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John Edgar Wideman is an award-winning author and just the second African-American to be named a Rhodes Scholar to the University of Oxford. The Pittsburgh native was born in Washington, D.C. on June 14, 1941 in Washington, D.C.

Wideman grew up in the middle-class Black neighborhood of Homewood and later moved to Shadyside, a mostly white middle-class neighborhood. In high school, Wideman was a star basketball player and class valedictorian that went on to enter the University of Pennsylvania as an English major and member of its basketball team. Wideman was named a Rhodes Scholar, only the second African-American after Alain Locke to break the racial barrier at Oxford.

After earning an M.A. in 18th Century Literature from Oxford, Wideman worked as an assistant professor and assistant basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania between 1967 and 1975. Wideman was also the first director of the university’s Black Studies department. As an author, Wideman has penned several books and memoirs, and is the first person to win the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction twice.

In 2014 after 50 years working as an academic, Wideman was named emeritus professor at Brown University.. He continues to publish today, including 2016’s Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File about Emmit Till’s father and 2018’s American Histories.

Wideman has been married twice and is the father of three. Both Wideman’s brother Robert, and his son, Jacob, are serving life sentences for murder. His son Daniel is a poet and playwright and his daughter Jamila, once a WNBA star, is now an NBA executive.


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