DeWayne Wickham says he penned Woodholme: A Black Man’s Story of Growing Up Alone (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) for “fairly selfish reasons. I wanted to explore the chasms in my life and bridge those great gaps of knowledge of myself and my family.” The Owings Mills, Md., resident initially set out to write a book about black politics—a likely subject for this Gannett columnist and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. But a discussion with a literary agent led him to memories of Woodholme, the Jewish country club where he once worked as a caddy. “There were parts in the book where I felt compelled to make a [political] point,” Wickham admits, citing his observation that in Cherry Hill, the Baltimore public-housing project where he grew up, all the mothers had husbands and all the husbands had jobs.
Wickham’s tragic but ultimately triumphant memoir opens with his first visit to Woodholme. By then the teen-ager is parentless, a result of his despondent father shooting his wife and then himself. Wickham lives with an aunt and then with his three older brothers; as he struggles to accept his parents’ deaths, he drops out of school, discovers his older brother’s homosexuality, becomes a teen father, and joins the Marine Corps. Wickham ends the book with his enlistment because, he says, “I’m not a celebrity—I don’t know that I want to take people beyond my middle passage.” But his current successes speak for him, and with understated elegance, Woodholme dispels the notion that many African-Americans have lost touch with cultural traditions and community. Wickham, a master of descriptive language, establishes characters and storytelling rhythm with the skill of a seasoned novelist. He reads at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 11, at Vertigo Books.