Diane Patrick is a freelance editor and
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Reprinted from:
Tuesday, October 16, 2001
Book of the Day:
Erasure by Percival Everett
bittersweet novel  Erasure by Percival Everett (University Press of New England, $24.95). It’s at once an
indictment of the predictability of some of today’s black commercial fiction and of publishers who presume what
black readers will buy and want to read.  
PW’s starred review called it “an over-the-top masterpiece.”

It’s the story of Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, a black novelist whose work is too erudite to sell in today’s market.
As he receives the 17th rejection letter for his latest manuscript, he learns of the huge success of a debut
novel of black ghetto life called  
We’s Lives in Da Ghetto. Mightily offended after reading the first paragraph,
Ellison decides that he too can write a “ghetto novel,” dammit. Accordingly, under the pen name Stagg R.
Leigh, he publishes  
My Pafology, an ebonics-laden parody which makes up 70 pages of  Erasure. Needless to
say, it too becomes a huge hit, and Ellison has to deal with the outcome.

Everett definitely has the creds to write this novel: he is in the 19th year of a teaching career, currently chairs
the English department at the University of Southern California, has been a judge of the National Book Awards,
and as the author of 15 books, already has a strong following. The genesis of
Erasure  was, as he told  PW
Daily
, “fueled by anger. I saw a book–I won’t tell you what it was–and it was just like  We’s Lives in Da Ghetto. I
became furious! It’s the lack of range that bothers me. It’s like watching TV in the 70s--every black person you
saw was selling drugs or was an informer for the police.”

Phil Pochoda, who enthusiastically acquired
Erasure for UPNE and has since been named director of the
University of Michigan Press, told  
PW Daily that he doesn’t see the book as an attack on commercial black
fiction. Rather “it’s an attack on an exploitative version of it.”

In the  
Washington Post, Jabari Asim noted in his October 2 review that  Erasure is “unlikely to fit comfortably
between all those fat, nauseating examples of ‘thug noir’ and ‘urban romance’ currently burdening the ‘African
American’ shelves.”

But wherever booksellers shelve it, odds are that, as predicted in the  
PW  review, “Passionate word of mouth
(of which there should be plenty) could help turn this into a genuine publishing event.”--
Diane Patrick
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