Writing Now Reading Series: Percival Everett

Writing Now Reading Series: Percival Everett

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CalArts Campus


Image courtesy of the author.

The New Yorker recently wrote of Percival Everett that he “has one of the best poker faces in contemporary American literature. The author of twenty-two novels, he excels at the unblinking execution of extraordinary conceits.” Since that article was published Everett has published another novel, Dr. No, which like so many of Everett’s novel could likely only have been conceived in a universe where Percival Everett writes novels. Its protagonist is a brilliant and neurodiverse professor of mathematics who goes by Wala Kitu. (Wala means “nothing” in Tagalog, and Kitu is Swahili for “nothing.”) He is an expert on nothing: he is an expert whose area of study is nothing. This makes him a compelling partner for the aspiring Supervillain John Sill, who wants to break into Fort Knox to steal not gold bars but a shoebox containing Nothing. Sill’s desire to become a literal Bond villain turns out of have originated in some real all-American villainy related to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. As Sill says, “Professor, think of it this way. This country has never given anything to us and it never will. We have given everything to it. I think it’s time we gave nothing back.” Dr. No follows closely on Booker Prize finalist The Trees, which revisits the story of Emmett Till and the history of lynching in America in a work that NPR described as “a novel of compelling contrasts: frank, pitiless prose leavened by dark humor; a setting that is simultaneously familiar and strange; a genre-defying, masterful blend of the sacred and the profane.” Everett’s many other works are equally original, unsettling and often hilarious: like his novel I am Not Sidney Poitier, about a protagonist named “Not Sidney Poitier.”  He is a Professor at the University of Southern California and lives in Los Angeles.