Perspectives on Percival Everett

Perspectives on Percival Everett

Keith B. Mitchell
Robin G. Vander
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Perspectives on Percival Everett
    Book Description:

    Percival Everett writes novels, short stories, poetry, and essays, and is one of the most prolific, acclaimed, yet under-examined African American writers working today. Although to date Everett has published eighteen novels, three collections of short fiction, three poetry collections, and one children's book, his work has not garnered the critical attention that it deserves. Perhaps one of the most vexing problems black and white scholars have had in trying to situate Everett's work is that they have found it difficult to "place" him and his work within a prescribed African American literary tradition. Because he happens to be African American, critics have expectations of so-called "authentic" African American fiction; however, his work often thwarts these expectations.

    InPerspectives on Percival Everett, scholars engage all of his creative production. On the one hand, Everett is an African American novelist. On the other hand, he pursues subject matters that seemingly have little to do with African American culture. The operative word here is "seemingly"; for as these essays demonstrate, Everett's works falls well within as well as outside of what most critics would deem the African American literary tradition. These essays examine issues of identity, authenticity, and semiotics, in addition to postmodernism and African American and American literary traditions--issues essential to understanding his aesthetic and political concerns.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-918-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction Changing the Frame, Framing the Change The Art of Percival Everett
    (pp. ix-2)

    To say that Percival Everett is one of the most accomplished and prolific contemporaryAfrican Americanwriters is also to say that Percival Everett is one of the most accomplished and prolificAmericanwriters. He is the author of eighteen novels, three collections of short fiction, three collections of poetry, and a children’s book. Born in 1956 in Fort Gordon, a small military base in Augusta, Georgia, he was primarily raised in South Carolina. Everett received his M.A. in fiction from Brown University in 1982, and was an associate professor at the University of Kentucky from 1985 to 1988, and...

  5. Chapter 1 “knowledge² + certainty² = squat²” (re)Thinking Identity and Meaning in Percival Everett’s The Water Cure
    (pp. 3-18)

    Many of Percival Everett’s works question how identities and perceptions of reality are created in society and expose the inherent flaws that exist within these systems of understanding. For example, inErasure(2001), Everett’s most critically acclaimed novel, Thelonius Monk Ellison wrestles with the need to “prove [he] was black enough” when describing a review that criticizes his retelling of Aeschylus’The Persiansbecause it “has [nothing] to do with the African American experience” (2). InThe Water Cure(2007), Everett continues this discussion of meaning and identity within the narrative of Ishmael Kidder, a man whose daughter is raped...

  6. Chapter 2 “This Strange Juggler’s Game” Forclusion in Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier
    (pp. 19-34)

    In his short 1991 treatise, “Signing to the Blind,” Percival Everett recounts his experience with Embassy Pictures as they sought to turn his novelSuder(1983) into a motion picture. “Norman Lear’s army,” he states, turned down Sidney Poitier as supporting actor and director of the film because “he was not a good enough director” (10). On the contrary, Everett continues, “If anyone in Hollywood could have done the story correctly, understood it, it was Sidney Poitier” (10). Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, is famous for his politically charged work both...

  7. Chapter 3 Frenzy Framing Text to Set Discourse in a Cultural Continuum
    (pp. 35-59)

    Percival Everett’sFrenzy(1997), modeled on the storyline ofThe Bacchaeby Euripides, is a postmodern revision of the story of the god of wine, madness, fertility, and ecstasy, Dionysos.¹ The narrator of Everett’s novel informs us that in the midst of the “frenzied Bakkhanal,”² the story of Dionysos is told through Vlepo, “an unfrenzied observer” (3) without form that manifests only at the command of Dionysos. Vlepo says of himself, “I was there to tell the participants what it was they enjoyed or did. My usual place was at the side of the god Bromius as his aide, his...

