: I am not sidney poitier (9781555975272) : Percival Everett : Books
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I Am Not Sidney Poitier

by Percival Everett
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publishing date: 26/05/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781555975272
  • ISBN: 1555975275


An irresistible comic novel from the master storyteller Percival Everett, and an irreverent take on race, class, and identity in America

I was, in life, to be a gambler, a risk-taker, a swashbuckler, a knight. I accepted, then and there, my place in the world. I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier.

Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with an unfortunate name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunate, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation.

Percival Everett’s hilarious new novel follows Not Sidney’s tumultuous life, as the social hierarchy scrambles to balance his skin color with his fabulous wealth. Maturing under the less-than watchful eye of his adopted foster father, Ted Turner, Not gets arrested in rural Georgia for driving while black, sparks a dinnertable explosion at the home of his manipulative girlfriend, and sleuths a murder case in Smut Eye, Alabama, all while navigating the recurrent communication problem: ?What’s your name?” a kid would ask. ?Not Sidney,” I would say. ?Okay, then what is it?”

Percival Everett is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California and the author of seventeen novels, including The Water Cure, Wounded, and Erasure.
Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with a strange name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunately, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation.
Percival Everett's hilarious new novel follows Not Sidney's tumultuous life, as the social hierarchy scrambles to balance his skin color with his fabulous wealth. Maturing under the less-than-watchful eye of his landlord, Ted Turner, Not get arrested in rural Georgia for driving while black, and sleuths a murder case in Smuteye, Alabama, all while navigating the recurrent communication problem: "What's your name? a kids would ask. "Not Sidney," I would say. "Okay, then what is it?"  
"Constantly shifting modes, from comic realism to tall tale, from recounted dreams to refashioned movie plots, Everett's hall of mirrors narrative presents African American identity itself as rooted in contradiction."?Gregory Leon Miller, San Francisco Chronicle
"Percival Everett made news 20 years ago at the South Carolina State House, where he stopped in the middle of a speech?he had been invited by the Legislature?and refused to go on because of the presence of the Confederate flag. This gesture initiated a controversy that resulted, several years later, in the flag's removal. For this Everett will be a footnote in American history. His work, however, deserves much more attention than a footnote in American literary history. Is any American writer as undervalued as Everett? Does anyone in America write funnier books? Such questions come to mind with Everett's 17th novel and latest tour de force of purposeful nonsense, I Am Not Sidney Poitier . . . As always, Everett relies upon capriciousness to ward off reductive interpretations. And as always, his capricious style accords with a serious purpose?in this case a provocative exploration of the unstable nature of African American identity. The name 'Not Sidney' suggests an identity with origins in a negative truth?he is viewed not for who he is, but against who he is not. As indeed was the original: Sidney Poitier, the movie star himself?shimmering on the silver screen, his Bahamian accent erased?was from the start a reflection of African American pride and compromise, and of the wider culture's hopes and fears. Constantly shifting modes, from comic realism to tall tale, from recounted dreams to refashioned movie plots, Everett's hall of mirrors narrative presents African American identity itself as rooted in contradiction."?Gregory Leon Miller, San Francisco Chronicle

