(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Having long grown accustomed to the fact that his experimental, intellectually challenging novels will probably never find a popular readership, Thelonious Ellison is nevertheless dismayed by the relative success of those African American fiction writers who, in his eyes, exploit cultural stereotypes and reinforce a monolithic vision of the African American experience. When his sister is murdered by a fanatical anti-abortion activist, Thelonious is forced to take a leave of absence from his college professorship: With his sister gone, he must move back into his family home in Washington, D.C., to take primary responsibility for his increasingly disabled mother’s health. Ellison thus finds himself with no money and plenty of time. Dismayed by the twentieth rejection of his latest fictional work, in which two ancient Greek dramatists murder a rival and “then contemplate the death of metaphysics,” Ellison writes a parody novel, initially entitled My Pafology, that embraces all the “demeaning and soul-destroying drivel” that he finds in most supposedly realistic depictions of contemporary inner-city life.

Most of Erasure takes the form of Ellison’s journal—interrupted by the text of a paper on experimental fiction that the main character delivers at an academic conference under his own name and by the ten-chapter manuscript of My Pafology, penned under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh. Patterned in part after Bigger Thomas...

(The entire section is 487 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bell, Bernard W. The Contemporary African American Novel: Its Folk Roots and Modern Literary Branches. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004. In a section labeled “The New Black Aesthetic,” Bell acknowledges the merit of Erasure as a semiautobiographical experiment, but he is essentially critical of what he sees as the author’s apparent lack of regard for how his racial identity has informed his aesthetic practice.

Dickson-Carr, Darryl. The Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. This brief article argues for Everett’s inclusion among the ranks of literary modernists such as Ralph Ellison; it provides some information on the critical reception of Erasure.

Eaton, Kimberly. “Deconstructing the Narrative: Language, Genre, and Experience in Erasure.” Nebula 3 (September, 2006): 220-232. Explores how the novel questions the reliability of language, genre categories, racial identity, and belief in stereotypes.

Masiki, Trent. “Irony and Ecstasy: A Profile of Percival Everett.” Poets and Writers 32, no. 3 (2004): 33-39. Focuses on Everett’s life and work with a special emphasis on the contention that art transcends the boundaries of race and ethnicity.

Ramsey, William. “Knowing Their Place: Three Black Writers and the Post-modern South.” Southern Literary Journal 37, no. 2 (2005): 119-139. Discusses Everett’s personal canon, including Erasure, in the context of the achievements of two other contemporary African American authors, Yusef Komunyakaa and James McBride.

Russett, Margaret. “Race Under Erasure.” Callaloo 28, no. 2 (2005): 358-368. One of the most extensive readings of the novel, drawing many parallels between the main character and Everett himself.

Sanchez-Arce, Anna Maria. “’Authenticism’ or the Authority of Authenticity.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 40 (September, 2007): 139-155. Provides a close reading of Erasure as part of a general discussion of the notion that a work of literature needs to be tied to its origins in order to be properly evaluated.