Everett, Percival 1956–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Everett, Percival 1956–

PERSONAL:

Born December 22, 1956, in Ft. Gordon, GA; son of Percival Leonard (a dentist) and Dorothy Everett; married Danzy Senna (a novelist); children: Henry, Miles. Education: University of Miami, A.B., 1977; attended University of Oregon, 1978-80; Brown University, A.M., 1982. Hobbies and other interests: Painting, woodworking, fly fishing.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Moreno Valley, CA. Office—University Park Campus, English Department, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089. Agent—Alison Granucci, Blue Flower Arts, P.O. Box 1361, Millbrook, NY 12545. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer and educator. Worked as jazz musician, ranch worker, and high school teacher; University of Kentucky, Lexington, associate professor of English, 1985-89, director of graduate creative writing program, 1985-89; University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, professor of English, 1989-92; University of California at Riverside, professor of creative writing and chairman of program, 1992-99; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, professor of English, 1999—. Has also taught at Bennington College and University of Wyoming. Judge for PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, 1991, and National Book Award for fiction, 1997.

MEMBER:

Writers Guild of America (West), Modern Language Association.

AWARDS, HONORS:

D.H. Lawrence fellowship, University of New Mexico, 1984; Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest fellowship; New American Writing Award, 1990, for Zulus; South Carolina Governor's Award in the Arts, 1994; PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, 1997, for Big Picture; Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation Legacy Award, 2002, for Erasure; Academy Award for Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2003; Hillsdale Award; PEN USA 2006 Literary Award, PEN American Center, for Wounded.

WRITINGS:

Suder (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1983, reprinted, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1999.

Walk Me to the Distance (novel), Ticknor & Fields (Boston, MA), 1985.

Cutting Lisa (novel), Ticknor & Fields (Boston, MA), 1986, reprinted, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 2000.

The Weather and Women Treat Me Fair (short stories), August House (Little Rock, AK), 1987.

Zulus (novel), Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1989.

For Her Dark Skin (novel), Owl Creek Press (Seattle, WA), 1989.

The One That Got Away (children's book), illustrations by Dirk Zimmer, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1992.

God's Country (novel), Faber (Boston, MA), 1994.

The Body of Martin Aguilera, Owl Creek Press (Seattle, WA), 1994.

Big Picture (short stories), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1996.

Watershed (novel), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1996.

Frenzy (novel), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1996.

Glyph (novel), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1999.

Grand Canyon, Inc. (novel), Versus Press, 2001.

Erasure (novel), University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2001.

(Author of foreword) Making Callaloo: Twenty-five Years of Black Literature, 1976-2000, edited by Charles Henry Rowell, afterword by Carl Phillips, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.

American Desert (novel), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.

Damned If I Do (short fiction), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2004.

(With James Kincaid) A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid (novel), Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Percival Everett on Thomas Jefferson: The Jefferson Bible, Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Wounded (novel), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2005.

The Water Cure (novel), Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2007.

Work represented in anthologies, including From Timberline to Tidepool: Contemporary Fiction from the Northwest, edited by Rich Ives, Owl Creek Press, 1989. Contributor of stories to periodicals, including Montana Review, Callaloo, Aspen Journal of the Arts, Modern Short Stories, and Black American Literature Forum.

SIDELIGHTS:

Percival Everett is an educator and writer who has won acclaim for his comic fiction. In works like God's Country, American Desert and A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid Everett explores themes such as racism, philosophy, politics, theology, and nature. "Throughout many of his books," observed Oscar Villalon in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Everett's writing is embossed in subtlety and thoughtfulness, or sports broad comedy and one-liners dying for a rim shot, sometimes both. For the serious reader, Everett is a find."

