Author Benjamin Wideman
Wideman has written extensively about family dynamics, trauma, storytelling and justice in America. Additionally, he taught at University of Massachusetts Amherst where he helped establish an African American Studies program.
Wideman has set his three novels – Damballah, Hiding Place and Sent for You Yesterday – in Homewood in Pittsburgh where he spent much of his childhood. Wideman describes this series of works as his attempt at reconciling his white and black worlds.
Early Life and Education
Wideman’s work explores issues of race and the African American experience with particular focus on history and memory. He frequently examines how family influences identity and culture formation, as well as societally sanctioned economic discrimination that negatively affects African American communities.
At Penn, Wideman excelled as both a basketball player and student leader – serving as class president and valedictorian respectively. Due to this success he received a Rhodes Scholarship which allowed him to study at Oxford. Furthermore, Look magazine profile helped launch his writing career.
Damballah was his inaugural book to be published, followed by Hiding Place and Sent for You Yesterday to complete the Homewood trilogy that explores Wideman’s childhood neighborhood and family history.
Wideman has written extensively on family, trauma, storytelling and race and culture using his own experiences as a means to explore themes such as race and culture through storytelling and fiction writing. His stories and novels have received national acclaim – Damballah and Hiding Place being among them as they deal with one brother being imprisoned for committing a deadly petty robbery act while often drawing inspiration from Homewood, Pennsylvania as part of their narratives.
Wideman has taught literature and writing at both public and Ivy League universities, including Penn’s Ivy League campus. At Penn he helped establish African American literature courses; edited anthologies; provided introductions for other writers’ books; as well as publishing his memoir entitled “The Sacred Text,” released this year. Today he continues both writing and instructing.
Achievement and Honors
Wideman has explored various themes through his writing, such as family, crime and incarceration. He is noted for using traditional English diction paired with African-American vernacular, stream-of-consciousness techniques and sudden shifts in perspective to achieve effective prose.
As an undergraduate at Penn, he earned top grades and was appointed class president and captain of his basketball team. Later he attended Oxford, studying 18th-century British literature as a Rhodes Scholar.
Damballah, Wideman’s debut novel, is part of the Homewood Trilogy that also includes Hiding Place and Sent for You Yesterday. Wideman himself does not consider these novels to be part of any cohesive collection but instead explores Homewood in Pittsburgh through these novels.
Wideman and Leslie Wideman share a passion for helping their neighbors. Together they own and operate a restaurant in Homewood area and have trained local residents to work there; additionally they taught food management skills. Both partners do not accept salary from the restaurant and instead work outside jobs to ensure everyone in their neighborhood receives payment for their labor.
Wideman has written on various themes related to race, family, trauma and storytelling. His writing has been heavily influenced by W. E. B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon and James Baldwin as authors he admires.
His novel Philadelphia Fire, which won the 1991 PEN/Faulkner Award, was inspired by an incident surrounding MOVE (an African American revolutionary organization). The novel alternates between Wideman’s point-of-view and that of his brother who had been charged with murder.
Wideman was part of several NHL teams during his career, such as the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, and Calgary Flames. He currently plies his trade for Binghamton Senators on a one-year, two-way deal.
His net worth is estimated to be approximately $1 Million, earned through proceeds from his successful journalism career as a war correspondent for CNN Arabic countries.
He has worked as a fixer for CNN and traveled widely. He studied many languages and is fluent in Arabic, Italian, French and Hebrew – as well as studying Japanese Russian Farsi Ancient Egyptian and Classical Mongolian. Born September 1 1960 in the US he celebrates his birthday every September 1st!