Writing to Save a Life by John Edgar Wideman
The Louis Till File

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There are many layers of meaning in this book, especially regarding the identification of Wideman with Emmitt, both of them 14 when the author saw a photo of the dead boy’s battered face, and the narrative expands into a meditation on black fathers and sons, the divide and the bonds, the genetic inheritance within a racist society.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

A major literary figure tells “a searching tale of loss, recovery, and deja vu that is part memoir and what-if speculation, part polemic and exposé” (The Washington Post) about two generations of one family—civil rights martyr Emmett Till and his father, Louis—shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Emmett Till took a train from his home in Chicago to visit family in Money, Mississippi; a few weeks later he returned home dead. Murdered because he was a colored boy and had, allegedly, whistled at a white woman. His mother, Mamie Till, chose to display her son’s brutalized face in a glass-topped casket, “so the world can see what they did to my baby.”

Emmett Till’s murder and his mother’s refusal to allow his story to be forgotten have become American legends. But one darkly significant twist in the Till legend is rarely mentioned: Louis Till, Emmett’s father, Mamie’s husband, a soldier during World War II, was executed in Italy for committing rape and murder.

In 1955, when he and Emmett were each only fourteen years old, Wideman saw a horrific photograph of dead Emmett’s battered face. Decades later, upon discovering that Louis Till had been court-martialed and hanged, he was impelled to investigate the tragically intertwined fates of father and son. Writing to Save a Life is “part exploration and part meditation, a searching account of [Wideman’s] attempt to learn more about the short life of Louis Till” (The New York Times Book Review) and shine light on the truths that have remained in darkness.

Wideman, the author of the award-winning Brothers and Keepers, “is a master of quiet meditation…and his book is remarkable for its insight and power” (SFGate). An amalgam of research, memoir, and imagination, Writing to Save a Life is essential and “impressive” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) reading—an engaging, enlightening conversation between generations, the living and the dead, fathers and sons.
 

About John Edgar Wideman

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John Edgar Wideman is the only author to have won the PEN/Faulkner Award twice—for the novelSent for You Yesterday in 1984, and forPhiladelphia Fire in 1990. He is the recipient of numerous other awards, including the American Book Award, the MacArthur Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. His latest book, the acclaimed memoir,Hoop Roots,was published in 2001. 
 
Published November 15, 2016 by Scribner. 225 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Writing to Save a Life
All: 4 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 2

Kirkus

Above average
on Sep 06 2016

There are many layers of meaning in this book, especially regarding the identification of Wideman with Emmitt, both of them 14 when the author saw a photo of the dead boy’s battered face, and the narrative expands into a meditation on black fathers and sons, the divide and the bonds, the genetic inheritance within a racist society.

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Publishers Weekly

Below average
on Jun 21 2017

Wideman’s experimental narrative ultimately leaves the reader adrift, though aware that a valuable record is buried in there somewhere.

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NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by E. Ethelbert Miller on Nov 14 2016

There are pages in Writing to Save a Life that will baffle the reader. Noise? Wideman can change a chord and walk away from it. He is a master storyteller who understands all the stories are true. It’s perhaps why so many of us today link Trayvon Martin to Emmett Till.

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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by JOSEPH P. WILLIAMS on Nov 18 2016

...Wideman’s new book, “Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File,” is to ride shotgun in his tricked-out time machine to a familiar destination: the jagged fault lines of America’s racial divide.

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