Everett's first novel, Suder, tells the story of a baseball player who reacts to a slump and family problems by suddenly embarking on a trip across the American Northwest. Carolyn See, writing in the Los Angeles Times, described Suder as a "mad work of comic genius," and Alice Hoffman affirmed in the New York Times Book Review that the novel "gives us a story of a life filled with chance events, some laughable, others tragic." Walk Me to the Distance, Everett's second novel, concerns a Vietnam veteran who finds seclusion at a Wyoming ranch house he shares with an aging widow and her mentally impaired son. The hero finds a measure of contentment with the widow, with whom he eventually adopts a Vietnamese girl. But when the widow's son, scorned by his mother, violates the girl, the hero is drawn to vigilante justice.

In 1986 Everett produced his third novel, Cutting Lisa, and he followed that volume in 1989 with his first short-story collection, The Weather and Women Treat Me Fair. In 1989 he also published Zulus, a fantasy about the last fertile woman on a post-thermonuclear Earth. The heroine is an obese woman who avoids forced sterilization and subsequently becomes pregnant after being raped. With her potential for childbearing, the heroine proves valuable to rebels interested in rejuvenating the human race. Reviewing Zulus in the Washington Post, Clarence Major drew comparisons to Aldous Huxley's classic, Brave New World, and stated that Everett's novel "is a curious, troublesome and, at times, delightful addition to the literature of the antiheroic and the futuristic." In addition, Major hailed Everett as "one of America's most promising young novelists" and noted that his "gifts as a lyrical writer are vividly on display."

Everett followed Zulus with another novel, For Her Dark Skin. He then published The One That Got Away, a children's book about the high jinks that ensue when a band of cowboys capture the numeral "one." A Kirkus Reviews critic conceded that The One That Got Away is "sort of a one-joke story" but nonetheless summarized it as a "novel idea, developed with high style and wit."

In 1994 Everett published God's Country, a novel about a cowardly racist who requires a black tracker's services after his wife is kidnapped by white men posing as Indians. Booklist reviewer Brian McCombie deemed God's Country "laugh-out-loud funny, thoughtful, and shocking," and a Publishers Weekly critic found it "corrosively funny and disquieting." A Kirkus Reviews critic, meanwhile, contended that "as a spoof, this tale hits the mark," and David Bowman, writing in the New York Times Book Review, declared that God's Country "starts sour, then abruptly turns into Cowpoke Absurdism, ending with an acute hallucination of blood, hate and magic." He added, "The novel sears."

Everett's Big Picture, which appeared two years later, contains short stories exemplifying what a Kirkus Reviews critic acknowledged as Everett's "usual subtlety and eccentric comic flourishes." Among the tales in Big Picture are "Cerulean," where an artist indulges his long-held desire to consume paint; "Dicotyles Tajacu," in which a forlorn painter bonds with a stuffed, one-eyed pig; and "Squeeze," wherein a cowhand falls victim to a prankster sporting a friend's dentures. A Publishers Weekly critic, while contending that "Cerulean," "caves in on itself," concluded that other tales in the collection "steer clear of abstract self-preoccupation and make for good reading." A Kirkus Reviews critic similarly summarized the stories in Big Picture as "eminently readable," while Maggie Garb, writing in the New York Times Book Review, affirmed that Everett sometimes manages to enrich his characters with "a strangely appealing complexity."

In 1996, the same year he issued Big Picture, Everett also produced two novels: Watershed and Frenzy. Watershed depicts a black hydrologist contending with both a faltering romance and a federal investigation for murder. The novel begins with the hero surrounded by police in the mountains of Colorado. It then retraces events—including the hero's involvement in a dispute between Indians and the U.S. government—culminating in the standoff. A Kirkus Reviews critic claimed that Watershed provides "few breathtaking vistas" but conceded that it includes "nice touches of humor and essential humanity." A Publishers Weekly critic was likewise ambivalent, noting the novel's "rueful irony and political bite" but adding that the various relationships "lack the nuance of the cultural background [Everett] gives them." James Polk, though, declared in the New York Times Book Review that Watershed "tells an important story."

