Everett, Percival L. 1956-
EVERETT, Percival L. 1956-
PERSONAL: Born December 22, 1956, in Ft. Gordon, GA; son of Percival Leonard (a dentist) and Dorothy (Stinson) Everett. Education: University of Miami, A.B., 1977; attended University of Oregon, 1978-80; Brown University, A.M., 1982.
CAREER: 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 creative writing, American studies, and critical theory, 1999—; writer.
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, for Zulus; PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award, for Big Picture; Academy Award for Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2003; Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; Hillsdale Award.
Suder (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1983.
Walk Me to the Distance (novel), Ticknor & Fields (Boston, MA), 1985.
Cutting Lisa (novel), Ticknor & Fields (Boston, MA), 1986.
The Weather and Women Treat Me Fair (short stories), August House (Little Rock, AK), 1989.
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), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
(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), 2004.
Damned If I Do (short fiction), 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, 2004.
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 L. Everett is an educator and writer who has won acclaim with his comic fiction. Everett gained acclaim in 1983 with his first novel, Suder, which 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. Reviewing Walk Me to the Distance in the Los Angeles Times, Don Strachan said that the novel "forces us to examine our moral positions," and he added that Everett demonstrates an ability "to plumb a deep emotional well with a detail."
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." Kirkus Reviews 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 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. 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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1992, review of The One That Got Away; March 15, 1994, review of God's Country; February 15, 1996, reviews of Watershed and Big Picture; November 1, 1996, review of Glyph.
Library Journal, January, 1997, Robert E. Brown, review of Frenzy; November 1, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of Glyph.
Los Angles Times, July 31, 1983, pp. 1, 8.
New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1983, pp. 9, 26; March 24, 1985, p. 24; June 5, 1994, David Bowman, "Cowpoke Absurdism"; September 15, 1996, Maggie Garb, review of Big Picture; December 1, 1996, James Polk, review of Watershed.
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.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2002, Trey Strecker, review of Erasure, p. 228.
Washington Post, May 20, 1990, p. 4.
University of Southern California Web site,http://www.usc.edu/ (September 27, 2003).