Everett To Receive Dos Passos Prize

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fiction writer Percival Everett will receive the 29th John Dos Passos Prize for Literature from Longwood University on Thursday, Nov. 4, at 8 p.m. in Longwood's Wygal Auditorium.

The Washington Post has called Everett “one of the most adventurously experimental of modern American novelists.” He is the author of 19 books, mostly novels, in genres as diverse as a farcical Western, a savage satire of the publishing industry, a children's story spoofing counting books, a retelling of the Greek myths of Medea and Dionysus, and a philosophical tract narrated by a four-year-old.

“He has been called 'genre ambidextrous,'” said Dr. Craig Challender, professor of English at Longwood and chair of this year's Dos Passos Prize Committee. “In addition to being amazingly prolific, Everett is multifaceted, changes practically from book to book, and runs the gamut of genres and forms. He has written mystery thrillers, fantasy, Greek myth, naturalistic fiction, and even an epistolary novel. His books, many of which are satirical, are all interesting and all different from one another.”

Email newsletter signup

Everett is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in creative writing, American studies and critical theory. He has developed a cult-like following for his satiric wit and the eclectic subjects of his work. His work is “characterized by wit, play and the exploration of philosophical tropes, and his satirical take on politics, class and race has been compared favorably to Richard Wright and Kurt Vonnegut,” said one critic.

Everett's best known novel is Erasure, published in 2001, which has been called a “satiric indictment of race and publishing in America.” The book is being taught this semester in a course taught by Dr. David Magill, assistant professor of English at Longwood.

Everett's most recent novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, published in 2009, is about a character whose last name is Poitier and whose first name is Am Not. “It's savagely funny,” said Challender, who read six of Everett's novels last summer.

“He has given us,” says a 2005 article in USC Trojan Family Magazine, “a galaxy of vivid characters – an art-loving horse trainer, a disillusioned hydrologist, a big-game hunter, a baby genius, a slumping major-league ballplayer who learns to fly, even the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. Pigeonholing Everett's 'style' seems as futile as predicting what he'll write about next…Through two decades of producing diverse, demanding, award-winning fiction, Everett has earned a devoted readership and wide respect for his uncompromising approach to writing despite the book world's ever more commercial leanings.”

The Dos Passos Prize, which includes a $2,000 cash award and a medal, is sponsored by Longwood's Department of English and Modern Languages (EML). The Prize is awarded annually to a writer whose works demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics: an intense and original exploration of specifically American themes, an experimental quality, and a wide range of literary forms. The first recipient was Graham Greene, and other recipients include Tom Wolfe, Lee Smith, Annie Proulx and Shelby Foote.

A dessert reception in the Haga Room, also in Wygal, will follow the award ceremony, which includes a reading by the recipient. The event is funded by the Longwood University Foundation, the Office of Academic Affairs, the Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences, and EML.