"Hoop Roots is John Edgar Wideman's memoir of discovering the game that has been his singular passion for nearly fifty years. It is equally, inevitably, the story of the roots of black basketball in America - a story inextricable from race, culture, love, and home." Combining memoir with history, folklore, and commentary, Wideman creates a magical evocation of his unique slice of American experience. He imagines the Harlem Globetrotters in 1927, on their way to an Illinois town where the only black resident would be lynched. A playground game in
"Hoop Roots is John Edgar Wideman's memoir of discovering the game that has been his singular passion for nearly fifty years. It is equally, inevitably, the story of the roots of black basketball in America - a story inextricable from race, culture, love, and home." Combining memoir with history, folklore, and commentary, Wideman creates a magical evocation of his unique slice of American experience. He imagines the Harlem Globetrotters in 1927, on their way to an Illinois town where the only black resident would 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 nostalgia to outrage, from scholarly to streetwise, from defiant to celebratory.
Having recently turned 50, novelist and essayist Wideman (Brothers and Keepers; Fatheralong) pushes his narrative limits in this collection of meditative, even brooding, essays of childhood, family rites of passage and the art and magic of basketball. The familiar "hoops" metaphor offers Wideman a chance to wax poetic about the physical and emotional demands of the game, its competitive fire, mandatory team play, artistry, style and life lessons. Basketball, which Wideman loved as a child, now unites the aging writer with his three children, including a daughter who plays for the top-ranked Stanford University women's team. At a time of personal loss, marital strife and diminished physical ability, he cherishes the feelings of power and control he first felt as a teen handling the ball in his fabled Homewood community in Pittsburgh. In this rambling but consistently challenging work, Wideman turns his wise, analytical eye on such topics as male privilege, interracial love, violence among young black men, the marketing of Michael Jordan and the basketball court as a classroom where men learn skills that will serve them in the larger white world. Some of the most affecting moments occur when Wideman vividly recalls the decline and death of his beloved grandparents and the temptation a comely young student briefly posed to him. Darkened by uncharacteristic spurts of melancholy and regret, this occasionally brilliant tribute to basketball, survival and families linked by blood, joy and tragedy is as exhilarating as a few fast and furious hours on the court. (Oct.) Forecast: Backed by an extensive tour and publicity, Wideman's latest should find a responsive readership among his loyal readersas well as basketball fans still reeling from the most exciting NBA season since the departure of Michael Jordan. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Basketball originally propelled novelist Wideman away from the Pittsburgh that later inspired his wonderful Homewood novels, such as Sent for You Yesterday. In more recent novels, Philadelphia Fire and Two Cities, Wideman's narratives have often detoured back to the ball court. Hoop Roots is more openly about the author's lifelong relationship to the game, but it has its share of breakaways, too, into black, white, music, love, marriage, seduction, and divorce as the author takes stock of changes in himself and his boyhood world. Part middle-aged memoir, part blacktop coming-of-age story, the book is Wideman's grudging acknowledgment that, still dabbling in pick-up ball at 59, he is laboring in an unforgiving game of youth. Wideman ably contrasts his early tutelage on the all-male ball court with his boyhood in a matriarchal household. But despite its impressionistic historical sweeps, this book's attempts at a cultural history of the sport are unsatisfying (especially Wideman's crankily light chapter on the jump shot). Nor does it dwell as long as it might on the national basketball success of the author's daughter Jamila. Basketball is a standard (along with writing) against which Wideman has long measured himself, and this uneven but original work is his "way of holding on." For dedicated Wideman fans and large sports collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/01.] Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Novelist Wideman (The Cattle Killing) uses basketball as a doorway through which to glimpse black manhood. Probing his memories and childhood for a larger meaning, as he did in such previous memoirs as Fatheralong, Wideman focuses on basketball as a thread that ties together his past and present. It's his present-day decision to stop playing that takes author and readers back to the summer when he first learned the game. With his father absent and his grandfather dead, the boy went to the basketball court to find what his mother and grandmother could not provide. In his interpretation (thankfully free of the hokum baseball seems to inspire in writers), playground games were rites of passage: not only did players measure their physical growth against others, they established seniority and passed on rules and etiquette that became marks of belonging. This is not a conventional memoir. Wideman also includes a paradigmatic short story entitled "Who Invented the Jump Shot (A Fable)" about a black dimwit who invents CPR only to be hung for touching a white woman; an argument for basketball as folk art; and a call to rename his childhood playground for two local legends. The latter is a particularly effective piece: Wideman makes archetypal giants of men already born large enough to excel at basketball, and in calling for a new name he looks forward to a future with black-defined meaning while evoking the past of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Malcolm X. Each chapter displays Wideman's range as a writer and gives the text a richness that the well-trod field of memoir could not provide alone. He takes a lot of risks, but not always successfully. At points the narrative is needlessly vague and staccato, and Wideman's interpretations of basketball are sometimes clouded by his love of the game. Still, a few missed shots are acceptable in both basketball and books. A creative, rambling blend of memoir, fiction, and essay.
Different pieces coming from different places —
read them in sequence or improvise
first shot 23
learning to play 65
who invented the jump shot
(a fable) 135
the village 161
naming the playground 191
one more time 217