  8. Chapter 4 The Preservationist Impulse in Percival Everett’s “True Romance”
    (pp. 60-74)

    Readers may easily relate to the geographical and imaginative landscapes depicted in Percival Everett’s 2004 short-story collection,Damned if I Do, which, on the whole, are set in locales in the southwestern United States. The story collection displays characters striving to reach an appropriate balance between the wildness of their environment and their largely unsettled lives. With its focus on a lonely hero determined to fight for the preservation of his land in New Mexico and the halcyon lifestyle the landscape would afford him against a planned urban development zone, “True Romance” stands out as the only story in the...

  9. Chapter 5 The Mind-Body Split in American Desert Synthesizing Everett’s Critique of Race, Religion, and Science
    (pp. 75-93)

    At least since Descartes wrote “I think therefore I am,” Western philosophy has explored the mind-body problem. The relationship of the mind and the body presents the challenge of distinguishing between the world of ideas and the material forms of existence. In his famous account, Descartes severs the link between the mind and the body to elevate the role of philosophy and reflection in the construction of knowledge. Descartes famously posited: “Although the entire mind seems to be united to the entire body, nevertheless, were a foot or an arm or any other bodily part to be amputated, I know...

  10. Chapter 6 A Bird of a Different Feather Blues, Jazz, and the Difficult Journey to the Self in Percival Everett’s Suder
    (pp. 94-112)

    Much of the recent critical interest in Percival Everett’s literary contribution focuses on the author’s seemingly easy ability to move beyond race in his novels. Indeed, Everett indirectly resists being identified as any specific type of writer, even an African American writer, as he explains, “I don’t want to talk about race . . . I just want to make art.”¹ Of course, his aesthetic observations are not without precedent. Black American writers as diverse as Charles Chesnutt, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Anne Petry, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin have all written fiction that purports to be “raceless.”² But...

  11. Chapter 7 “Do you mind if we make Craig Suder white?” From Stereotype to Cosmopolitan to Grotesque in Percival Everett’s Suder
    (pp. 113-125)

    Nobody writes aboutSuder.¹ Percival Everett’s first novel, published in 1983, seems to attract less critical attention than the rest of his considerable body of work, and this is quite an assertion when taking into account how little critical attention his work receives in general. The reasons for this novel having been overlooked probably come down to its apparent formalistic modesty when compared to the pyrotechnical virtuosity ofGlyph(1999),Erasure(2001),American Desert(2004), andThe Water Cure(2007), for instance. Even when I teach Everett’s fiction, nobody decides to write his or her term paper onSuder. All...

  12. Chapter 8 Charting the Body Percival Everett’s Corporeal Landscapes in re: f (gesture)
    (pp. 126-138)

    Percival Everett’s poems celebrating the body inre: f (gesture)(2006) refresh our perceptions and revel in the semantic and sonic impact of language even as they upset our expectations. Instead of communicating meaning in the transparent ways we may anticipate, Everett’s poems figure forth fragments of familiar phenomena (a sternum, a tongue), in ways rendering them almost unrecognizable. Each mystified object, the depicted bodily bit, each poem itself, functions as an autonomous sign, free from standard communication, and thus freed as far as possible from culturally marked constructions. Through techniques of defamiliarization, the body meets us in an aestheticized...

  13. Chapter 9 When the Text Becomes the Stage Percival Everett’s Performance Turn in For Her Dark Skin
    (pp. 139-151)

    In the pantheon of Greek tragedies, Euripides’sMedeastands as a preeminent rendering of desire, scorn, and revenge and continues to enthrall writers, audiences, and academics alike as witnessed through the periodic reinterpretations, translations, and updated performances. WithFor Her Dark Skin(1990), Percival Everett joins the ranks of scholars and authors having attempted a reenvisioning of the work while simultaneously setting himself apart due to his unique envisioning of the text. As a literary novel, the elements traditionally found in a dramatic work—list of characters, stage directions, labeling of scenes and acts—are absent. Nonetheless, despite the shift...

  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 152-158)
  15. Contributors
    (pp. 159-161)
  16. Index
    (pp. 162-167)