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"In search of our missing fathers"
John E. Wideman explores the personal and sociological meaning of pickup basketball among black boys in urban America in his memoir Hoop Roots.

Talking Volumes
Hoop Roots is the Talking Volumes selection for November 2001.

AS HEARD ON
Midmorning,
November 13, 2000
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Talking Volumes,
Novenber 29, 2001
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An excerpt from Hoop Roots

 

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Hoop Roots
Talking Volumes
Hoop Roots
by John Edgar Wideman
Houghton Mifflin Co, 2001

(From the publisher) Hoop Roots is John Edgar Widemanís memoir of discovering the game that has been his singular passion for nearly 50 years. It is equally, inevitably, the story of the roots of black basketball in America—a story inextricable from race, culture, love, and home.

As a boy, Wideman lived in his grandparents' worn but welcoming home in the ghettoized Homewood section of Pittsburgh. It was a world presided over by women, forever coddling, scolding, protective. One day John slipped away from their watchful gaze and escaped to a place where white factory workers shot hoops on their breaks. Then someone handed him a ball. That thrilling first shot was a turning point. Later he sneaked from his dying grandmotherís bedside to the courts where other black boys gathered. Here he really learned the game—the African-American game, whose style and power would change him and our culture.

With Du Boisís The Souls of Black Folk as his model, Wideman combines memoir with history, folklore, and commentary to create a magical evocation of his unique slice of American experience. He imagines the Harlem Globetrotters in 1927, on their way to the Illinois town where the only black resident will be lynched. A playground game in Greenwich Village conjures Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the sources of black minstrelsy. African-American language, culture, music, and sport brilliantly interweave in a lyrical narrative that glides from nostalgic to outraged, from scholarly to streetwise, from defiant to celebratory. Like his previous memoirs, Wideman's Hoop Roots is both deeply personal and fiercely resonant.

About the author
John Edgar Wideman
© Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001
John Edgar Wideman today
(From the publisher) John Edgar Wideman's twin pasisons are basketball and the written language. After attending Peabody High School, one of Pittsburgh's best schools, he was awarded a Benjamin Franklin scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. There he was awarded a creative writing prize and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He also excelled on the court, becoming an All-Ivy League forward on the basketball team.

John Edgar Wideman as a high school basketball player
© Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001
John Edgar Wideman as a high school basketball player

After graduating in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in English, Wideman studied philosophy at Oxford University's New College under a Rhodes scholarship. During his time at Oxford, he played basketball with another Rhodes scholar, Bill Bradley, who went on to play professionally with the New Kork Knicks and become a member of the U.S. Senate.

Wideman began his teaching career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded and chaired the African American Studies Department. He went on to teach as a full professor of creative writing at the Universtiy of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is also the fall 2001 Sidney Harmon Writer in Residence at Baruch College in New York City.

Wideman is the first writer to win the PEN/Faulkner Award twice, in 1984 for Sent for You Yesterday and in 1990 for Philadelphia Fire. His nonfiction book Brothers and Keepers received a National Book Critics Circle nomination, and his memoir Fatheralong was a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent novel is Two Cities. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


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