Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
The three volumes of The Homewood Trilogy–two novels and a collection of a dozen stories–depict the life and history of one black neighborhood, a district that has all the strengths and dangers of any inner city. It is a neighborhood of houses and yards, of gathering places (the barber shop, for example, or bars like the Brass Rail and the Velvet Slipper), and of other institutions like the Elks Club, the Homewood African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the A&P supermarket on Homewood Avenue. It is the home of John French and his wife Freeda in the 1920’s, of their daughter Lizabeth and her husband Edgar Lawson twenty years later, and their grandsons John and Tommy Lawson forty years later. Cassina Way is the street on which these generations live, and where John French dies after a heart attack (wedged between bathtub and toilet). It is a neighborhood in which crime is common, drugs are taking over by the 1980’s, and characters may be killed.
Homewood is also an area with a history, even if that history is slipping away by the end of the twentieth century. The neighborhood dates all the way back to the middle of the nineteenth century (as related in the story “The Beginning of Homewood” in Damballah) and the escaped slave Sybela Owens fleeing north. Homewood provides myths and meanings that can be sustaining to its residents, especially the narrator (and Wideman persona), John Lawson, born here in 1941 and returning to Homewood after some years away, and just now beginning to understand its richness and meaning. This community–its history, music, and language–provides a cultural safety net for its residents in a hostile world. “Homewood wasn’t bricks and boards,” as Lucy Tate says of its residents in Sent for You Yesterday. “Homewood was them singing and loving and getting where they needed to get. They made these streets. That’s why Homewood was real once.”
The three volumes of the novel encapsulate this history and heritage, and describe the friendship, family, and community that are the antidotes to the isolation and alienation of so much of twentieth century urban life. The stories told by and about Lucy Tate, Mother Bess, Sybela Owens, John French, and the others are part of a living African American past that Wideman (like Toni Morrison, in novels such as Beloved, 1987) wants his readers to acknowledge and celebrate.
Bruston Hill. Neighborhood within and above Homewood. It is to Bruston Hill where Tommy (John Lawson’s brother) goes in Hiding Place when he is wanted for murder. He hides out in the shack of Mother Bess, the family’s matriarch and Sybela’s granddaughter, and a hermit whose family history comes out in this section of The Homewood Trilogy.