My Brother’s Words

A Conversation with Robert “Faruq” Wideman


  • Leila Kamali


Robert “Faruq” Wideman is the formerly incarcerated younger brother of the African American author John Edgar Wideman. The first published in-depth interview since Faruq’s release in 2019 after forty-four years in prison, this piece speaks to Kalfou’s interest in the theme of “insubordinate space.” John and Faruq’s relationship itself, the subject of one of John’s best-known books, Brothers and Keepers (1984), is the very definition of the journal’s intent to “connect the specialized knowledge produced in academe to the situated knowledge generated in aggrieved communities.” Beyond that, Wideman’s writing is unthinkable without his connection with Faruq; the radical contrast between their fates is arguably the underpinning interest of his work.

The interview connects Faruq’s life experience, at the hardest end of the U.S. justice system, to some of the key themes from his brother’s work. The discussion offers a window onto what rehabilitation can look like during a lifetime spent in the prison system, and the interpersonal processes that can assist a person’s reform. Considered here are the complexities of the role of Faruq’s voice in Brothers and Keepers, and the intense pressures on him of growing up young, gifted, and Black but in the shadow of his older siblings. We gain important insights into Faruq’s work as a mathematician, a teacher, and a mentor, and he also offers some new perspectives on his brother’s writing and its representation of their family relationships and especially their father. Faruq offers insights into his experiences of the Black Power movement, literary celebrity, and the abuse of his human rights while in jail; he speaks about his meditation practice and the power of learning stillness for creating a change in his life. The interview concludes with Faruq’s electrifying story of the commutation of his sentence.





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