Frenzy, meanwhile, is set in the world of Greek mythology. The novel tells of Vlepo, assistant to the half-man, half-God Dionysus. Vlepo, who possesses the ability to read minds, travels back in time in an attempt to help Dionysus grasp his own fate. A Publishers Weekly critic deemed Frenzy "playful," and Library Journal reviewer Robert E. Brown proclaimed it "interesting." A Kirkus Reviews critic, however, concluded that some readers might find Frenzy "a strained, rather precious exercise."

The novel Glyph concerns an infant genius—his studies include philosophy and physics—who blackmails his father before being kidnapped by, successively, a deranged psychologist and conspiratorial government agents. A Kirkus Reviews critic described the novel's conclusion as "a final free-for-all that involves [the hero's] previous captors, the Catholic Church, and [former Filipino dictator] Ferdinand Marcos." A Kirkus Reviews critic deemed Glyph "a smart, rollicking sendup," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer described the novel as an "off-kilter academic spoof." Barbara Hoffert, writing in Library Journal, was less impressed, claiming that Everett's protagonist is "insufferable enough to leave a sour taste." But Booklist critic George Needham called Glyph a novel "that can be enjoyed by almost anyone."

Everett continued his prolific production of fiction with the 2001 novella Grand Canyon, Inc., which was followed the next year by the novel Erasure. Described by a Publishers Weekly critic as an "an over-the-top masterpiece," Erasure features as its protagonist one Thelonius "Monk" Ellison, an African American writer who has built a limited readership for his intellectual essays and experimental novels. Having observed the success of other black writers who have opted to "write black," Monk decides to try his hand at "ghetto prose." His proposal for a novel titled My Pafology, written under the pseudonym of Stagg R. Leigh, quickly produces a huge advance from a major publisher and an even larger offer for movie rights to the story. The resulting novel becomes a best seller and is nominated for an important book award. In the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Trey Strecker wrote, "Erasure's acerbic satire on race and publishing is balanced by Monk's heartfelt attempt to reconcile himself to tumultuous—and typically late-twentieth-century—changes in his family life: his sister's murder, his mother's Alzheimer's disease, his brother's coming out, and his father's suicide." In Publishers Weekly a reviewer concluded, "Percival's talent is multifaceted, sparked by a satiric brilliance that could place him alongside Wright and Ellison as he skewers the conventions of racial and political correctness."

Everett's American Desert, a 2004 title, projects an even stranger tale. Ted Street, a disgruntled college professor, is en route to commit suicide when he is killed in a car crash. At his funeral he comes back to life, and then embarks on a bizarre journey of soul searching. In Library Journal, Joanna A. Burkhardt commented that the author "has created a story of love, despair, resurrection, purpose, and the comedy of human existence." Reviewing the novel for Booklist, Vanessa Bush called American Desert a "biting and satirical" story "about the meaning of life and death and one man's search for redemption."

That same year Everett released Damned If I Do, a collection of twelve short stories "told with a raw simplicity that stands in bracing contrast to forays into the surreal," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor. In the opening tale, "The Fix," a handyman displays an extraordinary ability to repair everything from broken toasters to broken hearts, and "Epigenesis" concerns a fly-fisherman's relationship with a talking trout. The volume, remarked Prudence Peiffer in Library Journal, "offers a fresh and often hilarious perspective on the ways we see—and are blind to—the world." According to Robert Birnbaum, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, "These dozen stories exhibit his characteristically sardonic humor and his well-modulated moral outrage, as well as a masterful command of narrative. He also manages, within the tight constraints of the short-story form, to create characters that are engaging and accurate. The stories travel over a compelling landscape of settings, emotions and insights, rarely, if ever, losing sight of the need to take the reader along."

A satirical look at race relations and the publishing industry, A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid "offers a timely interrogation of writing's power to manufacture a persona," observed Trey Strecker in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. After an unbalanced congressional aide convinces a major publishing house to greenlight the octogenarian South Carolina senator's revisionist history, which details his contributions to black America, Everett and Kincaid are hired to ghostwrite the work. "The story's epistolary format allows novelist Everett and literary theorist Kincaid to write in a chorus of richly individuated voices," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, and Villalon remarked that "there's a lot of meat here for anybody looking for it, questions not only about how publishing works, or doesn't, but about the allegiances of a writer and how one handles those sticky notions of truth and history."

