American Histories

Stories

American Histories

In this singular collection, John Edgar Wideman, the acclaimed author of Writing to Save a Life, 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.

“JB & FD” reimagines conversations between John Brown, the antislavery crusader who famously raided Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and orator, conversations that belie the myth of race and produce a fantastical, ethically 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.

Navigating an extraordinary range of subject and tone, Wideman challenges the boundaries of traditional forms, and delivers unforgettable, immersive narratives that touch the very core of what it means to be alive. An extended meditation on family, history, and loss, American Histories weaves together historical fact, philosophical wisdom, and deeply personal vignettes. More than the sum of its parts, this is Wideman at his best—emotionally precise and intellectually stimulating—an extraordinary collection by a master.
  • Scribner | 
  • 240 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781501178344 | 
  • March 2018
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for American Histories includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

In this new short-story collection, John Edgar Wideman reimagines the past and the present, the living and the dead, and the personal and the historical. Engaging with subjects both intimate and wide-ranging, Wideman explores birth, death, and the intricacies of family life with the same rigor and beauty as he does the experiences of famous historical figures like Frederick Douglass and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Dense with layered meaning and philosophical insight, these stories illuminate the joys and shadows of the human condition, particularly as they relate to love, aging, and race. From “Bonds,” about the lucky-or-unlucky birth of a child, to “Nat Turner Confesses,” about the life of revolutionary Nat Turner, this extraordinary collection builds in power and range to its striking conclusion—taken all together, a profound, essential meditation on American life.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. In the “A Prefatory Note,” John Edgar Wideman writes that his guess is that “slavery won’t disappea see more

More Books from this Author

Writing to Save a Life

About the Author

John Edgar Wideman

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.

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