Just as celebrated a writer is John Edgar Wideman, who with the publication of his latest collection God's Gym shows why he is the first author ever to win the PEN/Faulkner Award twice (for 1984's Sent for You Yesterday and 1990's Philadelphia Fire). Nominated for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for nonfiction, his stories have appeared in numerous national publications including Harper's, GQ, Esquire and even The Best American Short Stories.
Almost like jazz, there is a rhythm to Wideman's prose. His sentences are long and dense, but have a snap to them, a staccato that is musical. In "The Silence of Thelonious Monk" there's such a sense of urgency, a rush to the writing that it is hard not to fall all over yourself in the process of reading. In imagining the dramatic ending of the love affair between the two poets Verlaine and Rimbaud, he writes, "love offered, tasted, spit out, two people shocked speechless, lurching away like drunks, like sleepwalkers, from the mess they'd made. Monk's music just below my threshold of awareness, scoring the movie I was imagining, a soundtrack inseparable from what the actors were feeling, from what I felt watching them pantomime their melodrama."Wideman is a writer who knows how to grab you by the heart. His characters do not shy away from the sometimes harsh explorations of love, race, self, but face them with such electricity, such pointed emotion, that the reader becomes better for the experience. Wideman's writing challenges you, shows you both beauty and despair. It is an engaging challenge though, one you can't help but returning to again and again. Lacey Galbraith is a writer in Nashville.