Walker Percy: Wikis


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Walker Percy
Born May 28, 1916(1916-05-28)
Birmingham, Alabama, United States
Died May 10, 1990 (aged 73)
Covington, Louisiana, United States
Cause of death Prostate cancer
Occupation Author
Religious beliefs Catholic
Spouse(s) Mary Bernice Townsend

Walker Percy (May 28, 1916 – May 10, 1990) was an American Southern author whose interests included philosophy and semiotics. Percy is best known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962. He devoted his literary life to the exploration of "the dislocation of man in the modern age."[1] His work displays a unique combination of existential questioning, Southern sensibility, and deep Catholic faith.



Percy was born in Birmingham, Alabama, into a distinguished Mississippi Protestant family whose past luminaries had included a U.S. Senator and a Civil War hero. Prior to Percy's birth, his grandfather had killed himself with a shotgun, setting a pattern of emotional struggle and death that would haunt Percy throughout his life.

After Percy's father's suicide in 1929 the Percy family moved to Athens, Georgia. Two years later, his mother died in a car crash when she drove off a country bridge and into Deer Creek near Leland, Mississippi – an accident that Percy regarded as another suicide.[2] Walker and his two younger brothers, Phin and Roy, then moved to Greenville, Mississippi, where his bachelor uncle William Alexander Percy, a lawyer, poet, and autobiographer, became their guardian and adopted them. "Uncle Will" introduced Percy to many writers and poets and to a neighboring boy his own age – Shelby Foote, who became Percy's life-long best friend.[3]

As young men, Percy and Foote decided to pay their respects to William Faulkner by visiting him in Oxford, Mississippi. However, when they finally drove up to his home, Percy was so in awe of the literary giant that he could not bring himself to talk to him. Later on, he recounted how he could only sit in the car and watch while Foote and Faulkner had a lively conversation on the porch.

Percy joined Foote at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then trained as a medical doctor at Columbia University in New York City, receiving his medical degree in 1941. After contracting tuberculosis from performing an autopsy while interning at Bellevue, Percy spent the next several years recuperating at the Trudeau Sanitorium in the Saranac Lake, New York in the Adirondacks. During this period Percy read the works of the Danish existentialist writer, Søren Kierkegaard, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, and he began to question the ability of science to explain the basic mysteries of human existence. Having been influenced by the example of one of his college roommates to rise daily at dawn and go to Mass, Percy, decided that he would become a Catholic (1947) and decided to become a writer rather than a physician—as he would later write, he would study the pathology of the soul rather than that of the body.

He married Mary Bernice Townsend, a medical technician, on November 7, 1946, and they raised their two daughters in Covington, Louisiana. Walker Percy died of prostate cancer in 1990 eighteen days before his 74th birthday. He is buried on the grounds of St. Joseph's Abbey in St. Benedict, Louisiana.

Literary career

After many years of writing and rewriting in collaboration with editor Stanley Kauffmann, Percy published his first novel, The Moviegoer in 1962. Percy later wrote of the novel that it was the story of "a young man who had all the advantages of a cultivated old-line southern family: a feel for science and art, a liking for girls, sports cars, and the ordinary things of the culture, but who nevertheless feels himself quite alienated from both worlds, the old South and the new America."

Subsequent works included The Last Gentleman (1966), Love in the Ruins (1971), Lancelot (1977), The Second Coming (1980), and The Thanatos Syndrome in 1987. Percy also published a number of non-fiction works exploring his interests in semiotics and Existentialism.

Percy was instrumental in getting John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces published in 1980, over a decade after Toole's suicide.

In 1987 Percy, along with 21 other noted authors, met in Chattanooga, Tennessee to create the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

The University of Notre Dame awarded Percy its 1989 Laetare Medal, which is bestowed annually to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity."[4]

The National Endowment for the Humanities chose him as the winner for the 1989 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, for which he read "The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind."[5]





  • The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do with the Other. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1975.
  • Going Back to Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia, 1978.
  • Questions They Never Asked Me. Northridge, California: Lord John Press, 1979.
  • Bourbon. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Palaemon Press, 1982.
  • Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.
  • How to Be an American Novelist in Spite of Being Southern and Catholic. Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1984.
  • The City of the Dead. Northridge, California: Lord John Press, 1985.
  • Conversations with Walker Percy.Lawson, Lewis A., and Victor A. Kramer, eds. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.
  • Diagnosing the Modern Malaise. New Orleans: Faust, 1985.
  • Novel-Writing in an Apocalyptic Time. New Orleans: Faust Publishing Company, 1986.
  • State of the Novel: Dying Art or New Science. New Orleans: Faust Publishing Company, 1988.
  • Signposts in a Strange Land. Samway, Patrick, ed. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1991.
  • More Conversations with Walker Percy. Lawson, Lewis A., and Victor A. Kramer, eds. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993.
  • A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner and Walker Percy. Samway, Patrick, ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.
  • The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy. Tolson, Jay, ed. New York: Center for Documentary Studies, 1996.

