From John Edgar Wideman, a modern “master of language” (The New York Times Book Review), comes a stunning story collection that spans a range of topics from Michael Jordan to Emmett Till, from childhood memories to the final day in a prison cell.
In Look For Me and I’ll Be Gone, his sixth collection of stories, John Edgar Wideman imbues with energy and life the concerns that have consistently infused his fiction and nonfiction. How does it feel to grow up in America, a nation that—despite knowing better, despite its own laws, despite experiencing for hundreds of years the deadly perils and heartbreak of racial division—encourages (sometimes unwittingly, but often on purpose) its citizens to see themselves as colored or white, as inferior or superior.
Never content merely to tell a story, Wideman seeks once again to create language that delivers passages like jazz solos, and virtuosic manipulations of time to entangle past and present. The story “Separation” begins with a boy afraid to stand alone beside his grandfather’s coffin, then wends its way back and forth from Pittsburgh to ancient Sumer. “Atlanta Murders” starts with two chickens crossing a road and becomes a dark riff, contemplating “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” James Baldwin’s report on the 1979–1981 child murders in Atlanta, Georgia.
Comprised of fictions of the highest caliber and relevancy by a writer whose imagination and intellect “prove his continued vitality...with vigor and soul” (Entertainment Weekly), Look For Me and I’ll Be Gone will entrance and surprise committed Wideman fans and newcomers alike.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
1. Art of Story ART OF STORY
TWO YOUNG PEOPLE, DIFFERENT COLORS, my color, pass me. Dark fist of her topknot, edges of his fro outlined by a soft glow above their heads when I first glance down the street and notice the couple busy with each other, strides synced, no hurry, not strolling either, about a block away coming towards me on Grand, a glow hovering, visible against early morning light of a clear spring day that frames the figures as they approach, pavement shadowy under their feet, the sky behind and above them stretching up and up into pale, cloudless, bluish distance, a sky finally no color, all colors, same and different, fading until my eyes drop, and when I look again to find gleam of halos, the couple is behind me.
Stories graves. Empty graves. Nothing there. All living and dying in them fake. Pretend. Even when someone reading or listening or telling a story, it’s empty. Empty. No time in it. A person requires time to live and die in. Stories not time. Graves. No entering them or leaving them without time. Nothing to breathe inside a story. Nothing lost nor found there. No time. Only a story. Only words.
You pretend. As if pretending permits you to enter a story, to leave one place and begin in another. You let yourself believe you create time. Your time. As if your time not a story you make up. As if time not a word like others you make up to tell a story... Once upon a time... as if time ends or begins there, with words. As if time waits in stories or is something like them. As if a story contains the breath of life. As if words share time or time listens and reads. As if stories are not graves. Where we play with the dead. Play dead.
As if a something words make of nothing is more time. Time saved and not a story. A moment on Grand Street. Not fiction. Not a grave. Not a make-believe time, but time saved. More than time. Not nothing. Not merely words. Not mere story.
Maybe, I tell myself, this is one I can tell. And someone perhaps will listen. Will read. But a story does not become something until it ends, until I pretend it’s over and that I am no longer experiencing a walk in New York City on Grand Street early in the morning. Me pretending these words I write, one after the other, are something like steps. Mine, yours, anybody’s steps. Anyone who listens or reads and for some reason perhaps they may remember other steps, streets, and revisit how a morning materializes from nothing but steps. Step after step taken while darkness, brightness unfold or enfold.
You are nowhere, nothing until you are feeling, speaking, thinking one instant then another, one word after another, the next seeming to follow from the one before, no beginning or end, more steps, more street seeming maybe never to stop unraveling. A moment, a morning that materializes as fast and solid as certain crucial missing things suddenly recalled, things striking you as happy once or painful, familiar, odd, urgent once, though soon enough you also recall that nothing’s there, that you are alone as always with your thoughts, always alone even with a busy headful of them, including anybody else’s thoughts, aches, words, telling stories, pretending time at their fingertips, your fingertips, time ahead, time behind as you take step after step along Grand, and where oh where else could you be, where are you headed this morning if not to a physical therapy appointment at 450 Grand Street and two young people appear, the two of them together, content, focused enough upon each other to match strides, colored teenagers or very young adults coming towards you, intent on each other, soft crowns of hair that shimmer over each skull, visible against morning’s brightness, floating light that is perhaps source or end or both of vast sky above them, surrounding them, but when I glance ahead and notice them coming towards me that morning, mourning also comes to mind. Mourning’s sadness, and that mourning word mine, not theirs. The morning not mine, not yours, not ours. Not their morning either. Only a morning, one that only happens once, anyway, and belongs to no one, belongs, fits nowhere, is nothing except words, story, nothing, nowhere, only a story beginning that I might find myself in the midst of unexpectedly, but of course an empty story, over and dead, a true story since they all are true and are not, whether or not we tell them or listen or read.
Let me pretend, let me believe the glow, the auras seeping from or hovering above heads of two young people on a Lower East Side street, April 29, in the year 2018, New York, USA, signify hope eternal, and that light above them very same light I saw framing rows of heads, row after row in a crowd of people not stretching to the horizon, but backed up as far as where towers, stores, windows, and walls of a city abruptly resume, the public square ends, and Cape Town spreads gray across the horizon, pile of it rising until overtopped by light that reaches even the very last shimmering row of heads. Many, many heads maybe about to explode and demolish monumental stone buildings of the square enclosing them, many, many rows of heads aglow, perhaps ready to ignite the million or so fuzzy bodies indistinguishable one from another that have gathered to greet Nelson Mandela coming home after twenty-seven years of imprisonment, bodies igniting and incinerating old bodies that will be born again. A crowd whose size, whose yearning ungraspable by me, despite the very present, very hungry witness of my foreign eyes peering from Cape Castle’s balcony down into the packed square on February 11, 1990, Republic of South Africa. Inextinguishable hope one story I can imagine, try to tell, though a different story narrated by helicopter gunships stitching a dark net in air above the square, and barricades fortified by tanks and steel rhinos packed with shock troops in camouflage securing all streets, sealing every entrance and exit from the space of welcome.
Time unruffled by anyone’s stops and starts. Returns. Entrances, exits. Stories. Two young people striding towards me. Grand Street unruffled as time. Going nowhere. My steps one after another vanish as I pass two young colored strangers, remember a square in Cape Town, the teeming, excited crowd in which perhaps I last saw the couple.