"In 2001, Percival Everett's novel Erasure garnered wide acclaim from critics, bringing the works of one of the country's most interesting writers to the attention of many new readers. A satire on race and academia (among other things), Erasure told the story of a black English professor who writes a vulgar parody of what is assumed at large to be the 'authentic' experience of young black men. His thug-life pulp, My Pafology, is taken as gospel and becomes a best-seller; complications ensue. I Am Not Sidney Poitier, Everett's new novel, picks up, in a way, where Erasure left off. It, too, looks at racism and its inherent absurdities (a theme shared by many of Everett's 19 books). Fueling this picaresque, absurdist tale is the confusion fomented by the mere presence of its narrator?a wealthy black teen who bears a striking resemblance to the striking pop icon of poise and dignity, Sidney Poitier. Born in Los Angeles to a loving, if perhaps insane, mother who shares the famous actor's last name, Not Sidney Poitier (his given name) is the good-natured embodiment of intelligence and unflappability?both of which he's going to need after his mother dies when he's 11, leaving him a mint. She also bequeaths him the friendship of Ted Turner, the media mogul, who's never forgotten the $30,000 investment Not's mother put into a fledgling Turner Broadcasting System. Ted comes for Not Sidney (or 'Nu'ott,' as he drawls it) and installs him in the mansion he occupies with the aloof, alluring Jane Fonda. What follows is a freewheeling coming-of-age of sorts (without giving anything away, it's more like witnessing an apotheosis) and one of the funniest, most original stories to be published in years. Everett has written a delicious comedy of miscommunication. From his narrator's unfortunate, hostility-inducing name to Ted Turner's constant non sequiturs, confusion reigns in this journey through the perception-warping, soul-twisting badlands of race and class. Adding to the reader's delight, Not Sidney, to hilarious, ironical effect, re-enacts parts of Poitier's most famous movies?In the Heat of the Night ('They call me Mr. Poitier,' Not Sidney tells a prying lawman), The Defiant Ones (on the lam, manacled to a white prisoner) and Lilies of the Field (the nuns replaced by hard-up Pentecostals). These set pieces unfold not just in the gothic South amid poor rednecks, as might be expected, but also in the world of elite higher learning amid economically comfortable black students. As it turns out, the premise for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner works just as well if the girlfriend's family is rich, conservative and black?but light-skinned. A deadpan satirist, Everett pulls and tugs at the truth that economic privilege and skin tone can determine a person's value. To come out ahead, black Americans have to aspire to being 'not black,' to erase their identities and become color-free. As the novel shows, it's a predicament that can be both painful and ridiculous."?Oscar Villalon, NPR

"Everett has always displayed a formidable imagination (his novel Glyph concerns hyperintelligent infants), and his absurdist sense of humor has garnered him a reputation as an ?experimental’ writer. It’s easy to see why the author calls that a ?bullshit label’: Though his work defies literary norms, it’s fun to read and comes laced with sturdy social commentary. In his novel Erasure, a black author accused of writing ?too white’ ultimately finds financial success by writing a parody of ghetto fiction. With its deeply layered hero?who is both like and not like the movie star he’s named (or not named) after?I Am Not Sidney Poitier continues some of Erasure’s themes: Both books are interested in race and the expectations that surround it. And like its predecessor, I Am Not Sidney tackles its subjects with satirical gusto. In one of the most evocative scenes in the book?a riff on the Poitier classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?Not Sidney is brought by his white girlfriend to her parents' house. There, our hero skillfully deals with his girlfriend’s callow father, her horny sister and extended bouts of squirm-inducing awkwardness. This scene borders on farce, but Everett notes that it’s not any more ludicrous than the film itself. 'Why would this 40-year-old, really handsome, internationally acclaimed physician be interested in this 20-year-old idiot, who just happens to be blond?' the author says about the film. In Everett’s version, Not Sidney loses all interest in being acceptable, and the results are pure comic gold. Even as he brings in issues of bigotry, sexual molestation and murder, Everett effortlessly entertains. 'If you can get someone’s attention and confidence by having them laugh, you can pretty much do with them what you will,' he says. And so he does. Unlike Poitier’s screen image, Everett’s book is a less polite beast, and refuses to be shy about speaking its mind."?Drew Toal, Time Out New York

"How does a name define a person? Does a negative name define a person negatively or simply not-define him? Percival Everett plays the trickster with those questions (among many others) in this exuberant novel charting the tumultuous journey of Not Sidney Poitier from birth to maturity. Named by a mother considered hysterical by most, Not Sidney Poitier is a classic American innocent: he is kind enough not to dismiss te...

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  • Wonderful read
    From Amazon

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It made me laugh out loud as I read it on the subway. The twists are enticing and I enjoyed the absurdity of the story.

  • I'm not unamused, not not even the slightest
    From Amazon

    LOVED not-really-Ted Turner -- he stole all of his scenes. Though not-Percival had his moments. And who'd have thought not-really-Ted would come up with something so profound as this: In response to one of Not Sidney's crises, he said: "You have to decide what you need out of this, what's important to you." Of course, I realize that real-Percival said this, not not-Ted, but, um, anyway, to continue .... Overall, the book was simply craziness in a good way. Loved the whole Fesmerizing thread. I did find it a little tiresome that just about every time Not Sidney ventured outside of Atlanta, he ended up in lynch-mob-county. But it ended up making a kind of cumulative sense in the end, so I was able to suspend my annoyance. I like how Mr. Everett has this knack of turning things on their head. Such as the wickedly funny, but shouldn't-be-laughing skewering of back-back-back-backwoods Peckerwoodians that is every bit as outlandish as the skewering that so many people like to give the 'hood. This is the 2nd of Mr. Everett's books I've read, the first being Erasure. I recommend that highly; liked it even better than Not Sidney Poitier.

  • Nothing new here
    From Amazon

    While this novel starts out with a certain amount of promise; it quickly deteriorates into nothing more than a running summary of Sidney Poitier movie scripts from the past.The Author even writes himself in as teaching at Morehouse college, wishful thinking? Ted Turner, a major player in this tale is less than a fully drawn character although by far garners a lion's share of the readers' sympathies. As in "Poor Ted Turner, how did you get so deep into a book so bad?" Since this is not the first book I've read by Everett I was prepared for the possibility of being let-down, he has proven quite inconsistant in his past efforts. The up-side to the novel is that there is a generation of potential readers who know nothing about Sidney Portier and his acting career so this could be a learning experience for them.

  • "Once you leave Atlanta, you're in Georgia."
    From Amazon

    Let's get this out of the way: Although he may look a little like the famous actor, Not Sidney Poitier is not Sidney Poitier. Nor (as far as he knows) is he related, although he doesn't know who his father is. Instead, he's the wealthiest African American orphan in America, because his mother--the kind of woman who would name her son Not Sidney--invested all of her money in an upstart network headed by the dotty and lovable mogul Ted Turner, who is not really that Ted Turner (we are reassured in a foreword), who is married to an aerobics video queen named Jane Fonda, who becomes a father figure to Not Sidney when the boy's mother dies, and who has an attention span that wouldn't last the length of this sentence. And because Percival Everett is the type of author to spare no one, least of all himself, there's also a professor named Percival Everett who is not Percival Everett and who teaches a course in Nonsense Philosophy, which lives up to its name. As you would imagine simply from the book's title, there's a lot of humor that resembles the old "Who's on First" routine. ("I'm Not Sidney Poitier." "Of course you're not.") And to top it off, young Not Sidney has the ability to mesmerize some people and get them to succumb to his commands--although practicing this superhuman power gets him into some awkward situations. But, as readers have come to expect from Everett, there's a serious, if always ambiguous, undertone to the humor, particularly once Not Sidney decides to leave Ted and Jane and strike out on his own. The first time Not Sidney drives out of Atlanta, he is immediately arrested for driving while black and is impressed into a chain gang. In subsequent adventures, he buys his way into college ("Perhaps I'll get an education, perhaps not"), takes a class with Professor Everett ("I'll give you whatever grade you want, but A is such a nice letter"), joins a black fraternity ("This was when my life again became essentially a wildlife film"), and dates a young woman whose aristocratic family looks disdainfully on Not Sidney until they find out how much he's worth. Eventually he ends up in Smuteye, where he decides to help a community of sisters build a church, in spite of his personal agnosticism. ("I will not come to a place called Smuteye," his accountant wisely insists when Not Sidney calls him for money.) "I Am Not Sidney Poitier" is a surprisingly touching novel about a young man who is on the lookout for both "a valuable learning experience, a rite of passage" and a worthy "way to spend my ridiculously easy-to-come-by money." There is a surrealism throughout Not Sidney's quest that echoes some of the better scenes of "Invisible Man." And it's one of the funniest books I've ever read--both for its blissfully goofy one-liners and for its scathing satire of the supposedly "post-racial" era in which we live. This might well be Everett's masterpiece.

  • An enjoyable read !
    From Amazon

    I purchased this book after hearing a review on NPR. It was one of those books that grew on me as I read it. If you are a fan of Sidney Poitier movies, you will enjoy how Not Sidney's life parallel's the "real " Poitier movies. The Thanksgving episode is especially enjoyable .

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