"If basketball is, as Wideman writes, 'fluid, flexible, and as open to interpretation as a song,' his book is even more so . . . with all the flash, guile, wham, and bam of the perfect playground dunk." Jonathan Miles, Men's Journal
"John Edgar Wideman takes his readers to places they would never otherwise see, and it's always worth the trip. . . In the end you feel you are there when he tosses up that first shot . . . and when he passes from boy to man." Boston Magazine
"It may be difficult at this point to determine where he fits in the
pantheon of all-time rebounders, but if the passion and fearlessness present in his writing are also part of his game, Wideman can stand tall among the best." Booklist, starred review
"A brilliant tribute to basketball, survival, and families . . . as exhilarating as a few fast and furious hours on the court." Publishers Weekly
"You whisper the secret of who you are, who you want to be, into the ear of the game, and once it knows your secrets, it plays them back to you and you must dance to them, the sense, nonsense, and music nothing less than revealed and revealing truth your song of self the game makes real . . . For a moment on the court you can play at that level of seriousness. Those are the stakes of the playground game."
John Edgar Wideman is one of our nation's preeminent literary and social voices, praised by the Los Angeles Times
as the "most powerful and accomplished artist of the black urban world" and called "one of America's premier writers of fiction" by the New York Times
. With Hoop Roots
, Wideman turns his attention to basketball, a game that has shaped his life since he played his first game of "hoops" on a playground in Pittsburgh as a boy. Critically acclaimed
when it was published in hardcover last year, Hoop Roots
is now available as a Mariner paperback for a new generation of basketball-loving readers.
Growing up in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, young John Wideman often escaped the watchful eyes of his grandmother, aunt, and mother to play ball with the white workers at a rundown nearby factory. It was here that he took his first shot:
"I could say the ball felt enormous in my hands, because it probably did . . . I could tell you how great it felt then to pat the ball for the first time, feel it rise off the asphalt back to my hand, the thrill of lifting the ball with both hands, sighting over it at the hoop, trying to get all my small weight under it . . . Could say any damned thing because I don't recall what happened, only that it happened, my first shot in that exact place."
Later, one hot summer as he cared for his dying grandmother, Wideman occasionally sneaked out to play ball with the men and boys of his neighborhood. It was on this court that the style and power of the game took hold of him. Wideman went on to become an All-Ivy League forward at the University of Pennsylvania, and later, as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, often slipped away to play pickup games with his classmate Bill Bradley, future New York Knick and U.S. senator. Wideman passed on his love of the game to his children; his daughter, Jamila Wideman, played basketball at Stanford and later in the WNBA.
More than a personal narrative, Hoop Roots
tells the story of the roots of black basketball in our culture, a story inextricable from that of racism in America. Wideman explores the ways in which the sport both on the playground and in the big leagues reflects issues of race and masculinity, taking as a case in point the rivalry between Larry Bird basketball's "Great White Hope" and Magic Johnson:
"Never mind that Magic's grin and Bird's tight-lipped Yankee stoicism were both masks disguising many identical features. Never mind that both were the products of endless hard work, ruthless determination, love of the game, supreme court intelligence and vision . . . Never mind that both men constantly learned from each other. What played in the media was the masks. Showtime versus lunch-pail ethic. Pleasure versus duty. Ego versus teamwork . . . Bird as bedrock symbol of mainstream values and Magic as the wild hair."
Working magical, jazzy riffs that connect black music, language, culture, and sport, Wideman is by turns nostalgic and outraged, scholarly and streetwise, defiant and unmitigatedly joyful in describing the game that has sustained his lifelong passion. Full of insight, emotion, history, folklore, and an unabashed love of the game, Hoop Roots
is the work of an artist both on the page and on the court.
John Edgar Wideman was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and became an All-Ivy League forward on the basketball team, and studied philosophy as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded and chaired the African American Studies Department, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, among other universities. He 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 Award nomination, and his memoir Fatheralong was a finalist for the National Book Award.
"With Mr. Wideman's acute observations and sensitivity, we come to view playground basketball through his special prism and enter his intriguing life, made extraordinary by his achievements." Ira Berkow, New York Times
"[Wideman] handles language as deftly as a basketball wiz manipulates a ball." Boston Herald
"Brilliant and magically written . . . Wideman can no longer play the game of basketball
. . . but as a writer, he's still at the top of his game and one of the best this nation has to offer." San Antonio Express-News
"The ball playing might have to stop, but we can hope that John Edgar Wideman will continue to produce writing as satisfying and complex as this fond farewell to his beloved game." San Jose Mercury News
"A testament to endurance, specifically, the African American's remarkable ability to meet and rise above life's most tragic circumstances and create soul-sustaining customs and systems of belief." Chicago Tribune
"A book that should be read aloud to jazz." Robert Lipsyte, New York Times
"In honoring the game, he spins powerful memories of family, music, culture, and mortality in a voice that is alternately literary, nostalgic, outraged, and inspired." Elle
"Something of an extended improvisation, a memoir in which narrative is less important than feeling, and every action is amplified by the emotional associations it invokes." David Ulin, Atlantic Monthly
"So intense and uncompromised that the reader almost feels the heat that went into writing it." Allan Barra, Washington Post Book World
"A powerful concoction of sociology, fiction, memoir, and love poem." Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel