June 02, 2009

John Edgar Wideman
John Edgar Wideman

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By Kathryn Kopchik

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Award-winning novelist, short story writer, and essayist John Edgar Wideman has been named the 2009 Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters at Bucknell University. || More on John Edgar Wideman || Video preview

Wideman will receive the award and give a talk at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by a question and answer session and a book signing.

"John Edgar Wideman brings to this outstanding lecture series great stature as a person of letters and multi-faceted gifts as an author," said Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell. "We look forward to welcoming to Bucknell a writer of his achievement, and to his sharing his potent and compelling voice with our campus and community."

Award-winning author
A professor of Africana Studies and English at Brown University, Wideman has taught at the University of Wyoming; the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded and chaired the African American Studies Department; and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's MFA Program for Poets and Writers.

Wideman is the first author to receive the international PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction twice – once in 1984 for his novel Sent for You Yesterday and again in 1990 for Philadelphia Fire. His other honors have included the National Magazine Editors' Prize for Short Fiction, the American Book Award for Fiction, the Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction, the MacArthur Award, and the O. Henry Award. His 1996 memoir, Fatheralong: A Meditation on Fathers, Sons, Race and Society, was a finalist for the National Book Award.

The Dictionary of Literary Biography notes that Wideman “has won consistent praise for his polished style and his serious consideration of contemporary issues, including the deterioration of African-American urban life, the meaning of modern black manhood, and the role of violence and criminality in American life. His success as a writer has not led to predictability in his style, methods, or concerns. His career has been a persistent search for new modes of expression and deeper exploration of themes; he has challenged both conventional perceptions of black life and the methods of telling about it.”

Pennsylvania beginnings
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1941, Wideman moved with his family to Homewood, an African-American community in Pittsburgh, which serves as the locale of much of his fiction.

He was awarded a Benjamin Franklin scholarship by the University of Pennsylvania, where he not only won a creative writing prize but also earned membership in Phi Beta Kappa. In 1963, he graduated with a B.A. in English, and won a Rhodes scholarship to study philosophy at Oxford University's New College.

Wideman returned to the United States in 1966 and spent a year as a Kent Fellow at the University of lowa's Writers' Workshop, where he completed his first novel, A Glance Away, published in 1967.

His other novels include Two Cities, Hurry Home, The Lynchers, Hiding Place, and The Cattle Killing. He is the author of another memoir, Brothers and Keepers, and several short story collections, including Damballah, Fever, The Stories of John Edgar Wideman, and All Stories Are True.

His articles on Malcolm X, Spike Lee, Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Emmett Till, Thelonius Monk, and women's professional basketball have appeared in The New Yorker, Vogue, Esquire, Emerge, and the New York Times Magazine.

Highest level of achievement
ucknell established the annual Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters in 2002 to honor and recognize an individual who represents the highest level of achievement in the craft of writing within the realms of fiction, non-fiction, or biography. Previous recipients have been Toni Morrison, John Updike, Salman Rushdie, Tom Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates, Derek Walcott and David McCullough.

The Weis Fellowship was established through a grant from the Degenstein Foundation in honor of Janet Weis, author, civic leader, and philanthropist. Mrs. Weis is trustee emerita of the University. Mrs. Weis' late husband, Sigfried Weis, was chair of the Bucknell Board of Trustees from 1982-88.

Contact: Division of Communications