I am Not Sidney Poitier

Alex Abramovich writes:

I don’t believe in race. I believe there are people who will shoot me or hang me or cheat me and try to stop me because they do believe in race, because of my brown skin, curly hair, wide nose and slave ancestors. But that’s just the way it is.

Thelonius ‘Monk’ Ellison, in Percival Everett’s Erasure

Race is America’s most enduring fiction. And for all the relieved, Obama-era sighing over America’s new, nominally post-racial century, that fiction can be infuriatingly hard to shake, or look past, or write one’s way around. Take the career of America’s pre-eminent post-racial novelist, Percival Everett. Everett – who was born into a family of doctors in South Carolina in 1956 – started off writing about characters who weren’t necessarily black, or weren’t described as such, or were only described as such in passing, and incidentally. His 22 books include modern-day reworkings of Greek myths, genre spoofs, straight-faced westerns, broad satires, domestic novels, novel-length fables, surgically precise satires, an apocalyptic science fiction novel (‘Zulus is a difficult book to describe,’ the blurb tells us, in a rare example of truthful blurb-writing) and a mathematically inclined children’s book called The One That Got Away (1992).

(LRB 19 November 2009)

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