Percy, Walker

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Walker Percy (May 28, 1916 — May 10, 1990), Southern author, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. During his high school years his father committed suicide and his mother died, probably also a suicide, in a car crash, after which he and his two younger brothers moved to Greenville, Mississippi, where his cousin William Alexander Percy, gay lawyer, poet, and autobiographer, became their guardian and adopted them. “Uncle Will” introduced Walker to many writers and poets and to a neighboring boy his own age — Shelby Foote, who became Walker’s life-long best friend.

Percy attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and trained as a medical doctor at Columbia, receiving his degree in 1941. After contracting TB while interning at Bellevue, he was psychoanalyzed by a protégé of Harry Stack Sullivan, a gay friend of Will’s. He married Mary Bernice Townsend on November 7, 1946, and they raised their two daughters in Covington, Louisiana. Although a prolific existentialist and essayist, Percy, a Catholic convert, is best known for his "philosophical novels", the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962. Allen Tate’s wife, the poet Caroline Gordon, like Walker a Catholic convert, had helped him improve his style. In 1989 the National Endowment for the Humanities chose him as Jefferson Lecturer, for which he read “The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind”.

Walker’s most remarkable novel, Lancelot, differs much from his others but resembles the gothic bestseller The Household of Bouverie, published by his cousin Catherine Anne Warfield (as "A Southern Lady") in 1860. He denied any inspiration from Warfield’s novel.

Drinking heavily in his final years, he died of prostate cancer in 1990 at 72, the first male Percy to live past 70.

As young men, Shelby and Walker 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 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 spite of the nurturing from his gay, adoptive father, Will Alexander Percy, Walker’s steadfast denial of Will’s homosexuality and his homophobia (perhaps from internalized self-loathing) show through most of his works from the first, The Moviegoer — where he made “Uncle Will” into a woman and Will’s old-maid friend Miss Charlotte Gailor, doyenne of the University of the South, into a man — to the last.

Partial Bibliography


  • The Moviegoer. New York: Knopf, 1961, reprinted, Avon, 1980.
  • The Last Gentleman. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1966; reprinted, Avon, 1978.
  • Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1971; reprinted, Avon, 1978.
  • Lancelot. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1977.
  • The Second Coming. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1980.
  • The Thanatos Syndrome. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1987.


  • 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.
  • Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.
  • Conversations with Walker Percy. Lawson, Lewis A., and Victor A. Kramer, eds. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 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.
  • A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner and Walker Percy. Samway, Patrick, ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.
  • More Conversations with Walker Percy. Lawson, Lewis A., and Victor A. Kramer, eds. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993.
  • The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy. Tolson, Jay, ed. New York: Center for Documentary Studies, 1996.
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