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  • Team Luna

Percival Everett: A Master of Satire and Subversion

One of contemporary literature's most innovative voices, Percival Everett's writing challenges convention, dismantles racial stereotypes, and confronts profound philosophical questions with both wit and depth.

Throughout his formative years, Everett was exposed to a wide range of interests: philosophy, biochemistry, mathematical logic, and of course, literature. He earned his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Miami and an M.A. in fiction from Brown University. His diverse educational journey is reflected in the intellectual rigour and playful experimentation that characterise his novels.

Everett's fiction is known for its sharp satire, philosophical musings, and defiance of genre conventions. He has used westerns, detective stories, and even Greek mythology to comment on issues of race, identity, and the limitations of language. His novels don't offer easy answers or neat resolutions, but instead provoke readers to question their preconceived notions and confront uncomfortable truths.

"I start working on a novel believing I know something about a subject or the world, and by the time I am at the end of it, I’m pretty much disabused of the fact that I know anything at all about it. At least I have changed my mind, and I like that feeling.”

Making your way through all of Everett’s work can take a long time given his prolific output over the years. But here are our favourites:

Erasure (2001): Everett's acclaimed novel, Erasure, centers on Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, a Black writer facing rejection for his work deemed "not black enough." In frustration, Monk crafts a scathing, over-the-top parody titled "Ma Pafology," under a pen name, lampooning stereotypical Black portrayals. The intended satire becomes an unexpected success, sparking a conversation about authenticity and representation in literature.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier (2009): Everett attempts to deconstruct racial stereotypes and assumptions in this hilarious and thought-provoking novel that follows the misadventures of a young man named 'Not Sidney Poitier', whose uncanny resemblance to the famous actor leads to a series of bizarre and often unsettling encounters.

The Trees (2021): A chilling and darkly humorous exploration of racial violence in contemporary America. The book begins with the discovery of two murdered white men in the small town of Money, Mississippi. At each crime scene, there is also another body - of an unknown Black man, bearing an eerie resemblance to Emmett Till[1] - and the body disappears both times. Two detectives from the MBI, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are sent to investigate and are soon caught up in the escalating violence. The novel starts to feel like a fable toward the end, as the violence starts to spiral and spread across the country in what appears to be a mass retribution for persistent and systemic racial injustice. The Trees was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize and is an absolutely electrifying read.

James (2024): James is a compelling reimagining of Mark Twain's iconic work The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, told from the perspective of Jim, the enslaved man with whom Huck journeys down the Mississippi River. In Everett's masterful hands, this familiar story shifts into a powerful narrative of liberation and self-determination. Jim's journey is reframed as a struggle for agency and liberation, rather than a simple flight from his owner.

Percival Everett's novels are intellectually demanding and stylistically audacious. Yet, it is precisely in their challenges that they offer a profoundly rewarding (and always enjoyable) reading experience. His work expands our understanding of what literature can do, urging us to look beyond surface appearances and embrace the complexities and contradictions of the human experience.

[1]An African American boy who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 at the age of 14, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the acquittal of his killers drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. 


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