Koen Potgieter

PhD Candidate

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

“With You in the Ashes of This City We Share”: Haunted Cities in the Novels of John Edgar Wideman

My dissertational research makes use of hauntology theory to look at the representation of cities in the novels of John Edgar Wideman, and argues that the ghostly city forms an important theme in the author’s work. Haunting and ghostly figures have become a mainstay of American literary scholarship in recent years, as metaphors that are particularly apt at describing the hold of the past on the present. Wideman is one of the foremost chroniclers of this blurry line between past and present, as it pertains to black communities in cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where inequality and persecution are supposed to be of the past, but where they keep emerging in the present. In novels like The Homewood Trilogy (1985), Philadelphia Fire (1990), and Two Cities (1998), the urban landscape is depicted as a haunted site of both acknowledged and unacknowledged memory and trauma. I read Wideman’s literary project in these novels as an attempt to draw attention to the ghostly remainders of history that unceasingly return to make their presence felt.

Academic Publications

“ ‘This Disintegrating Force’: Reading Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie as a Narrative of Black Upward Mobility.” in AS|Peers 5 (May 2012), 69-80.

“ ‘Somebody Walking Over My Grave’: The Symbolic Weight of Violence and Death in the African American Passing Novel” in Vooys: Tijdschrift voor Letteren 30.1(April 2012), 17-28.


Academic Theses

MA Thesis: “ ‘Peculiarities of Habit, of Temperament, and of Character’: The Naturalist Novel’s Inquiries into American Ethnicity and The Disavowed “Black Presence” at the Heart of Frank Norris’s McTeague and Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie.” (grade 9)

BA Thesis: “ ‘So Mystical and Well Nigh Ineffable’: Encountering the Lacanian Real in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.” (grade 9)



2009 – 2011: MA in American Studies, University of Groningen, The Netherlands, graduated Cum Laude.

2005-2009: BA in American Studies, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.


Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft