This volume has grown out of a 1996 symposium John Wideman participated in at Tours University. We are thankful to the Conseil Scientifique de l’Université de Tours for sponsoring the venue and the Groupe de Recherches Anglaises et Américaines de Tours (GRAAT) for providing logistical support. The actual organizing group was the Cercle d’Etudes Afro-Américaines (CEAA), a national association founded in 1993 and presided over by Michel Fabre. It was the second such symposium whose aim was exchanging ideas on an opus with the writer attending. The first we organized dealt with the fiction of Ernest Gaines who, unfortunately, was unable to travel to France for the occasion. We were more lucky the second time. I approached John Wideman during the 1995 CAAR Tenerife conference where he accepted the principle of a session on his writings. We had to be persistent, but the event finally took place to the satisfaction of all involved. Special thanks go to John Wideman, who managed to include Tours in his busy schedule after three weeks on the road presenting The Cattle Killing.
There was a considerable student turnout for the first part of the symposium. Our visitor answered questions from the floor. Apart from a handful of students involved in a Master’s, the audience was not specially attuned to the author’s works, or literary-minded, and the bulk of the questions raised were inevitably related to the American racial scene. Colleagues from all over France converged on Tours for the second day. As foreign participation was not up to our expectations, only five papers were read, followed by a roundtable on fiction and writing. I keep blaming myself (as an unorganized organizer) for not recording this exchange. It simply did not occur to me (nor to anyone else for that matter) that recording was in order. No doubt answers and comments from the man who held the pen would have been a welcome addition to the present number.
It is high time a full volume was devoted to John Wideman’s writings, and I wish to thank Callaloo for offering European commentators an opportunity to convey their interest in an author who has consistently blown new life into African-American fiction. My own interest in John Wideman goes back to 1971 when Michel Fabre first drew my attention to Hurry Home. But this is not the place to broach personal matters and memories. Rather, it seems to me, the contents of the material collected here, notwithstanding the articles’ variety, attest to a shift that reinstates interpersonal relationships between an author and his readers in critical discourse. Whether they deal with the mid-19th-century episode of South African history The Cattle Killing refers to, with Brothers and Keepers, or with a short story whose tenuous plot line features a creative writing professor attracted to a red-haired female student, all [End Page 537] papers show the consciousness of a co-production, of reading as a social practice to borrow Michel Foucault’s term.
This developing awareness of self-related questions recently gave rise to a 1997 international conference on Self I participated in at the Kairouan Faculty of Letters. My starting point was a paper previously given at the 1996 Afro-Latin American Research Association (ALARA) conference. My ALARA theme rested on the intuition of a synergy between diasporan dispersion and the layout of Caryl Phillips’ fiction. 1 I used the same material in Tunisia but focused on my relationships with the characters (people or models?) and with the text: how I constructed meaning from the page and developed a macro-conceptual view of a “textual strategy” that might be (perhaps dangerously) my own. Or, hopefully, my construct also resulted from “signposts on the page,” as I subtitled my paper, borrowing a partial quotation from Crossing the River. Hopefully, traces the author put on the page helped me produce meaning.
It now occurs to me as I re-read the papers presented here that the thought process supporting my Kairouan paper was grounded on the critical shift mentioned above. The coming discussion will lean heavily on Maurice Couturier’s latest book, La figure...