Not Sidney Poitier is an amiable young man in an absurd country. The sudden death of his mother orphans him at age eleven, leaving him with an unfortunate name, an uncanny resemblance to the famous actor, and, perhaps more fortunate, a staggering number of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corporation. Percival Everett’s hilarious new novel follows Not Sidney’s tumultuous life, as the social hierarchy scrambles to balance his skin color with his fabulous wealth. Maturing under the less-than watchful eye of his adopted foster father, Ted Turner, Not Sidney gets arrested in rural Georgia for driving while black, sparks a dinner table explosion at the home of his manipulative girlfriend, and sleuths a murder case in Smut Eye, Alabama, all while navigating the recurrent communication problem: ‘What’s your name?’ a kid would ask. ‘Not Sidney,’ I would say. ‘Okay, then what is it?’
Listen to Percival Everett reading from his book “Not Sidney Poitier“.
“I managed to register for all my classes, just as the other freshmen so managed, and I assumed without much less surprise than I. It was a complicated matter that might or might not have had a computer involved. My classes were what one could expect, predictable survey courses, composition, rudimentary introduction to calculus, I decided to get into an upper division English course titled « the Philosophy of nonsense » taught by some guy named Percival Everett. I needed his signature to get the course so I went to his office. I found his door open. Before I tapped on the jam to announce myself, I saw that the room was lousy. There was sports equipment, basketballs, inflated and not, tennis and squash rackets, a hockey stick, a baseball bat, a baseball glove on the desk, and a pair of boxing gloves hanging on the wall between portrait drawings of James Joyce and Terry Mcmillan. There was a photograph of another man high on the wall above the others. I knocked.
“Come in and sit down.” Everett said, continuing to read sporting news. “What do you need ?”.
“Your signature.” I told him, “I want to take your nonsense course.”
“What year are you in?”
Still he didn’t quite look at me.
“I’m a freshman.”
“Anybody ever tell you you look like Harry Belafonte?”
“I’m not surprised. Where is your card?”
I pushed my blue card toward him and he looked at me, as if for the first time.
“Like Belafonte.” He said. “Not Sidney?”
“That really is my name.” I said.
“Or else it wouldn’t be on the card.” He said. “I like it. Do you play golf? And I don’t mean miniature golf.”
“I never have.”
“Good. It’s a stupid game. A damn waste of water keeping all that lawn alive and green. How about lunch, do you eat lunch?”
“Come on and I’ll buy you what passes for lunch on this campus. What do people call you?”
“They seldom call me and when they do, they call me Not Sidney.”
He looked at me.
“That’s too bad.”
Then he studied his desktop.
“Tell me, do you see my glasses?”
“They’re on your head.” I pointed.
“Well, that’s a good place for them. I think I’ll leave them there. Come along, Mr. Poitier.”