in the historical consciousness—celebrating the unknown men and women who survived and kept a tradition alive in the wake of slavery, racism, and oppression. Reaching back into the past allows Wideman to confront the site of trauma and the “original sin” of America—slavery. Wideman seeks to question, deconstruct, and displace those histories of the hegemonic culture by revising them or imbricating them within his own fictions, autobiographies, and...

    (pp. 190-240)

    The circular narratives in Wideman’s canon have been ever-widening. In the last few years his novels have steadily encompassed worlds beyond his immediate family and their history, moving to his old neighborhood basketball court, to American history, to Africa, to Martinique. The cultural collapse and traumatic events that beleaguer the characters of the early novels spread further to considerations of global chaos, genocide, and terror. One could argue that Wideman’s later novels merely reflect the times, but the relationship between the world outside the doorstep and the world inside your own home has always been a factor in Wideman’s novels...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 241-248)

    In concluding a study about the work of John Edgar Wideman, it makes perfect sense to end where you began. How better to capture the recursive nature of the writer’s work? Charles Johnson’s characterization of Wideman as an archaeologist who uncovers the past for “the sake of ” of future generations in many ways helped frame this study. Wideman’s oft-repeated evocation, “all stories are true,” also inspired the course of this exploration. But another inducement has been to provide some answers to a question I am almost always asked by students, colleagues, and even other scholars after they have read...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 249-294)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-310)
  13. Index
    (pp. 311-320)