Writing to Save a Life : The Louis Till File
Overview - An award-winning writer traces the life of the father of iconic Civil Rights martyr Emmett Till--a man who was executed by the Army ten years before Emmett's murder. An evocative and personal exploration of individual and collective memory in America by one of the most formidable Black intellectuals of our time. Read more...
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More About Writing to Save a Life by John Edgar Wideman
An award-winning writer traces the life of the father of iconic Civil Rights martyr Emmett Till--a man who was executed by the Army ten years before Emmett's murder. An evocative and personal exploration of individual and collective memory in America by one of the most formidable Black intellectuals of our time.
In 1955, Emmett Till, aged fourteen, traveled from his home in Chicago to visit family in Mississippi. Several weeks later he returned, dead; allegedly he whistled at a white woman. His mother, Mamie, wanted the world to see what had been done to her son. She chose to leave his casket open. Images of her brutalized boy were published widely. While Emmett's story is known, there's a dark side note that's rarely mentioned. Ten years earlier, Emmett's father was executed by the Army for rape and murder.
In Writing to Save a Life
, John Edgar Wideman searches for Louis Till, a silent victim of American injustice. Wideman's personal interaction with the story began when he learned of Emmett's murder in 1955; Wideman was also fourteen years old. After reading decades later about Louis's execution, he couldn't escape the twin tragedies of father and son, and tells their stories together for the first time. Author of the award-winning Brothers and Keepers
, Wideman brings extraordinary insight and a haunting intimacy to this devastating story.
An amalgam of research, memoir, and imagination, Writing to Save a Life
is completely original in its delivery--an engaging and enlightening conversation between generations, the living and the dead, fathers and sons. Wideman turns seventy-five this year, and he brings the force of his substantial intellect and experience to this beautiful, stirring book, his first nonfiction in fifteen years.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
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Of 96 servicemen executed by the U.S. military during World War II, 83 were African-American—one of whom was Louis Till, hanged on July 2, 1945, for rape and murder. He was the father of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in 1955. Louis’s confidential military service record was made available to serve the defense of Emmett’s murderers. In establishing the junction between these two deaths, Wideman (Brothers and Keepers) employs a montage of multiple narrative voices, some first person, some through an omniscient author; “I assume,” he writes, “the risk of allowing my fiction to enter people’s true stories.” Loosely moored by his diligent pursuit of relevant documents, his reportage and recollection alternate and merge with hypothetical encounters with Emmett’s mother and Wideman’s own father, an account of a family Thanksgiving dinner, excerpts of trial records, memories of Wideman’s first girlfriend, and mentions of Wideman’s son, who is imprisoned for murder. An overriding theme connects it all: the way that America’s criminal justice system historically and currently harms African-Americans. “Whether or not Till breaks the law,” Wideman argues, “his existence is viewed by the law as a problem.” Wideman’s experimental narrative ultimately leaves the reader adrift, though aware that a valuable record is buried in there somewhere. (Nov.)