Growing up in Homewood (the African American section of Pittsburgh) and attending public school, Wideman was every parent’s dream. Delivering newspapers after school, he learned to manage finances. He was careful to avoid getting in trouble. He cared about school, did his homework, and he was smart, but his first love was basketball. These were all winning characteristics, and Wideman was successful on and off the court.
In his senior year of high school, Wideman was the captain of the basketball team and the class valedictorian. He earned a four-year scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania. The poor young man from Homewood entered a new environment of books, exams, and wealthy classmates. The university gave Wideman choices that would change his life dramatically. In 1963, Wideman received a Rhodes Scholarship, the second black American to do so. Wideman also became a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Wideman went on to teach at various universities.
In many ways, Wideman has left Homewood physically, emotionally, and spiritually behind. In his writing, however, Wideman never strays far from Homewood. The Homewood Trilogy (comprising Damballah, Hiding Place, and Sent for You Yesterday), perhaps his most widely read fiction, may be read as Wideman’s return to Homewood and his determination to find his identity. The trilogy is the story, from the times of slavery onward, of Wideman’s family. The trilogy is also about how creativity and imagination are important means of transcending despair.
Brothers and Keepers is a nonfiction work about Wideman’s brother, who was incarcerated for murder, and how the two brother’s lives diverged from common beginnings. The work has deep implications for the lives and living conditions of African Americans.