Percival Everett

Award-winning Novelist & Story Writer
Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Winner
Dos Passos Prize Winner

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Percival Everett


“Everett has cultivated a reputation for his vast, genre-defying and sometimes gleefully unhinged body of work.” —New York Times

“Percival’s talent is multifaceted, sparked by a satiric brilliance that could place him alongside Wright and Ellison.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“One of our culture’s preeminent novelists.” —Los Angeles Times

“If part of the mission of the artist is to expand the thinking of the culture in which he exists, I have my work cut out for me.” —Percival Everett

The May 2020 New York Times headline reading “Percival Everett Has a Book or Three Coming Out” deftly describes the magnitude of Percival Everett’s distinguished career. Highly praised for his storytelling and ability to address the toughest issues of our time with humor, grace, and originality, Everett is the author of more than thirty novels and story collections, including Telephone (2020), So Much Blue (2017), Glyph (2014), Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (2013), I Am Not Sidney Poitier (2009), and Erasure (2001), all published by Graywolf Press. His most recent novel, Telephone, has three different endings, depending on the version you read—and you can’t know ahead of time which ending you will get. It is a deeply affecting story about the lengths to which loss and grief will drive us: a Percival Everett novel that will shake you to the core as it asks questions about the power of narrative to save. In a recent interview about the variable endings, he stated, “I’m interested not in the authority of the artist, but the authority of the reader.”

Everett has won the Dos Passos Prize, the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction, The 2010 Believer Book Award, the Premio Gregor von Rezzori, a Creative Capital Award, BS the Academy Award in Literature from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

His stories have been included in the Pushcart Prize Anthology and Best American Short Stories, and they are often featured on Selected Shorts, a radio program aired on NPR from Symphony Space in NYC.

Percival Everett was born in 1956 and grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. After graduating from the University of Miami, he began a philosophy degree at the University of Oregon, then transferred to a master’s program in fiction at Brown, where he wrote his first book, Suder. In 1989, he was invited to address the South Carolina State Legislature, but during his speech refused to continue because of the presence of the Confederate flag, thus touching off a controversy that ended with the flag being removed from the Capitol building some years later. He was inspired by this experience to write his powerful and funny story “The Appropriation of Cultures.”

Everett is currently Distinguished Professor of English at University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.


Percival Everett is the author of more than thirty novels and story collections, including Telephone, So Much Blue, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, I Am Not Sidney Poitier and Erasure. Everett has won the Dos Passos Prize, the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction, The 2010 Believer Book Award, the Premio Gregor von Rezzori, a Creative Capital Award, BS the Academy Award in Literature from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Everett is currently Distinguished Professor of English at University of Southern California. He lives in Los Angeles.


TELEPHONE (Novel, 2020)

“Sometimes, almost indifferently, one of Everett’s novel’s turns out to be truly exceptional and memorable, and confuses me in the best possible way. Telephone is one of these standouts.” — Rivka Galchen

Zach Wells is a perpetually dissatisfied geologist-slash-paleobiologist. Expert in a very narrow area—the geological history of a cave forty-four meters above the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon—he is a laconic man who plays chess with his daughter, trades puns with his wife while she does yoga, and dodges committee work at the college where he teaches. After a field trip to the desert yields nothing more than a colleague with a tenure problem and a student with an unwelcome crush on him, Wells returns home to find his world crumbling. His daughter has lost her edge at chess, has developed mysterious eye problems, and her memory has lost its grasp. Powerless in the face of his daughter’s slow deterioration, he finds a mysterious note asking for help tucked into the pocket of a jacket he’s ordered off eBay. Desperate for someone to save, he sets off to New Mexico in secret on a quixotic rescue mission. A deeply affecting story about the lengths to which loss and grief will drive us, Telephone is a Percival Everett novel we should have seen coming all along, one that will shake you to the core as it asks questions about the power of narrative to save.

SO MUCH BLUE (Novel, 2017)

“A generous, thrilling book by a man who might well be America’s most under-recognized literary master.” — NPR

Kevin Pace is working on a painting that he won’t allow anyone to see: not his children, not his best friend Richard, not even his wife, Linda. The painting is a canvas of twelve feet by twenty-one feet (and three inches) that is covered entirely in shades of blue. It may be his masterpiece or it may not; he doesn’t know or more accurately doesn’t care. What Kevin does care about are the events of the past. Ten years ago he had an affair with a young watercolorist in Paris. Kevin relates this event with a dispassionate air, even a bit of puzzlement. It’s not clear to him why he had the affair, but he can’t let it go. In the more distant past of the late seventies, Kevin and Richard traveled to El Salvador on the verge of war to retrieve Richard’s drug-dealing brother, who had gone missing without explanation. As the events of the past intersect with the present, Kevin struggles to justify the sacrifices he’s made for his art and the secrets he’s kept from his wife. So Much Blue features Percival Everett at his best, and his deadpan humor and insightful commentary about the artistic life culminate in a brilliantly readable new novel.

