“Writing novels,” Percival Everett says, “is really an excuse to study something. I’m not so much interested in selling books as I am in the opportunity to study something. This is what I do; it allows me to discover and create a whole new world and a whole new voice.”
As the author of 20 novels, four collections of short stories, and two books of poetry, Everett speaks from experience. In 2002, he won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for his novel “Erasure,” and he gave a reading on his most recent novel, “So Much Blue,” at CC last year. Everett is additionally the recipient of the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Believer Book Award, and the 2006 PEN USA Center Award for Fiction.
A distinguished professor of English at the University of Southern California, Everett visited Colorado College during Block 4, teaching an Advanced Fiction Workshop, a class consisting of six students, all creative writing majors.
At USC, Everett teaches the undergraduate students fiction and a film course focusing on the American Western, while his graduate classes focus on literary theory. His research in American studies and critical theories of literature takes him across the country and world to give lectures.
“I loved Percival’s technique in teaching,” says Jade Frost ’17. “He gave us free range to write stories. The workshops never felt like workshops, but rather he made it a space where it was a conversation of constructive feedback, there was never pressure. Percival was truly invested in each of our stories and how we could enhance it.”
Despite his prolific writing career, Everett’s undergraduate degree was in biochemistry and mathematical logic, and his graduate degree was in philosophy. It wasn’t until he attended Brown University for his master’s that Everett focused
on literary fiction, and it was at Brown that he published his first novel, “Glyph,” a parody of literary theory. When asked how literary theory became a specialty of his, he referred to studying with some of the very first semioticians — those who study signs and symbols and their use or interpretation — at Brown.
As a professor, Everett acknowledges the challenges of encouraging students to pursue their love of writing. “There are two conversations I can have with a student,” Everett says. “The easy one is ‘Don’t quit your day job; this isn’t for you.’ The other conversation is much more difficult because it is much more serious. If I say to someone, ‘Listen, you have talent and you should pursue this,’ I am recommending them to go into a field where very few people have success, and the monetary compensation for your labor is lower than other professions. You need to be really certain you love it to do it. You can’t go into it thinking ‘I’m going to be rich.’ But if you love it, then no one can stop you from doing it.”
Everett was very optimistic about the block he taught at CC, and says he would definitely return to teach again.
“I’m really excited about how eager the students are to create their work, and maybe that’s a function of the Block Plan,” he says. “Semesters can feel really long — 16 weeks. This seems to work.”