Redreaming Boundaries and Community Engagement: John Edgar Wideman and the Homewood Reading Series


  • Esohe Osai
  • Dan Kubis


John Edgar Wideman is one of Pittsburgh’s most decorated, yet least celebrated native sons. Though Wideman left the city in his youth, he returned as part of a series of events to honor the fiftieth anniversary of his first book. Wideman embodies the unique intersections and tensions that exist in Pittsburgh related to race, place, and the stories we tell. His presence as part of a collaborative reading series reflected those dynamics, bringing together the members of two Pittsburgh neighborhoods: Homewood, a Black neighborhood where Wideman was raised, and Oakland, which is home to the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). The project created an opportunity for conversation between Black high school students from Westinghouse Academy in Homewood and mostly non-Black university students from Pitt. It also created a cross-disciplinary dialogue between community-engaged scholars at the university. This article draws on student writing and other resources to narrate the limited but meaningful connections between the intersecting spaces that came together in honor of this literary giant. It also situates the project within public humanities scholarship and a community engagement framework, related to the potential role of urban universities in neighboring communities. Finally, it argues that the project has resonance for these uncertain times, as it embodied the themes of Brothers and Keepers, a literary work that explores the tensions that exist in crossing boundaries and how the stories we tell provide meaning, despite differences.