Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Robert Bone, author of the seminal study The Negro Novel in America (1958), has called Wideman “perhaps the most gifted black novelist of his generation.” Wideman began his writing career showing little interest in the African American tradition. He seemed more interested in and aware of the tradition that began with the eighteenth century English novel, which was the subject of his doctoral dissertation. Wideman has cited Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Laurence Sterne as major influences on his work. His dense style, stream-of-consciousness technique, and formal experimentation, all of which derive from that tradition as transformed by writers such as James Joyce, set him apart still further from his African American heritage and more particularly the influential Black Arts movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The black literary movement has come to exert a powerful, if belated, influence on Wideman’s writing, particularly after his agreement, after some initial reluctance, to establish a black studies program at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1970’s, shortly after his years in England as a Rhodes scholar. Beginning with The Lynchers (1973) and, after an eight-year “silence,” continuing with his highly acclaimed The Homewood Trilogy (1985: includes Damballah, 1981; Hiding Place, 1981; and Sent for You Yesterday, 1983), Wideman’s work began to show the results of his immersion in a...

(The entire section is 476 words.)