Percival Everett, author of 28 books and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California read on Friday, June 20th as a keynote speaker for our annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Everett is a former mentor and close friend to one of URI’s Creative Writing faculty, Josie Sigler Sibara, who introduced Everett. Sibara became friends with Everett during her doctoral program at the University of Southern California, despite never having taken a class with him. Sibara recalls her frustration with narrative and form at the time, quoting Everett’s advice: “No one even knows what a novel is. That’s the beauty of it. Just follow yourself in.”
Everett read “Tesseract,” a short story just published in the Winter 2014 edition of Brooklyn-based art magazine, BOMB. “Tesseract” is a story about painting, aging, marriage and risk. After his reading, conference participants were able to ask questions. One participant asked Everett about his teaching experiences with Nigerian author and former student at the University of Southern California, Chris Abani. Everett proudly described the “self-slap” that he taught Abani as the “Pavlovian training,” or the ability to revise one’s own work that comes with writing fiction apart from one’s mentor. Another participant asked Everett about the influential writers of his youth. Unable to choose just one, he claimed Mark Twain, Bullwinkle and Groucho Marx as masters of dialog and comedy. Finally, an audience member asked Everett about his response to having been called “America’s post-racial novelist.” Everett explained: “If it becomes a post-racial America, then none of us will know that it has happened.”
The next day Everett joined me, Amy Foley, and URI graduate students Hazel Gedikli and Charles Kell for a discussion of I am Not Sidney Poitier where we exchanged views on race, film, comedy, parody, pastiche and fiction.