The Homewood Trilogy Additional Summary

John Edgar Wideman

The Novels

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The three volumes of what is known as the Homewood trilogy were originally published as separate Avon paperbacks. The novel Hiding Place and the short-story collection Damballah were published in 1981, and the novel Sent for You Yesterday in 1983. Following the critical success of the three works—Sent for You Yesterday won the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction—Avon Books reissued them in a paperback titled The Homewood Trilogy (1985). The University of Pittsburgh Press published a hardback edition of the three works in 1992 as The Homewood Books.

In his preface to the 1992 edition, John Edgar Wideman explains the trilogy’s evolution—the three different works were written simultaneously, he says—and its significance:The three books offer a continuous investigation, from many angles, not so much of a physical location, Homewood, the actual African-American community in Pittsburgh where I was raised, but of a culture, a way of seeing and being seen. Homewood is an idea, a reflection of how its inhabitants act and think. The books, if successful, should mirror the characters’ inner lives, their sense of themselves as spiritual beings in a world where boundaries are not defined by racial stereotypes or socioeconomic statistics.

Wideman’s goal in the three volumes, he declares in this preface, “is to celebrate and affirm.”

Damballah, the volume that opens the trilogy, is a collection of twelve stories that have a unity of place. The setting in nearly all the stories is Homewood, a predominantly black section of Pittsburgh. Wideman begins Damballah with three separate prefaces: an epigraph “to robby,” his brother, that begins “Stories are letters”; a passage called “damballah: good serpent of the sky,” from a book on Haitian voodoo; and “a begat chart” that lays out the family tree underpinning so many of these stories. The family tree begins with a slave, Sybela Owens, who fled north in the nineteenth century, and ends with John, the persona of the author, born in 1941. The three elements of many of Wideman’s stories are in these prefaces: distinctly biographical foundations, roots in African American folklore and myth, and communicative functions as personal “letters” to family, friends, and readers.

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(The entire section is 965 words.)

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Damballah. A young slave sees his fellow slave Orion, who refuses to disavow his god, Damballah, or to obey his white master, dragged into the barn to be killed. Later, the boy listens as the ghost of Orion retells his stories, then throws Orion’s head into the river.

Many years later, John French and his wife, Freeda Hollinger French, are living in Homewood. When Lemuel Strayhorn’s dog finds a dead black baby in the garbage, Lemuel gets John to help him bury the body. On one occasion, Freeda puts her hand through the glass of a window to keep her husband out of trouble. On another, after his little daughter Lizabeth eats a caterpillar, John eats one too, so that they will die together if the bugs are...

(The entire section is 962 words.)