Damballahby John Edgar Wideman
This collection of interrelated stories spans the history of Homewood, a Pittsburgh community founded by a runaway slave. With stunning lyricism, Wideman sings of "dead children in garbage cans, of gospel and basketball, of lost gods and dead fathers" (John Leonard). It is a celebration of people who, in the face of crisis, uphold one another--with grace, courage, and dignity.
The first story, "Orion," is about an African brought to an American plantation who wants to teach "the old ways" to a young slave. Knowing that only in death can he do so, he sets out to get it. "One scream that night. Like a bull when they cut off his maleness. . . . A bull screaming once that night and torches burning in the barn and Master and the men coming out and no Ryan. . . Mistress crying behind a locked door and Master messing with Patty down the quarters.
"Hazel" is the story of a young girl accidentally crippled by her brother and who is now trapped by her mother's good intentions. "When I look at you sitting in that chair... I can't tell you what a trial it is. Then I think. . . there's a whole lot she'll never have to suffer.. .. The lies of men, their nasty hands... having their way, having their babies."
Wideman's writing is powerfully visceral, not tempered with sentiment or poetic prose, which is one reason it is not more widely read than it is. His intelligent and inventive use of language and his concern with the psychological issues that affect African Americans, however, make his work essential. Damballah is pure Wideman, and if you have not yet read him, it is a good place to start.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author
John Edgar Wideman won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1984 for Sent for You Yesterday and in 1990 for Philadelphia Fire. His second memoir, Fatheralong, was a finalist for the National Book Award. His most recent books are Hoop Roots and The Island: Martinique. He teaches at Brown University.
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