Raise your hand if you've heard of Percival Everett.
I imagine a few hands raise. Only a few. By no means is Everett a well-known or widely-read author. Why is this? We'll get to that shortly.
If you're one of the many not yet familiar with Everett, let me introduce you: Percival Everett is the award-winning author of more than thirty books. His first was published in 1983—his most recent 2017. Throughout his career, he's received dozens of honors for his work. What does Everett write about? Whatever he feels like—whatever has captured his attention. He's covered mythology and westerns on several occasions, with stops to explore poetry, baseball, and even philosophy as told by a four year old. The Washington Postlabeled him as “one of the most adventurously experimental of modern American novelists.”
So that's Percival Everett. Also, it's important to note for the sake of discussing Erasure that Everett is black.
Now let me introduce you to this phenomenal work of literature. The protagonist, Thelonious Ellison, is a brilliant and acclaimed author who is having trouble selling his most recent novel. There have been complaints from the publishers that Ellison's writing is not “black enough.” Ellison writes about a wide range of topics—one of his favorite subjects is mythology. Frustrated with the remarkable success of a novel titled We's Lives In Da Ghetto, Ellison scribbles an angry response, a parody that is thoroughly embraced by the literary world.
So why is Everett largely unknown? I think Erasure addresses that question. As a reader, I cannot say how much of this novel is truly biographical, but I don't think I'm completely off by drawing a comparison here. As an author of tremendous talent, Everett's frustration after twenty years of relative obscurity surely must parallel that of Thelonious Ellison. If only these authors would write something about what it means to be black, they'd find success.
In this one novel, Everett tackles the duplicity of the publishing industry. Though more authors of color are being published in recent years, there still exists some degree of expectation that these authors “stick to what they know,” even if it's not actually indicative of their experience. Erasure addresses this hypocrisy in a way that is both comical and heartbreaking in equal measures. It is a brilliant exploration of identity, a multi-layered look at what makes a person. Joining Ellison on this journey—a mother suffering from Alzheimer's, a brother discovering his sexuality, and a sister firmly committed to her pro-choice convictions.
Whatever the subject, Everett is an intelligent author with astounding insight and a knack for language. His work may not have achieved the status it deserves, but I believe that day will come. I know that I will be revisiting his work sooner than later.