Shakespeare and Company

Percival Everett on James, his subversive reimagining of Huckleberry Finn

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Episode notes

James—the new novel by Percival Everett—retells, reframes, and reimagines Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the perspective of Jim, the black man whose flight from slavery quickly entangles with the journey of Huck, on the run after faking his own death to escape his violent father. James gives us the events of Twain’s picaresque from a vital new standpoint—opening up previously unexplored plains of character consciousness as it does so—expanding and subverting the original story. And the novel doesn’t just fill in the blanks about Jim’s movements when our protagonists are separated, but also wrests the narrative arc itself in new and astonishing directions.

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The Mississippi River, 1861. When the enslaved Jim overhears that he is about to be sold to a new owner in New Orleans and separated from his wife and daughter forever, he decides to hide on nearby Jackson’s Island until he can formulate a plan. Meanwhile, Huck Finn has faked his own death to escape his violent father who recently returned to town. Thus begins a dangerous and transcendent journey by raft along the Mississippi River, towards the elusive promise of the free states and beyond. As James and Huck begin to navigate the treacherous waters, each bend in the river holds the promise of both salvation and demise.

With rumours of a brewing war, James must face the burden he carries: the family he is desperate to protect and the constant lie he must live. And together, the unlikely pair must face the most dangerous odyssey of them all . . .

From the shadows of Huck Finn’s mischievous spirit, Jim emerges to reclaim his voice, defying the conventions that have consigned him to the margins.


Percival Everett is the author of over thirty books, including So Much Blue, Telephone, Dr 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.

Adam Biles is Literary Director at Shakespeare and Company. His latest novel, Beasts of England, a sequel of sorts to Animal Farm, is available now. Buy a signed copy here:

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