PBS Books Readers Club – “James” by Percival Everett

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Episode Description:

Literary Icon Percival Everett Joins the PBS Books Readers Club to Discuss James—Named a Most Anticipated Book of the Year by Time, NPR, The Seattle Times, Elle, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Oprah Daily

“To call James a retelling would be an injustice. Everett sends Mark Twain’s classic through the looking glass. What emerges is no longer a children’s book, but a blood-soaked historical novel stripped of all ornament. . . Genius.”

—The Atlantic

This month’s PBS Books Readers Club pick is James—the instant New York Times bestseller and highly acclaimed novel by distinguished Professor Percival Everett, that puts a transformative spin on the canonical work Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In James, Everett places Jim, the enslaved character from Twain’s novel, front and center in this powerful narrative, giving voice to his untold story. Brimming with humor while delivering biting observations on themes of race and freedom, James is a provocative and unforgettable page turner that will forever alter our perception of American literature. 

Says Everett, “I have to say I didn’t write this as a corrective to Twain’s novel. He was telling the story of the adolescent white boy. And I’m telling the story of a full-grown black man who has a family and a life.” 

Don’t miss the PBS Books Readers Club as eminent author Percival Everett shares his vision behind this remarkable novel destined to become a modern classic. 

About the Book:

James by Percival Everett

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When the enslaved Jim overhears that he is about to be sold to a man in New Orleans, separated from his wife and daughter forever, he decides to hide on nearby Jackson Island until he can formulate a plan. Meanwhile, Huck Finn has faked his own death to escape his violent father, recently returned to town. As all readers of American literature know, thus begins the dangerous and transcendent journey by raft down the Mississippi River toward the elusive and too-often-unreliable promise of the Free States and beyond.

While many narrative set pieces of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remain in place (floods and storms, stumbling across both unexpected death and unexpected treasure in the myriad stopping points along the river’s banks, encountering the scam artists posing as the Duke and Dauphin…), Jim’s agency, intelligence and compassion are shown in a radically new light.

Brimming with the electrifying humor and lacerating observations that have made Everett a “literary icon” (Oprah Daily), and one of the most decorated writers of our lifetime, James is destined to be a major publishing event and a cornerstone of twenty-first century American literature.

Guest Biography:

Percival Everett

Percival Everett - Headshot

Percival Everett is the author of over thirty books, including So Much BlueTelephoneDr No and The Trees, which was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize and won the 2022 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. He has received the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction, has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California. His novel Erasure has now been adapted into the major film American Fiction. He lives in Los Angeles.

Readers Club Hosts:

Heather Marie Montilla - Headshot

Heather-Marie Montilla, a dynamic integrative leader, is an educator and nonprofit manager. She has worked in the nonprofit sector and libraries for over two decades, making a positive impact in arts, cultural, educational, and community-building arenas.

Having joined the PBS Books team as their Library Bureau Chief in Fall 2018, Montilla is now the National Director of PBS Books and has interviewed more than 150 writers. In addition, she is a faculty member at Michigan State University and Eastern Michigan University for their Arts and Cultural/Entertainment Management Programs. Having been an Executive Director for 8 years, Heather has a wide range of experience in management, finance, strategic planning, marketing, and fundraising. Heather holds a MPA From Columbia University, a MLIS from Wayne State University, and a bachelor’s from Duke University. She lives in Chicagoland, and is married with four children, a dog, and a bird.

Princess Weekes is an award winning writer and video essayist who works at breaking down the intersections between race, gender, and pop culture. Formally an Assistant Editor at The Mary Sue, co-host of Netflix’s The Geeked Podcast, and co-host and co-writer on the PBS Digital Series It’s Lit. On weekends she works as a bookseller at a local bookstore. When not reading or writing she can be found playing TTRPGs of cuddling with her cat, Lola.

Lauren Smith - Headshot

Executive Producer and host of national PBS programming at Detroit Public TV, Lauren develops content for PBS and other distributors of public media for broadcast, streaming, and other digital channels and has executive-produced and/or produced over 60 national broadcast and programs. Her passion is to develop inspiring, entertaining, and educational content alongside the best national and international talent, and to engage important content with communities across the country. Lauren loves to read and has worked to develop and produce PBS Books content for nearly ten years!

Fred Nahhat is an Emmy Award-winning producer, host, and presenter for Detroit’s PBS station, where he serves as Sr. VP of Production. A 30-year broadcast veteran, Fred has hosted and produced numerous programs for Public TV – including music specials from Il Volo, Celtic Gold and the New Divas – as well as other series and specials “New Year’s Eve with the DSO”, “The Detroit Dream Cruise,” “The PBS Books Readers Club” and “Get Up, Get Out,” among others.

He is a graduate of Wayne State University and a member of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Michigan Chapter, USA Hockey, and Leadership Detroit.

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