Percival Everett Can’t Say What His Novels Mean

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Maya Binyam profiles the author of “Erasure,” “I Am Not Sidney Poitier,” and “James,” a retelling of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

While they speak, their professor, the novelist Percival Everett, sits quietly at the head of a too-large table, one palm steadied against it, his body swivelling almost imperceptibly from side to side. His head, decorated with errant coils of dark gray hair, is framed by a gargantuan television that hangs behind him, its screen a black expanse. He wears the uniform of a professional Everyman: slacks, button-down, glasses.

During our conversations, he sometimes seemed as though he was laboring to forget my task, or else to divert it. “Are you sure you aren’t my kid?” he asked during our second meeting, over breakfast at Hollywood’s Soho House. We finished eating, and Everett squinted in my direction. “Do you play tennis?” he asked. “I’m looking for a tennis partner.” We began to say goodbye. “You don’t have to write the profile,” he said as we walked toward our cars. “We could just be friends.

 

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