John Edgar Wideman

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As a writer, you don't know what the hell you're doing. You're just doing it. You hope it works out well.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Work Out
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Kids use words in ways that release hidden meanings, revel the history buried in sounds. They haven't forgotten that words can be more than signs, that words have magic, the power to be things, to point to themselves and materialize. With their back-formations, archaisms, their tendency to play the music in words--rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, repetition--children peel the skin from language. Words become incantatory. Open Sesame. Abracadabra. Perhaps a child will remember the word and will bring the walls tumbling down.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Children
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Our thoughts, our language, are always at a distance from whatever they're trying to describe. We're dreamers and - since we only have one life, and if we screw up we can get in a world of trouble - we're very intense dreamers. That's the beauty and the terror of being human beings: We just have these symbolic languages, these dreams, and that's all it ever is. There is no American or Frenchhistory. There are all these dreams that are floating around. People construct them and fight with them and criticize them, and the world goes on. I don't think the stars pay much attention.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Dream
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You have to be a minor superhero just to get to be a dignified man, and that's kind of exacerbated for men of color.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Men
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Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Writing
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There's something human that has to do with time and space and being who I am that is in progress and always will be in progress. And who I am, on different days, different moments, depends on different aspects of my past.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Past
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One of the earliest lessons I learned as a child was that if you looked away from something, it might not be there when you looked back.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Children
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When I'm writing, I'm thinking, "Well, this might be a book that I'll always be happy with, and certainly readers will be happy with." But another part of me knows that when I'm past the stage of writing, the book is gonna have good things about it, bad things about it - probably more bad than good. I just know that. That's who I am.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Book
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Books are an attempt to control something that's uncontrollable.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Book
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I believe - what did Faulkner say? "The past is not even past."
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Believe
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I don't tell everything. I want the reader to have the feeling that maybe they know the whole truth, but they don't.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Feelings
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Everything is up for grabs, everything is relative. Except nothing is if you are serious about it because the moment you become serious about answering a question you have a stake in it. Relatively goes out of the window, in one sense because you're putting your a** out there - you are depending on the answer, you need the answer.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Serious
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That's one of the beauties, I think, of African American life. There was this thing called slavery and adjustments were made. It literally destroyed millions, but it didn't destroy everybody and it didn't destroy the inner lives of all the people who experienced it.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Thinking
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That's the beauty and the terror of being human beings: We just have these symbolic languages, these dreams, and that's all it ever is.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Dream
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I had a deep prejudice against the South. It's taken me many years to get over that, be more open and thoughtful.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Taken
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If Mumia Abu-Jamal has nothing important to say, why are so many powerful people trying to shut him up?
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Powerful
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I'm still divided in my principles and what I think is right and what I'm actually able to do, whether talking about writing or being a citizen or being a husband or being a father. And I'm trying to get better.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Husband
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Books are an attempt to control something that's uncontrollable. That's one of the beauties of African American life. There was this thing called slavery and adjustments were made. It literally destroyed millions, but it didn't destroy the inner lives of all the people who experienced it. There are still horrible things that go on because of the myth of race, but we don't have to succumb totally. If I had only a negative side of things to present, I think I would have much less of a drive to do it. Because what would be the point?
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Book
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I really dislike when people talk about "experimental," because any good writer is experimental. As a writer, you don't know what the hell you're doing. You're just doing it. You hope it works out well. I've been experimenting with these things myself in my own books.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Book
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Remember that a book is many drafts - mine certainly are. It's improvisation. It's as much jazz and the way we talk and the way I heard people preach coming up as it is writing.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Book
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I don't like the way question marks look. They're really ugly. They look like blots. At some other point in my life, I might have disliked them because I never knew how to properly apply them. Also commas, and whether they were outside the quote or inside the quote - that all seemed like an unnecessary pain in the ass.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Pain
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As a reader, I do not like to have everything handed to me. Because after a while it gets formulaic and I'm thinking, "If this is so thought through, then why do I need to read it. It's done!" It becomes a beach book at a certain point.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Beach
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My grandfather had asked me many times whether I'd like to come to South Carolina with him. He wanted to introduce me to our people down there and I didn't want to go. In those days, the South was still a place where black kids were lynched. Something horrible could happen to you. I've had that feeling my whole life.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Kids
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I'm not a fearful person, but I'm a pretty pessimistic person. So some of my best times are waiting, anticipating. That's the way it always has been with me, whether anticipating a ball game, anticipating a relationship.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Games
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When you're at the basketball court watching a game, one person may be talking about a fight he had with his wife, another is talking about the last hard-on he got, someone else is talking about the presidential election. The language and the tone and the voice - I'd love to be able to capture that spontaneity.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Basketball
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If I had only a negative side of things to present, I think I would have much less of a drive to do it. Because what would be the point?
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Thinking
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Even in my adult years, when I heard a white person speaking in a Southern accent I was initially suspicious.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Years
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I really love James Joyce, Dubliners and other work. And I was interested in the way the dash was used in English topography - in his work particularly - and I realized there was no compulsion to use those ugly dot-dot curlicues all over the place to designate dialogue. I began to look around, and found writers who could make transitions quite clear by the language itself. I'm a bit of a maverick now. I'm always trying to push the medium.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Always Trying
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The hardship, the pain, the suffering of my brother and my son in prison, that's absolutely their experience, that's not mine. I don't get any credit for enduring that. I never give myself any credit for enduring that.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Brother
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I'm very hard-nosed and cold-blooded and I can walk past a drowning man. If I have someplace else to go, well, tough s**t. I could do that. I can. Have. Sometimes, not because I was callous but had to do it.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Past
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My mother loved my father. From my view, she let him get away with too much. It broke my heart to see him in an old people's home and stop being strong and lose his voice.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Mother
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My father combined many of the elements that were feared in the culture, but also he was a warm figure, a figure we needed. We depended on him to give us a little bit of strength and courage.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Father
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There are still horrible things that go on because of the myth of race, but we don't have to succumb totally.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Race
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I get off on anticipating and waiting much more than I get off on the actual event.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Waiting
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Our thoughts, our language, are always at a distance from whatever they're trying to describe. We have other kinds of languages, like mathematics, like music, like art, but there's always that gap.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Art
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We're dreamers and - since we only have one life, and if we screw up we can get in a world of trouble - we're very intense dreamers.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Dreamer
Image of John Edgar Wideman
There is no American history. There is no French history. There is no John Wideman. There are all these dreams that are floating around. People construct them and fight with them and criticize them, and the world goes on. I don't think the stars pay much attention.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Dream
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I want to give the evidence in a way that is convincing, but I don't want to cheat.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Giving
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I'm still vulnerable and still weak.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Vulnerable
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I can't pretend that I did one really awful thing - I took a bite out of the apple but now I'm never going to sin again.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Apples
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To be a survivor as an African American man - maybe any man - you have to be pretty tough. Or at least that's what we all understand.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Men
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Things seem to fall apart inevitably.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Fall
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I really dislike it when people talk about "experimental," because any good writer is experimental.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: People
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Hell, I'm going to play pro basketball. I'm going to maybe be famous. I'm going to write books.
- John Edgar Wideman
Collection: Basketball