Conversion From Scorn

While searching for inspiration for two more blog posts, I found myself rifling through interviews of Percival Everett, hoping I could further understand his thinking. I stumbled upon an interview of Everett written by Matthew Dischinger of VQR (a national journal of literature) in the summer of 2015. Here Everett says; “I have pretty strict rules about interpreting my own mission or my own works. It’s not my place. I’m a writer. I make novels, and then I stand away and let the novel do the work. What I think it means, what I want it to mean, it’s not only useless, but it’s pointless. It doesn’t affect it. It doesn’t matter.”

This quote prompted me to reconnect with a thought I had mentioned to Professor McCoy while reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier. While reading the (as the paratext calls it) novel, I noticed an attribute in the character Percival Everett that made me question the nature of our study into Everett(the author)’s work. In one particular scene Not Sidney is talking to Percival Everett, and Everett reveals a bit of his character. “Listen, Mr. Poitier, I’m going to hip you to the truth. I’m a fraud, a fake, a sham, a charlatan, a deceiver, a pretender, a crook.” (Everett 101). Here Everett admits to Not Sidney that he is in fact not what his students perceive him to be. This idea seeped into my own thinking as I was frustrated with the author’s writing up to this point in I Am Not Sidney Poitier. I asked myself if the author was admitting to the reader that he himself is a pretender. At the time I found this very compelling. Annoyed and scornful at my inability to analyze the author’s purpose in writing this novel, I found it easy to say that the writer, Everett, was not as profound as this course made him out to be. In my heat of scorn I found this an easy and satisfying understanding. My understanding was false. 

It is clear to me know, with the 20/20 vision that is hindsight, that there is some truth in my initial thought. It is true that it is possible that we as readers interpret more from texts than the authors intended, but that does not make Everett a fake, in fact it is part of the nature of writing. Everett admitted himself that “What I think it means, what I want it to mean, it’s not only useless, but it’s pointless.”. This is why Professor McCoy’s small lesson from the beginning of the year has grown to the subject matter of this blog post. That lesson is; we cannot assume the author’s intent, only our own interpretation of text. 

The Bedford Glossary defined the term interpretive communities and noted “that the meaning of a given text may differ significantly from group to group… no interpretation is likely to be considered valid by everyone.” (213). What I saw as a characteristic of a fraudulent writer (to put it harshly), was in fact a characteristic of beautiful writing. A piece of writing that can birth endless different interpretations is the sign of a great text. It is undeniably profound when the writings of one person can spur interpretation across all walks of life, through many interpretive communities. 

For much of my literary career I have had a somewhat close-minded view of literature. They way I understood it was that there is a set meaning that the author wants to get across. Much of that comes from things such as state and school testing, where there is a correct answer to “what the author means by..”, or “what the text is implying is…”. By reading the interview above of Everett, I now see that it doesn’t matter what the author means, it matters what it means to the reader. Literature does not lend itself room for the selfish writer. Publishing one’s work is an act of vulnerability and charity. To present your mind to the face of criticism, in hopes that someone can enjoy your voice shows that as an author you cannot expect people to see what you may see in your work. 

Seeing as this is my final blog post, I thought I would write a brief thank you. I am so unbelievably grateful to my fellow students, Professor McCoy, and Percival Everett, for expanding my mind and to developing me into a greater writer. This semester alone has been more eye opening and changing for me as a writer than any other year of my formal education. Thank you for letting me be vulnerable with my work and give it to you all. We may not all see eye to eye, but that itself if the beauty of writing. Let us not forget that. I leave you all with some words from Yusuf Islam.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out

And if you want to be free, be free

‘Cause there’s a million things to be

You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high

And if you want to live low, live low

‘Cause there’s a million ways to go

You know that there are