HALF AN INCH OF WATER (Novel, 2015)

“What is most enchanting about Half an Inch of Water is the rumor of magic constantly on the periphery, the inexplicable that emerges from and then retreats back into the haze of the desert.” — The New York Times Book Review

Percival Everett’s long-awaited new collection of stories, his first since 2004’s Damned If I Do, finds him traversing the West with characteristic restlessness. A deaf Native American girl wanders off into the desert and is found untouched in a den of rattlesnakes. A young boy copes with the death of his sister by angling for an unnaturally large trout in the creek where she drowned. An old woman rides her horse into a mountain snowstorm and sees a beloved dog that had died years before. For the plainspoken men and women of these stories—fathers and daughters, sheriffs and veterinarians—small events trigger sudden shifts in which the ordinary becomes unfamiliar. A harmless comment about how to ride a horse changes the course of a relationship, a snakebite gives rise to hallucinations, and the hunt for a missing man reveals his uncanny resemblance to an actor. Half an Inch of Water tears through the fabric of the everyday to examine what lies beneath the surface of these lives. In the hands of master storyteller Percival Everett, the act of questioning leads to vistas more strange and unsettling than could ever have been expected.

PERCIVAL EVERETT BY VIRGIL RUSSELL (Novel, 2013)

“A stark, shattering novel. Everett is a scandalously under-recognized contemporary master.This meta-fiction is deeply moving.” — Wall Street Journal

A story unfolds inside a story as a man visits his aging father in a nursing home. Each man tells overlapping tales: A painter meets a long-lost daughter. A man named Murphy can’t distinguish between the brothers who employ him. And in Murphy’s troubled dreams, Nat Turner imagines the life of William Styron. Anecdotes from the nursing home intertwine and crest in a wild excursion of the inmates. All the while a running commentary from father and son anchors the shifting plotlines and sheds doubt on their truthfulness. A powerful meditation on the humiliations of old age, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell is an ingenious culmination of Everett’s recurring preoccupations. All of his metaphysical and philosophical inquiries, his investigations into the nature of narrative, have led to this, his most important and elusive novel to date.

ASSUMPTION (Novel, 2011)

“The setting, the protagonist and the eccentric and pathetic cast of characters will haunt you long after you close the book.” — The New York Times Book Review

Ogden Walker, deputy sheriff of a small New Mexico town, is on the trail of an old woman’s murderer. But at the crime scene, his are the only footprints leading up to and away from her door. Something is amiss, and even his mother knows it. As other cases pile up, Ogden gives chase, pursuing flimsy leads for even flimsier reasons. His hunt leads him from the seamier side of Denver to a hippie commune as he seeks the puzzling solution. In Assumption, his follow-up to the wickedly funny I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Percival Everett is in top form as he once again upends our expectations about characters, plot, race, and meaning. A wild ride to the heart of a baffling mystery, Assumption is a literary thriller like no other.

I AM NOT SIDNEY POITIER (Novel, 2009)

“Not only is the novel smart and without a trace of pretentiousness, it shows Everett as a novelist at the height of his narrative and satirical powers.” — Publisher’s Weekly

I Am Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with an unfortunate name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunate, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation. Percival Everett’s hilarious new novel follows Not Sidney’s tumultuous life, as the social hierarchy scrambles to balance his skin color with his fabulous wealth. Maturing under the less-than watchful eye of his adopted foster father, Ted Turner, Not gets arrested in rural Georgia for driving while black, sparks a dinnertable explosion at the home of his manipulative girlfriend, and sleuths a murder case in Smut Eye, Alabama, all while navigating the recurrent communication problem: “What’s your name?” a kid would ask. “Not Sidney,” I would say. “Okay, then what is it?”

WOUNDED (Novel, 2005)

“Starts rhapsodically and rewards the reader with so many moments of love and laughter—Wounded is full of shocks and surprises.”—Los Angeles Times

Training horses is dangerous—a head-to-head confrontation with 1,000 pounds of muscle and little sense takes courage, but more importantly patience and smarts. It is these same qualities that allow John and his uncle Gus to live in the beautiful high desert of Wyoming. A black horse trainer is a curiosity, at the very least, but a familiar curiosity in these parts. It is the brutal murder of a young gay man however, that pushes this small community to the teetering edge of intolerance. Highly praised for his storytelling and ability to address the toughest issues of our time with humor, grace, and originality, Everett offers a brilliant novel that explores the alarming consequences of hatred in a divided America.

DAMNED IF I DO (Short Stories, 2004)

“Damned If I Do is underpinned by a quiet intelligence and an acute sense of place.”—The New York Times Book Review

An artist, a cop, a cowboy, several fly-fisherman, and even a reluctant romance novelist inhabit these revealing and often hilarious stories. Two men are faced with a horse who is wildly afraid of the dark. An old man ends up in a high-speed car chase with the cops after stealing the car that blocks the garbage bin at his apartment building. A stranger gets a job at a sandwich shop and fixes everything in sight: a manual mustard dispenser, a mouth full of crooked teeth, thirty-twoparking tickets, and a sexual identity problem.

ERASURE (Novel, 2001)

“With equal measures of sympathy and satire, Erasure craftily addresses the highly charged issue of being ‘black enough’ in America.”—NPR

Thelonious “Monk” Ellison’s writing career has bottomed out: his latest manuscript has been rejected by seventeen publishers, which stings all the more because his previous novels have been “critically acclaimed.” He seethes on the sidelines of the literary establishment as he watches the meteoric success of We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, a first novel by a woman who once visited “some relatives in Harlem for a couple of days.” Meanwhile, Monk struggles with real family tragedies—his aged mother is fast succumbing to Alzheimer’s, and he still grapples with the reverberations of his father’s suicide seven years before. In his rage and despair, Monk dashes off a novel meant to be an indictment of Juanita Mae Jenkins’s bestseller. He doesn’t intend for My Pafology to be published, let alone taken seriously, but it is—under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh—and soon it becomes the Next Big Thing. How Monk deals with the personal and professional fallout galvanizes this audacious, hysterical, and quietly devastating novel.