Percival L Everett Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Fort Gordon, Georgia, 1956. 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; associate professor of English and director of graduate creative writing program, University of Kentucky, Lexington, 1985-89; associate professor of English, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1989-92; professor of creative writing, University of California, Riverside, 1992—. Awards: D. H. Lawrence fellowship, University of New Mexico, 1984; Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest fellowship. Agent: Candida Donadio, 231 West 22nd Street, New York, New York 10011, U.S.A.
Suder. New York, Viking, 1983.
Walk Me to the Distance. New York, Ticknor & Fields, 1985.
Cutting Lisa. New York, Ticknor & Fields, 1986.
Zulus. Sag Harbor, New York, Permanent Press, 1989.
For Her Dark Skin. Owl Creek Press, 1989.
God's Country. Boston, Faber and Faber, 1994.
The Body of Martin Aguilera. Owl Creek Press, 1994.
Watershed. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1996.
Frenzy. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1997.
Glyph. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1999.
The Weather and Women Treat Me Fair: Stories. Little Rock, Arkansas, August House, 1989.
Big Picture: Stories. Saint Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1996.
The One That Got Away (for children), illustrations by Dirk Zimmer. New York, Clarion Books, 1992. Contributor,
From Timberline to Tidepool: Contemporary Fiction from the Northwest, edited by Rich Ives. Owl Creek Press, 1989.
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Born outside of August, Georgia, in 1956, Percival Everett grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and seems to have the Southern penchant for storytelling in his bones. Averaging a new book about every 18 months, Everett is a prolific and ambitious writer with a fierce imagination.
Like other Southern writers, most notably William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, Everett is captivated by what literary criticism calls the grotesque, that sometimes absurd, other times enigmatic admixture of comedy and tragedy. His minor characters in particular are fantastical gargoyle creations that allow the author opportunities for surrealistic subterfuge in virtually all of his work.
Everett's first novel, Suder, appeared in 1983. Its African-American protagonist, Suder, is a third-baseman for the Seattle Mariners who is in a slump, both on the field and at home where relations with his wife and son are strained. Suder thus embarks on a journey of inner discovery paralleled by an outlandish series of external events, a thematic structure to be found again and again in Everett's fiction. Sharing an affinity with the eighteenth-century novel, Suder is a fast-paced, episodic narrative in which the reader is carried away in a swift stream of improbabilities. The protagonist runs into a drug deal, meets up with a 300-pound vending machine service man, adopts a pet elephant, and even tries his hand at flying. This last twist, however, is more than a fanciful plot device. It also points to Everett's deep interest in mythology and in particular to the myth of flying, a recurring figure in both African folklore and in African-American fiction—Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, for instance. To date, Everett has written two book-length reworkings of ancient Greek mythology, For Her Dark Skin and Frenzy, about the half-man, half-god Dionysus.
In his latest novel, Glyph, Everett joins the tradition of academic satires by the likes of Nabokov or, more recently, Jane Smiley and Don DeLillo. The book is a send-up of academic jargon, especially deconstructionist "language games," but it is also a meditation on language, the nature of genius, and the very real destructiveness of intellectual opportunism. Still, as is characteristic of Everett, Glyph is suffused with comedy. The protagonist and narrator is four-year-old Baby Ralph Townsend, a genius baby who reads the classics of Western philosophy and literature, and writes as well, but refuses to speak on aesthetic and philosophical grounds. Baby Ralph's father is a professor of literature and a scholar of the poststructuralist theories of Roland Barthes. At first believing his son retarded because of his refusal to speak, Baby Ralph's father soon realizes that in fact his son is a genius, capable even of blackmailing his father. Ralph's loving mother, by contrast, is a painter, who gives the child his first book, tellingly Wittgenstein's Tractatus. As one has come to expect, Everett steers the Townsend family through a veritable labyrinth of intrigue, meeting along the way a violently evil child psychologist, a top-secret military intelligence group, a delusional Catholic priest, and Ferdinand Marcos. Interspersed with the narrative, however, are Everett's pointed interrogations of postmodernism, semiotic analysis, and theoretical pretensions, all styled after the most esoteric discourses of French literary theory.
Everett is also the author of The One That Got Away, an imaginative children's book of wordplay about the numeral 1, as corralled by a comic trio of cowpokes.
—Michele S. Shauf