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Basic Black; Conversation With John Edgar Wideman


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Basic Black
Conversation With John Edgar Wideman
Program Number


Series Description

THe series was formerly known as Say Brother. Series title change as of 1/8/1998. This series is black produced and is one of public television's longest-running series that is rooted in and reflects the culture, concerns, achievements and history of people of African descent. Also includes controversial issues, African American artists, and events of special interest to the African American community.

Series release date: 1/8/1998

Program Description

Basic Black's season premiere, a conversation with the acclaimed author and UMass professor, who is currently at work on a series of essays about race and basketball. Wideman was the second African-American to win a Rhodes Scholarship.

Rhodes scholar, social critic, intellect and novelist Wideman escaped the poverty of his Black working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh by being a gifted student and athlete. In a conversation with Basic Black host Darren Duarte, the University of Massachusetts professor talks about his personal life and family tragedies and how they have informed him as an author. Wideman's latest book, Hoop Roots, is a moving story about his childhood as it was defined by the love of his matriarchal family and his love of basketball, both of which gave him his chance to move out of the ghetto.

Wideman, who received a basketball scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, says, "My friends and I were quite aware of two worlds - the world of our street games in which we counted for something, and a larger world in which most of us didn't count for much at all. The beauty of playground basketball is that it's an African American creation, an art form that flows from the culture and reflects folk cultural values. It helped us transcend our everyday troubles and burdens."

Despite being the second African American to receive a Rhodes scholarship and called the "astonishing John Wideman" by Look magazine in 1963 in an era when Black Americans were rarely profiled, Wideman couldn't escape some of the complex problems of being Black in America. His brother Robert was involved in a robbery but was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison even though he did not pull the trigger. In response, Wideman wrote a non-fiction novel, Brothers and Keepers, about a college professor and writer with a brother serving a life sentence in prison. Two years later, his 16-year old son, Jacob, stabbed and killed a classmate during summer classes in Maine.

"Writing is a tool, it's a way to help me get through my life and understand things," says Wideman. "I don't necessarily look for answers, but my writing is about asking the right sort of questions. Nobody may have the answers, but it's fun to ask the questions."

Wideman, whose daughter Jamila is a Stanford basketball star now in the Women's National Basketball Association, also warns that basketball can be portrayed to too many young African Americans as a false promise. "Basketball offers two tracks, the first being participation for everyone. The beauty of playground basketball is its universal adaptability. The other track, however, is the commercialization of the sport by corporations that don't care one bit about the quality of life."

Wideman has written nearly 20 works of fiction and non-fiction. His works have appeared in leading media outlets such as The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Harper's Magazine, and Esquire, and have been translated into 11 languages. Wideman was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in 1963, and a Thouron Fellow at Oxford University in 1963-1966 where he earned a master's degree in literature. He has taught at Howard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Wyoming. Wideman joined the University of Massachusetts in 1986 as a full professor. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received the Chancellor's Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the University of Massachusetts.



Asset Type

Broadcast program

Media Type


Social Issues
Race and Ethnicity
Chicago: “Basic Black; Conversation With John Edgar Wideman,” 11/01/2001, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed April 22, 2019, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_E27C8B1567164848B6B8E7E4D618AAA4.
MLA: “Basic Black; Conversation With John Edgar Wideman.” 11/01/2001. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. April 22, 2019. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_E27C8B1567164848B6B8E7E4D618AAA4>.
APA: Basic Black; Conversation With John Edgar Wideman. Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_E27C8B1567164848B6B8E7E4D618AAA4
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