Erasure Critical Context
by Percival Everett

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

According to general estimates, Erasure is the most reviewed and most acclaimed of Everett’s fictional works since the publication of his groundbreaking first novel, Suder, in 1983. The book won both the Hillsdale Prize for Fiction, sponsored by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction, administered by the Hurston/Wright Foundation and underwritten by Borders Books. Because of the success of Erasure, some of Everett’s earlier novels were reissued in paperback editions.

Critics have acknowledged Erasure as a skillful commentary on the dubious merit of some fixtures of contemporary African American pop culture, including pulp fiction purporting to be inspired by the realities of ghetto life in the country’s urban centers and the wildly successful and arguably disproportionately influential television book club of Oprah Winfrey. Many reviewers have also seen the novel as the author’s plea for the publishing world and its readers to acknowledge the existence and legitimacy of a broad range of African American experience and artistic intention—a range matching the breadth of experience found in the work of European American writers. In particular, Everett chooses to parody a work of literary naturalism to emphasize the limitations of defining a broad literary tradition in terms of a single genre.