Author and activist Robert Wideman visits Rose O’Neill Literary House

By Faith Jarrell

Student Life Editor

Robert “Faruq” Wideman is well-known for one of two things; the book he co-authored with his brother John Edgar Wideman, “Brothers and Keepers,” and his wrongful conviction and imprisonment for over 40 years.

On Thursday, April 4, Wideman visited campus to give a talk at the Rose O’Neill Literary House at 5:30 p.m.. Along with reading a passage from the book “Brothers and Keepers,” Wideman also discussed his time in prison and as an activist. 

Visiting assistant professor of English Dr. Juyoun Jang was the moderator for the discussion. Jang called Wideman an “inspiration” for her own work.

“Wideman is one of the activists I admire most. His co-authored memoir ‘Brothers and Keepers’ inspired me to specialize in African American literature,” Dr. Jang said. 

The book was so inspiring that last semester, during her Introduction to Fiction course, Dr. Jang assigned her class an excerpt from “Brothers and Keepers” and did a lesson in which she discussed Wideman’s case. 

In 1975, Wideman was charged with second-degree murder as well as armed robbery and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after a scam he had taken part in ended in the death of an innocent man. While Wideman had not committed the murder, he was viewed as an accomplice and remained in prison until his pardon and release in 2019. 

After his release in 2019, Wideman co-authored another book, with various other inmates, titled “Life Sentences: Writings from Inside an American Prison.” Since then, he has also become involved in community outreach for the Allegheny Health Network, where he reaches out to those who may be homeless, addicted, or former convicts. 

Junior Sky Abruzzo attended the talk, calling the event “important,” as the College gets “such a wide range of people that visit campus, and they all offer us something that we can sit with.”

“I thought it was great. Wideman was shamelessly himself throughout the talk, and his way of speaking lined up exactly with his memoirs within ‘Brothers and Keepers.’ It was easy to find myself leaning forward in my seat while he recounted some of his stories, as he did so with such vivid detailing and passion,” Abruzzo said. 

During his discussion at the literary house, Wideman mentioned how he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh courses while he was incarcerated. At this time, Wideman also taught his fellow inmates. Upon his release from prison, when Wideman returned home to Pittsburgh, he discussed being recognized by those he taught and being welcomed back.

“When I first came home, so many people, so many guys would run up to me in the middle of downtown and see me across the street, come grab me and hug me, telling me how much they loved what I taught them, and how when they came home, they get some further education,” Wideman said. “And it was like this one of the greatest parts of coming home. And still, to this day, guys that I haven’t seen since will do it.”

As Wideman is not just an author, but also an activist, and a community volunteer, it is clear how his experiences may be valuable to multiple fields of study, which is why the talk was co-sponsored by multiple departments, including the Departments of Archaeology, Anthropology, English, and Sociology. 

“Inviting both activists and authors to campus gives students and other listeners the opportunity to hear a variety of perspectives. They also have different effects on their listeners, as authors inspire through their literary works, sparking creativity and critical thinking; and activists, through their advocacy and activism, can empower students to take action on causes they care about,” Abruzzo said. 

Photo courtesy of the Rose O’Neill Literary House

Photo Caption: On Thursday, April 4, Robert Wideman visited the Washington College campus for an open discussion at the Rose O’Neill Literary House.

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