See also


  1. ^ Kimball, Roger Existentialism, Semiotics and Iced Tea, Review of Conversations with Walker Percy New York Times, August 4, 1985, Accessed September 24, 2006
  2. ^ Samway, Patrick, Walker Percy: A Life. (Loyola Press USA, 1999) p. 4
  3. ^ The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, by Paul Elie, Copyright 2003, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
  4. ^ Notre Dame website
  5. ^ Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities National Endowment for the Humanities, Accessed September 24, 2006

Further reading

  • Coles, Robert, Walker Percy: An American Search. Little, Brown & Co, 1979.
  • Dupuy, Edward J., Autobiography in Walker Percy: Repetition, Recovery and Redemption. Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
  • Harwell, David Horace, Walker Percy Remembered: A Portrait in the Words of Those Who Knew Him. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
  • Samway, Patrick, Walker Percy: A Life. Loyola Press USA, 1999.
  • Tolson, Jay, Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.
  • Wood, Ralph C, The Comedy of Redemption: Christian Faith and Comic Vision in Four American Novelists. University of Notre Dame Press, 1988.
  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy and Imagination in a Southern Family. Oxford University Press USA, 1996.
  • _____. The Literary Percys: Family History, Gender & The Southern Imagination. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1994.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?

Walker Percy (May 28, 1916May 10, 1990) was an American Southern author whose interests included philosophy and semiotics.



The Moviegoer (1961)

  • Hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upsidedown: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive. [citation needed]
  • I had discovered that a person does not have to be this or be that or be anything, not even oneself. One is free. [citation needed]
  • She refers to a phenomenon of moviegoing which I have called certification. Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere. [citation needed]
  • I have discovered that most people have no one to talk to, no one, that is, who really wants to listen. When it does at last dawn on a man that you really want to hear about his business, the look that comes over his face is something to see. [citation needed]
  • A repetition is the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle. [citation needed]
  • The enduring is something which must be accounted for. One cannot simply shrug it off. [citation needed]
    Why is there such a gap between nonspeaking animals and speaking man, when there is no other such gap in nature?

    Is it possible that a theory of man is nothing more nor less than a theory of the speaking creatures?

  • She can only believe I am serious in her own fashion of being serious: as an antic sort of seriousness, which is not seriousness at all but despair masquerading as seriousness. [citation needed]
  • As for hobbies, people with stimulating hobbies suffer from the most noxious of despairs since they are tranquilized in their despair. [citation needed]
  • Oh the crap that lies lurking in the English soul. Somewhere it, the English soul, received an injection of romanticism which nearly killed it. [citation needed]
  • A good rotation. A rotation I define as the experiencing of the new beyond the expectation of the experiencing of the new. [citation needed]
  • Christians talk about the horror of sin, but they have overlooked something. They keep talking as if everyone were a great sinner, when the truth is that nowadays one is hardly up to it. There is very little sin in the depths of the malaise. The highest moment of a malaisian's life can be the moment when he manages to sin like a proper human (Look at us, Binx--my vagabond friends as good as cried out to me--we're sinning! We're succeeding! We're human after all!) [citation needed]
  • Not a single thing do I remember from the first trip but this: the sense of the place, the savor of the genie-soul of the place which every place has or else is not a place...there it is as big as life, the genie-soul of the place which, wherever you go, you must meet and master first thing or be met and mastered. [citation needed]

The Message in a Bottle (1975)

  • Where does one start with a theory of man if the theory of man as an organism in an environment doesn't work and all the attributes of man which were accepted in the old modern age are now called into question: his soul, mind, freedom, will, Godlikeness?

    There is only one place to start: the place where man's singularity is there for all to see and cannot be called into question, even in a new age in which everything else is in dispute.

    That singularity is language... [citation needed]

  • Why is there such a gap between nonspeaking animals and speaking man, when there is no other such gap in nature?

    Is it possible that a theory of man is nothing more nor less than a theory of the speaking creatures? [citation needed]

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (1983)

  • Why it is that of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos -- novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes -- you are beyond doubt the strangest? [citation needed]
  • Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair? [citation needed]


  • You can get all A's and still flunk life.

External links

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Walker Percy (May 28, 1916May 10, 1990) was an American author. He wrote a novel called The Moviegoer.


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