Born on a military base outside Augusta, Georgia, and reared in Columbia, South Carolina, the child of Percival Leonard and Dorothy Stinson Everett, Percival Leonard Everett has since led the largely nomadic life of an academician. He received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Miami in 1977, pursued graduate study at the University of Oregon, and earned an A.M. in writing from Brown University in 1982. Since the publication of his first novel, Suder, Everett has balanced a life of writing with a life of teaching, holding consecutive faculty positions at the Universities of Kentucky, Notre Dame, Wyoming, California (Riverside), and Southern California (USC), where he also became chairperson of the English Department.
Despite his southern upbringing, Everett, from the age of twenty, was drawn to the American West, where the open spaces and the sparseness of the population appealed to his need for privacy and autonomy. The climax, for example, of his popular first novel, Suder, is set against the Cascade Mountain Range of Oregon, where the protagonist, black baseball player Craig Suder, seeks refuge from a career slump and a failed marriage. Following a series of improvised adventures that read like the riffs of bebop jazz, Suder resists the attempts of others to define him and seeks, instead, to soar above the problems of life by taking self-propelled flight.
In sharp contrast to the essentially comic spirit of Suder is the more somber tone of Everett’s second novel, Walk Me to the Distance. Feeling displaced after his return from the Vietnam War, David Larson, the main character, drives west from his native South, eventually to find temporary work on a Wyoming sheep ranch. Passive participant in an impromptu lynching, and non-interventionist bystander to an imminent suicide, Larson accepts the often harsh demands of western self-sufficiency associated with the code of frontier justice.
As is true of the early careers of most writers, Everett draws on personal experience for much of the substance of his first two books. His part-time work as a jazz musician gave him the experiential background that informs the characterization, themes, and structure of Suder; his temporary stint as a hired hand on a sheep ranch provides the primary situation and setting for Walk Me to the Distance.
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