Everett received the PEN USA Literary Award for his next novel, Wounded. The work centers on John Hunt, a widowed black horse trainer living on a Wyoming ranch with his elderly uncle. A series of hate crimes, including the brutal murder of a gay college student, shatters Hunt's quiet existence, which is complicated even further when David, the estranged gay son of an old college friend, arrives at the ranch with his activist lover. "This is a novel about the withholding of emotion, and about the struggle to identify one's deepest needs," wrote Guardian contributor Jay Parini. "It's also a political novel, in that it asks the big question: what responsibility do I have for those around me? That Everett's narrator cannot answer this question does not mean that the novel itself lacks moral force. It's a bracing story, in fact." Though Christopher Bell, writing in the Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, felt that "the narrative has the feel of a soap opera: life-altering event is piled on top of life-altering event with little discussion or analysis of what's going on," other critics praised Everett's treatment of sensitive themes. "As an astute judge of character, Everett recognizes that wounds are an essential part of the human condition," remarked a contributor in Kirkus Reviews. "The possibility of healing gives his novel its redemptive power."

In The Water Cure, Ishmael Kidder, a recently divorced, alcoholic novelist, abducts and tortures the man he holds responsible for the rape and murder of his eleven-year-old daughter. "The majority of the text is a confession written by Kidder the Narrator to whoever cares to read it," observed a Southern Review contributor. "Whatever takes place and is disclosed begs to be scrutinized, for that is one of Everett's primary purposes in this novel, which defying easy categorization, one could call … a post-September 11 sociopolitical satire/semiotic treatise/murder mystery/morality play." According to Andrew Ervin, writing in the Chicago Tribune, the work "is at times violent, blasphemous, crude, juvenile, indecent, hilarious, upsetting—and altogether captivating, so to speak, for those very reasons."

Though he is frequently categorized as an "African American" author, Everett eschews such labels. In an interview on the University Press of New England Web site, the author stated: "Of course my experience as a black man in America influences my art; it influences the way I drive down the street. But certainly John Updike's work is influenced by his being white in America, but we never really discuss that. I think readers, black and white, are sophisticated enough to be engaged by a range of black experience, informed by economic situa- tion, religion (or lack thereof) or geography, just as one accepts a range of so-called white experience." "Even though most of his work is not, on the face of it, about the subject of race," observed Peter Monaghan in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Mr. Everett is a satirist whose frame of mind will not permit him to keep that topic out of his novels. He simply resists being pigeonholed in any category, including as an ‘African-American’ author. In today's literary and academic climate, however, that is a hard battle to win."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2005, Robert Fleming, "Wit and Wisdom: Short Stories by a Master and Novels by a Variety of Writers Take Us on Odd Journeys," review of Damned If I Do, p. 68.

Booklist, May 15, 1994, Brian McCombie, review of God's Country; April 1, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of Watershed, p. 1342; January 1, 1997, Brian McCombie, review of Frenzy, p. 818; October 15, 1999, George Needham, review of Glyph; April 1, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of American Desert, p. 1346; October 15, 2004, Vanessa Bush, review of Damned If I Do, p. 389; August 1, 2005, Vanessa Bush, review of Wounded, p. 1991; September 1, 2007, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Water Cure, p. 57.

Callaloo, spring, 2005, James R. Kincaid, "An Interview with Percival Everett," pp. 377-381.

Chicago Tribune, January 10, 2008, Andrew Ervin, "Putting Water Cure down Won't Be Easy."

Chronicle of Higher Education, February 11, 2005, Peter Monaghan, "Satiric Inferno."

Entertainment Weekly, September 2, 2005, Channing Joseph, review of Wounded, p. 85.

Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, May-June, 2006, Christopher Bell, "My Own Private Wyoming," review of Wounded, p. 45.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1992, review of The One That Got Away, p. 322; March 15, 1994, review of God's Country, p. 322; February 15, 1996, reviews of Watershed and Big Picture; November 1, 1996, review of Glyph; June 15, 2005, review of Wounded, p. 654; July 15, 2007, review of The Water Cure.

Library Journal, January, 1997, Robert E. Brown, review of Frenzy, p. 145; November 1, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of Glyph, p. 122; May 15, 2004, Jim Dwyer, review of A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid, p. 114; November 15, 2004, Prudence Peiffer, review of Damned If I Do, p. 53; July 1, 2005, Jenn B. Stidham, review of Wounded, p. 66; October 1, 2007, Lawrence Rungren, review of The Water Cure, p. 58.

Literary Review, winter, 2006, Madeleine Beckman, review of Damned If I Do, p. 188.

Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1983, Carolyn See, review of Suder, pp. 1, 8.

New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1983, Alice Hoffman, review of Suder, pp. 9, 26; March 24, 1985, Wendy Smith, review of Walk Me to the Distance, p. 24; June 5, 1994, David Bowman, "Cowpoke Absurdism," review of God's Country, p. 43; September 15, 1996, Maggie Garb, review of Big Picture, p. 30; December 1, 1996, James Polk, review of Watershed, p. 23; October 7, 2001, Jennifer Berman, review of Erasure, p. 22; May 9, 2004, Sven Birkerts, review of A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid, p. 19; September 18, 2005, Gregory Cowles, review of Wounded, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, April 18, 1994, review of God's Country, p. 46; March 4, 1996, reviews of Watershed, p. 53, and Big Picture, p. 61; November 18, 1996, review of Frenzy, p. 67; November 8, 1999, review of Glyph; August 13, 2001, review of Erasure, p. 283; April 26, 2004, review of A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid, p. 44; October 25, 2004, review of Damned If I Do, p. 27; July 18, 2005, review of Wounded, p. 183.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2002, Trey Strecker, review of Erasure, p. 228; summer, 2004, Trey Strecker, review of A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid, p. 148.

San Francisco Chronicle, June 13, 2004, Oscar Villalon, "An Author Too Imaginative for Mere Black and White: Percival Everett's Fiction Defies Assumptions," reviews of American Desert and A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid; January 16, 2005, Robert Birnbaum, "Sardonic Humor and Moral Outrage Mix in Everett's Stories," review of The Water Cure, p. B6.

Southern Review, spring, 2008, "Not Kidding Around," review of The Water Cure, p. 375.

Washington Post, May 20, 1990, Clarence Major, review of Zulus, p. 4.

Washington Post Book World, August 23, 2008, Jim Krusoe, "What Happens When the Torturer Is Also a Victim?," review of The Water Cure, p. 4.

ONLINE

Akashic Books Web site,http://www.akashicbooks.com/ (July 1, 2008), Raul Deznermio, "Interview with Percival Everett and James Kincaid."

Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (July 16, 2008), Michael Schaub, review of A History of the African-American People (Proposed) by Strom Thurmond, as Told to Percival Everett and James Kincaid.

City Paper Online,http://www.citypaper.com/ (August 31, 2005), Felicia Pride, review of Wounded.

Guardian Online,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (February 17, 2007), Jay Parini, "Alone in the Wilds of Wyoming," review of Wounded.

Identity Theory,http://www.identitytheory.com/ (May 6, 2003), Robert Birnbaum, "Percival Everett: Author of God's Country Talks with Robert Birnbaum."

Time Out Chicago,http://www.timeout.com/Chicago/ (October 25, 2007), Ryan Bartelmay, review of The Water Cure.

University of Southern California Web site,http://www.usc.edu/ (July 1, 2008), profile of Percival Everett.

University Press of New England Web site,http://www.upne.com/ (July 1, 2008), "An Interview with Percival Everett."

NEARBY TERMS

Everett, Percival 1956–