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'You Made Me Love You’: John Edgar Wideman’s Masterful Storytelling Of The Last 40 Years Still Relevant Today

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Emmai Alaquiva

John Edgar Wideman was only the second African American person to win a Rhodes Scholarship. He since been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards and his prolific writing life has not waned at all. On the contrary, he’s published some 20 books, including his latest, "You Made Me Love You," a collection of 57 stories selected from previously published collections. The book celebrates Wideman’s significant contributions to literature, especially the short story form.

Highlights from the interview with John Edgar Wideman

On returning to reading his stories from the last 40 years

What's been most striking to me and most, I guess, invigorating to me is when someone picks out a story, usually that they like or sometimes maybe they don't like so much, and speaks to me about it. And that forces me to go back in a very detailed way. Maybe even read the story again, or maybe I've heard the title of the story from them. And then I go read it. And then I talked to the person, but it's the life that each piece ideally has in it. That's most interesting to me, most compelling to me and a reason to read again and think again.

On writing about historical figures in his fiction

I read a lot, and I've always been a kind of reader who believes what he reads, and kind of lives what he reads. When I was very, very young, it was, you know, like, "Hey, I can fly." If I'm reading a Superman comic book, I'm flying, man. I can get out of this small house...So I'm reading a book and I'll have a free pass somewhere else, a different world. The Golden Book of Myths took me to Greek islands, to gods, so I've always been the kind of reader for whom imaginative worlds that other folks inhabit and write about are real. To me, those worlds are quite real, quite equal. And so I've been blessed with the ability I think, and the imagination to pass that back and forth. But I've never changed. On a real bad day, I might want to drink, but I also am grateful if I have a good book, I'm reading a good story. I'm reading, and it hasn't changed in a lifetime.

On what he would like new readers of his stories to learn from reading his book

Ideally, they could write a book or write a story. And even if they don't write one while they're reading one, they're making up one, and that's a power. It's a power. You know, reading for me is something that exists midway between writer and reader and to have young folk who pick up my new book and find out that? There's a meeting ground in there. They can become acquainted or encounter someone they don't know, never maybe heard of before. That's great. That's what art is about. You know, we can travel, space travel, time travel, all that great stuff, that supposedly only happens in cartoons maybe. So I thought, well, we can do that. You can do it sitting on your behind, in your room, even on the beach or on a park bench. So in that sense, if it happens, if a younger person experiences that reading You Made Me Love You, maybe they become a fan, not simply of Wideman, but of the act of reading. That's what I would like to have my work sell, the experience, the act of reading, the art that goes into it, the art that, if you're a careful reader, you can extrapolate from it and perhaps imitate and admire, and finally, maybe even try to emulate that's all. That's good. All that's good stuff.

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Yvette Benavides can be reached at bookpublic@tpr.org.