Brothers and Keepers

by John Edgar Wideman

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341

Brothers and Keepers is John Edgar Wideman's account of the lives of himself and his brother, Robert, two black men leading parallel lives with very different outcomes. John became an acclaimed author while his brother is in prison for life without the possibility of parole.

John Edgar Wideman

John was born in Washington DC. His father moved the family to Pittsburgh and worked several jobs, allowing him to attend a largely white, affluent school. He was a star basketball player and valedictorian, was offered a scholarship, attended university as captain of the basketball team, and was inducted into an honor society. He became a Rhodes Scholar and made the cover of Look Magazine. He also studied at Oxford, apprenticed under Kurt Vonnegut, married a white woman, and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he established a program in African American Studies and has published twenty-three novels, short story collections, and memoirs—all highly acclaimed. In his career, he has received dozens of prestigious awards, including seven honorary doctorates. Yet his life was not without tragedy. His daughter was born very premature, and his son was charged with stabbing someone at only sixteen years old, resulting in a life sentence with possible parole after 25 years.

Robert Wideman

John's brother Robert is ten years younger than him. He grew up mostly in the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The area was declining, both socially and economically. Robert used drugs and committed petty thefts. He and two other men tried to rob a man. One of the others shot the man, who died in a hospital after his wounds were left untreated for too long. The shooter was charged with murder. As an accomplice to the robbery, Robert faced the same charge. He was sentenced to life without parole, all appeals denied.

Edgar Wideman

Edgar Wideman is John and Robert's father. He worked at the US Government's Printing Office in Washington DC, was a soldier in the army during World War II , and then worked as a waiter and sanitation worker simultaneously to support his family.

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