American Histories: Stories (Paperback)

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“A powerful assemblage of short stories exploring late-in-life angst through personal myth, cultural memory, and riffs on an empire scorched by its own hubris” (O, The Oprah Magazine) from award-winning author John Edgar Wideman—his first collection in more than a decade.

“Race and its reverberations are at the core of this slim, powerful volume, a blend of fiction, memoir, and reimagined history, in which the boundaries between those forms are murky and ever shifting” (The Boston Globe). In this singular collection, John Edgar Wideman blends the personal, historical, and political to invent complex, charged stories about love, death, struggle, and what we owe each other. With characters ranging from everyday Americans to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Nat Turner, American Histories is a journey through time, experience, and the soul of our country.

In “JB & FD,” Wideman reimagines conversations between John Brown, the antislavery crusader, and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and orator—conversations that produce a fantastical, rich correspondence that spans years and ideologies. “Maps and Ledgers” eavesdrops on a brother and sister today as they ponder their father’s killing of another man. “Williamsburg Bridge” sits inside a man sitting on a bridge who contemplates his life before he decides to jump. “My Dead” is a story about how the already-departed demand more time, more space in the lives of those who survive them.

American Histories is “an important addition to Wideman’s body of writing and a remarkable demonstration of his ability to address social issues through a range of fictional forms and styles” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). An extended meditation on family, history, and loss, American Histories weaves together historical fact, philosophical wisdom, and deeply personal vignettes. This is Wideman at his best—emotionally precise and intellectually stimulating—an extraordinary collection by a master.

About the Author


John Edgar Wideman’s books include American Histories, Writing to Save a Life, Philadelphia Fire, Brothers and Keepers, Fatheralong, Hoop Dreams, and Sent for You Yesterday. He is a MacArthur Fellow, has won the PEN/Faulkner Award twice, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and National Book Award. He divides his time between New York and France.

Praise For…


“With the scrupulous intelligence and meditative intensity that define all this author’s work . . . . Mr. Wideman’s explicit subject is racial injustice but his treatment of it quietly deepens into existential horror. . . . This, then, is not a book for the unwary. Mr. Wideman possesses a true and terrible vision of the tragic.”
Wall Street Journal

"A powerful assemblage of short stories exploring late-in-life angst through personal myth, cultural memory, and riffs on an empire scorched by its own hubris ... His prose, its twisting suntax, is a kind of stylish jazz of his own making."
O Magazine

"Wideman's 50-year writing career has won him countless awards, and the author proves his continued vitality, reimagining historical figures with vigor and soul."
Entertainment Weekly

"Race and its reverberations are at the core of this slim, powerful volume, a blend of fiction, memoir, and reimagined history, in which the boundaries between those forms are murky and ever shifting."
Boston Globe

"John Edgar Wideman's latest book feels like a coda to his impressive body of work. He deftly incorporates a range of black names from the 20th century — Emmett Till, Jean-Michel Basquiat — in his riffs, then plunges deeper into history."
Seattle Times

"John Edgar Wideman has established himself as one of the country's most formally inventive writers ... an important addition to Mr. Wideman’s body of writing and a remarkable demonstration of his ability to address social issues through a range of fictional forms and styles."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Wideman . . . boldly subverts what a short story can be in this wonderful collection. . . . Each story feels new, challenging, and exhilarating, beguilingly combining American history with personal history."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Linked by astringent wit, audacious invention, and a dry sensibility whose owner has for decades wrestled with what he describes as “the puzzle of how and why and where and who we come from." Wideman’s recent work strides into the gap between fiction and nonfiction as a means of disclosing hard, painful, and necessary truths.
Kirkus, starred review

"Wideman’s shape-shifting, lyrical narratives offer mesmerizing and challenging perspectives on the creative process and the black experience, decisively affirming his stature as a major voice in American literature."
Booklist, starred review
Product Details
ISBN: 9781501178351
ISBN-10: 1501178350
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Pages: 240
Language: English