- The Chronicling of an African-American Life and Consciousness:Lucille Clifton's Everett Anderson Series
Fortunately for the world of young people's literature, there are those authors who broaden our realms of experience by representing and exploring African-American culture. Lucille Clifton is one of the most prolific and accomplished of this number. In this context, her work is especially impressive when viewed as an entire oeuvre. Each book works in concert with the others to illuminate aspects of the communities, largely African-American, in which the characters live their lives. Everett Anderson's is one of the lives which is documented through a series of books. An examination of the Everett Anderson stories reveals the range and richness of this youngster's life and of the series book itself. This is especially true when examined within the context of the secondary function (intentional or not) of Clifton's telling of story: the exploration of Afro-American community and consciousness.
Everett Anderson is, in fact, the character most readily identified with Lucille Clifton. His story is both powerful and accessible precisely because of its inclusivity. It records not only memorable events such as births, but also the everyday. Everett Anderson can make any Wednesday afternoon into an adventure: [End Page 174]
Who's blackand runsand loves to hop?Everett does.
Who's blackand was lostin the candy shop?Everett Anderson was.
Who's blackand noticed thepeppermint flowers?Everett Anderson did.
Who's blackand was lost forhours and hours?Everett Anderson Hid!(unpaged)
Considered carefully, these verses from Some of the Days of Everett Anderson are not as simplistic as they might appear upon cursory examination. They are complicated—communicating more than a child's adventure—by the one recurring line, "Who's black."
A negative reaction to the line might include the argument that its prominent placement (not to mention its mere presence) is somewhat exclamatory and unjustifiable. What, after all, does being Black have to do with a trip to the candy store or playing hide and seek? This line of reasoning, however, obscures the more germane questions: Why is this particular detail included along with the unremarkable? One obvious answer is that this fact too should be unremarkable—unremarkable in the sense that it is so integral and organic a part of the character of Everett Anderson that it would be even more conspicuous in its absence.
Certainly the words "Who's black" are not called upon literally or blatantly in every episode that Clifton relates. But they are present in a spiritual and fundamental way. The point is that Everett is Black, as are many of his fellow characters. They are. And it is a condition of their being. This fact is simultaneously neither remarkable nor ignorable. It is for this reason that the boys share a brotherhood. When their blackness deserves or demands special attention, then it is accorded. When it deems no particular attention, it is left so. Everett's maturation process, like that of his peers, consists partly of learning how to mediate between the two levels of consciousness.
Everett Anderson is helped along in this process by his mother, the most significant force in his life. They are partners as well as mother and son. The reader is first introduced to her in Some of the Days—"Friday, Waiting for Mom":
When I am sevenMama can stayfrom work and play with meall day.
I won't go to school,I'll pull up a seatby her and we can talk and eat.
And we will laughat how it ends;Mama andEverett Anderson—Friends.(unpaged)
Their close friendship is evident in all of the stories. In Everett Anderson's Year, his seventh, Everett reaches the point at which he can verbalize his pride in this friendship. This kind of relationship is certainly the basic foundation for his trust in his mother and her respect towards him. It is also during this year that she advises him always to "Walk tall in the world." Her respect for him, then, is manifested through her straightforwardness with him about...