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Interview de Percival Everett - Assises Internationales du Roman 2011

Par Percival Everett, Clifford Armion : Professeur agrégé d'anglais - ENS de Lyon
Publié par Clifford Armion le 30/08/2011

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In May 2011, Percival Everett took part in the fifth edition of the Assises Internationales du Roman, organised by the Villa Gillet and Le Monde. He was kind enough to grant us an interview at the Hotel Carlton in Lyon.

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Transcript of the interview

Clifford Armion: I think you teach fiction writing at the University of Southern California. It's difficult for me to understand what is a fiction writing course because this is not common in France.

Percical Everett: Sometimes it's difficult for me to understand. It's taught differently. For me it's more of a way of teaching writers to read like writers: what questions to ask about how certain effects are achieved by works they admire and perhaps even by works they don't admire. I direct a PHD program - literature and creative writing - and my students are already seasoned writers. We do teach writing to undergraduates and that's always an adventure since there's such a range in talent. Not all of the undergraduates will be writers, in fact very few of them will be, but it does offer them an opportunity to read and learn to dissect the fiction they read.

C.A.: So your graduate students are in the process of writing books and you give them advice?

P.E.: Yes, basically yes.

C.A.: Do you encourage them to experiment or do you just try to give them recipes for success?

P.E.: If I knew a recipe for success I would be selling it. I attempt to guide them to make the work they see and want to make. The last thing I want to do is try to channel someone into writing fiction the way I write fiction.

C.A.: I also wanted to ask you about that Western setting that appears in many of your novels. I think you have a ranch and you like feeding hay to your horses. Why does this atmosphere appeal to you and why do you try to transfer it in your books?

P.E.: That's the life I know. That's why it shows up in the work so much. I've sold the ranch and we now live in Los Angeles and I do miss it. I like horses, I like mules, I like training. It gives me a connection to the world that more cerebral activities do not.

C.A.: In Erasure you created that character Ellison who teaches English literature and writes books. It's difficult for him to be published because he's a black American and his books are not 'black enough' for the editors. Is it a situation that you experienced at the beginning of your career?  

P.E.: I luckily didn't run into any problems being published, though I was subjected to expectations by certain publishers about what I could write. Though the character in that novel is alarmingly similar to me, it is not me. Some of the experiences which I attributed to him were my own, not the least being my having written a novel about Dionysus and having a white editor say to me: "but what does this have to do with African-American people?"

C.A.: What about your readers? Do they sometimes reproach you for not being black enough, for being a sort of literary or intellectual sell-out?

P.E.: Readers are far more savvy and intelligent than book publishers. They recognize that the range of experience of African-Americans is wide and varied, most of them not fitting the model that is presented by what was the commonly published fiction set either in the rural South or the impoverished urban centers.

C.A.: One last question which should not be too difficult to answer as you teach creative writing. What really makes a successful novel? Is there something that is particularly important to you when you start writing a book?

P.E.: For me success has nothing to do with earnings or sales. It has to do with how closely I come to realizing the vision of the work that I started with. My advice to all writers is: ignore audience and be true to your vision.


Pour citer cette ressource :

Percival Everett, Clifford Armion, "Interview de Percival Everett - Assises Internationales du Roman 2011", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), août 2011. Consulté le 17/06/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/interview-de-percival-everett-assises-internationales-du-roman-2011