Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How do familial and cross-generational relationships provide a counterforce to the impacts of racism on the minds and souls of John Edgar Wideman’s protagonists? How redemptive do they prove to be, and why?

Wideman evokes Northern inner-city landscapes and the existential struggles faced by their inhabitants. What driving forces shape the characters’ lives and choices? What personal struggles do they undergo? How does Wideman fuse the personal and sociological as factors in the conditions of their lives?

In what ways does Wideman illuminate the relationships between and among African American men—as fathers and sons, siblings, team members, musicians, and homeboys? What defines these varied bonds, and what threatens or even dissolves them? What stance does he seem to take on the argument concerning the crisis of fatherlessness in the African American community? How does orphanhood emerge as a recurrent trope in his writing, and why is this such a loaded concept within African American history?

For Wideman, the ties between mother and son keep young African American males functioning in a hostile world. Where does that pattern emerge among his characters? Where does it break down?

The sexual and emotional dynamics between men and women engage Wideman’s imaginative scrutiny. What obstacles stand between them? What role does race play in their capacity for partnership?

Montage represents one of Wideman’s signature literary techniques. How does it work to bring different historical frameworks or narrative threads together in specific works? He uses it in both his fiction and nonfiction?

In Brothers and Keepers, prison serves as an arena of personal existential struggle for Rob Wideman. How much does John attempt to stay true to that struggle and avoid easy platitudes about his brother’s situation? In Philadelphia Fire and Fatheralong, how have his meditations on prison deepened, given his son Jake’s incarceration?

How does Philadelphia emerge as a quintessential landscape for Wideman of the American Dream and its betrayal, both in terms of the ideals of the republic born there and in relation to the African American experience particularly?

Wideman invites consideration of the parallels between the racist persecutions of Jews and Africans across the globe and over the course of history. What does that analogy suggest about the nature of racism itself and its various manifestations?