Basketball, Race, and Love
By John Edgar Wideman
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780395857311, 256pp.)
Publication Date: October 2001
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Hoop Roots is John Edgar Wideman’s memoir of discovering the game that has been his singular passion for nearly fifty years. It is equally, inevitably, the story of the roots of black basketball in America a story inextricable from race, culture, love, and home.
As a boy, Wideman lived in his grandparents’ worn but welcoming home in the ghettoized Homewood section of Pittsburgh. It was a world presided over by women, forever coddling, scolding, protective. One day John slipped away from their watchful gaze and escaped to a place where white factory workers shot hoops on their breaks. Then someone handed him a ball. That thrilling first shot was a turning point. Later he sneaked from his dying grandmother’s bedside to the courts where other black boys gathered. Here he really learned the game the African-American game, whose style and power would change him and our culture.
With Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk as his model, Wideman combines memoir with history, folklore, and commentary to create a magical evocation of his unique slice of American experience. He imagines the Harlem Globetrotters in 1927, on their way to the Illinois town where the only black resident will be lynched. A playground game in Greenwich Village conjures Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and the sources of black minstrelsy. African-American language, culture, music, and sport brilliantly interweave in a lyrical narrative that glides from nostalgic to outraged, from scholarly to streetwise, from defiant to celebratory.
Like his previous memoirs, Wideman’s Hoop Roots is both deeply personal and fiercely resonant.
JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN is the author of more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including the award-winning Brothers and Keepers, Philadelphia Fire, and most recently the story collection God's Gym. He is the recipient of two PEN/ Faulkner Awards and has been nominated for the National Book Award. He teaches at Brown University.
"brilliant tribute to basketball, survival and families. . .as exhilarating as a few fast and furious hours on the court." Publishers Weekly
"A creative, rambling bland of memoir, fiction, and essay." Kirkus Reviews
"Reading Wideman is like listening to John Coltrane. Like 'Trane, Wideman is challenging, furious, confounding, and healing." Boston Globe
"Buried at various depths in Hoop Roots are love letters to basketball, his family, his youth and his race." The San Francisco Chronicle
"...dazzling and confounding for all the usual Wideman reasons. Breathtaking insight. And Missing verbs. Memorable flights of literary fancy." The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Playground anecdotes are expertly told, from no-look, alley-oop passes to standing on the court, hearing the teaching voices of the players.." The Denver Post
"An unconventional memoir, Hoop Roots is at times evocative and provocative, bristling with intensely personal revelations." The Baltimore Sun