[Reading Room] The Appropriation of Cultures by Percival Everett

Described as a ‘delightfully subversive’ story, “The Appropriation of Cultures” by Percival Everett is definitely both of those things.

I listened to this story as part of a Selected Shorts podcast. It was read by Ruben Santiago-Hudson (who I knew as Captain Montgomery from Castle . He turns out to be a wonderful storyteller who gets out of the way of the story and is blessed with a voice I could listen to for days).

It’s described in the show notes as a ‘delightfully subversive’ story and it is definitely both of those things.

The story starts with an affluent college graduate who seems like a bit of a wastrel, spending his time living off inherited money, reading and playing jazz with ‘the old guys’ at some dive bar.

The story’s trucking along just fine until one night Daniel is playing at the bar and some college frat boys come in and request that the band “Play Dixie for us”. That, was the first time I started to suspect that Daniel was supposed to be African-American. Shame on me: because he was affluent and college-educated and playing jazz, it hadn’t occurred to me that he was anything other than the usual white boys I’m accustomed to reading about in literary fiction. Ha! “Appropriation of cultures”, or what?

Once I realized what was going on, I listened warily, waiting for the story to become preachy. Or possibly weird (which as where it started to head). But it didn’t. It became hilarious. And idealistic. And huge amounts of fun.


I learned about my own prejudices. I learned that non-genre stories can be fun and funny and literary without being pretentious and naval-gazing. And I remembered that humor is a grand weapon in the fight to get your stories to penetrate the hearts of your readers.

I’m so happy that we seem to have moved out of the mid-century, middle-class-misery phase of literary writing because, much as I love my sci-fi and historical fiction, I’m so happy to be able to read contemporary fiction that is bright and brilliant and doesn’t depress me.

Bravo, Mr. Everett.

Listen to the story here (while Selected Shorts has it in their online archive), read it online here, or read this and other stories by Percival Everett in Damned If I Do.

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