A Walker Percy fan wrote to us at the Walker Percy Weekend festival:
I didn’t really know Walker Percy, but one day when I was in Maple Street Book Shop I spotted Walker coming up the walk.
I said to Cutting Jahnke, who was minding the store, “Quick, sell me a copy of The Last Gentleman. I want to ask him to autograph it.”
Walker came in and said hello in his diffident manner. I asked him to autograph the book, and while he was signing, I ventured, “I don’t mind telling you, Mr. Percy, that this book changed my life.”
Walker looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet a little, and said, “Well, it didn’t do a damned thing for me.”
Love that. This is the kind of story we will be collecting from festivalgoers in June, as part of an “I Knew Walker When…” oral history project, in conjunction with LSU. Did you know him? Ever meet him? Did his work mean something special to you? Come prepared to tell your stories for posterity.
Incidentally, we are still in serious need of donations from Percy fans to help defray the costs of the festival. A Percy admirer from Kentucky wrote yesterday to say he was coming to the Weekend, but wanted also to donate to the cause. Do we have a 501(c)(3) entity to which he could give a tax-deductible donation? As a matter of fact we do. The Walker Percy Weekend is sponsored by the Julius Freyhan Foundation, an arts and culture institution based here in St. Francisville. The Foundation is trying to raise money to refurbish the old Julius Freyhan High School, turning it into a community center. Julius Freyhan was a wealthy Jewish merchant and philanthropist who lived in this town in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He built the town’s high school — well, the one used for most of the first half of the 20th century — out of the goodness of his heart. It sits cattycorner to Temple Sinai, the town synagogue (est. 1901), which was only in use by the Jewish community for a short time; they couldn’t keep a rabbi, and eventually most of the Jews moved to the big city. Temple Sinai fell into disuse for many decades, but the Freyhan Foundation, with private donations and government grants, restored it and recently reopened it, though as a secular space, not a religious one. Two of our Walker Percy Weekend panels will be held there.
This is a great little Southern river town. The Freyhan Foundation does wonderful work in it, preserving our culture. We’re going to have a great time at the Walker Percy Weekend, but it really is all for a good cause.