Last night I wrote to Mary Pratt Percy Lobdell, one of Walker and Bunt’s daughters, to thank her for honoring us with her presence at Walker Percy Weekend. She responded:
It is I who should be falling all over myself to thank each of you for the incredible event y’all produced on Daddy’s behalf. I have been amazed by turnouts at varied venues, but never as amazed as this past weekend. How graciously Saint Francisville accepted all the foreigners who invaded its usually quiet, peaceful streets and inns. I, for one, felt as though I knew everyone in town simply because of the numbers of folks who went out of their ways to make Alice, Rob, and I feel comfortable and welcome.
I am taking it easy today, and I truly hope you two are still sipping ice tea on your porch.
Fondest wishes to y’all,
P.S. Please relay my message to James [Fox-Smith, one of the organizers], and to the whole citizenry of St. Francisville!
That made us all feel so great. One festivalgoer, Mary Keith Sentell, said this on Facebook:
Everything was just great! I was there with my wonderful old friends from Tulsa and their daughter (my god-daughter) and her two beautiful little boys. We saw people we would never have expected to run across (even some ghosts from our pasts!); we made friends we never expected to know; we heard interesting, thought-provoking presentations, and then we discussed it all over crawfish, beer, cochon de lait, and bourbon! What an inspired weekend! Thank you all.
Peter Augustine Lawler, one of our presenters, had some extremely generous, thoughtful comments on his Postmodern Conservative blog, now at National Review Online. Excerpt:
The festival transcended the pomocon/porcher divide. To sample from Walker Percy’s description of the man who raised him, it was one of a kind, and I’ve never been to anything remotely like it. I’m grateful to have been included. Its magnetic charm depended most of all on being about Percy, although also on the way Percy in St. Francisville was branded by Rod’s blogging.
People came from far and wide because they either loved the writing of Walker Percy (most cases) or loved the idea of loving the writing of Walker Percy. For most people, it was a kind of vacation, with lots of couples and more than a few kids. There were doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors (but not that many), members of the clergy, editors, think-tankers, retirees, businessmen and businesswomen, entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial public intellectuals, an architect or two, an assistant principal from the Bronx, an official with the SEC (a football conference), and many others I didn’t get to meet. And I should probably say more than a few words of about the extraordinary religious diversity of the participants.
Hardly anyone was on the make or even networking. Nobody was cynical about the significance of the event. So everyone was taking a vacation from the despair of diversion, the despair one of Percy characters smelled on the people he saw in museums and surely he would have smelled on the tourists who come to St. Francisville to tour the plantations in the area. No one thought that Percy was an historical period piece or had diminished relevance because he is dead or was white or male.
Sounds a lot like some Chautauqua thing, you say. But there are big differences — gourmet Louisiana food, an emphasis on drinking both bourbon and beer, and country music. It was a very southern or completely unpuritanical experience. It was, in the precise sense, an aristocratic or leisurely experience, the South at its finest.
Read the whole thing; it’s long and very insightful, and full of Percyan (Percian?) ruminations on place and placelessness. The last paragraph of the Lawler excerpt I’ve quoted, as well as Mary Keith Sentell’s comment, tells me we festival organizers really did hit the sweet spot. We wanted to have a festival where people would talk about Percy’s books and ideas, but do so in an atmosphere that was convivial and leisurely. We were inspired by Walker Percy’s answer to an interviewer who asked him if he was in despair: “I like to eat crawfish and drink beer. That’s despair?” Well, we at crawfish and drank beer on Friday night. We
talked ideas on Saturday morning and afternoon, then eased into the evening by drinking bourbon cocktails on front porches, and finished with a Cajun feast, drinks, and great music under the live oaks and Spanish moss. Everybody seemed so happy to see each other. We pointedly did not want to have a scholarly gathering, but rather wanted this to be an event where people who love Percy’s work, or who, to follow Peter, love the idea of loving Percy’s work, could come together for a couple of days and enjoy each other’s company while also taking pleasure in the goodness of boiled crawfish, cold Louisiana beer, bourbon, and other Southern delights.
I led this entry with my favorite photo from the festival: Chef Cody Carroll serving festival co-organizer Ashley Fox-Smith a plate of his crawfish on Friday night. The joy in their faces tells a story about the kind of party we just had in our town — and that we are bound to repeat next year, I’m thinking. Anybody have any ideas for how we can expand our offerings next year? It will always be Walker Percy Weekend, but we would like to add a couple of panel discussions about related aspects of modern Southern arts and letters, e.g., Flannery O’Connor, Robert Penn Warren, the Southern Agrarians, Ernest J. Gaines (who lives just across the river from us), and so forth. We are eager to hear your ideas.
A very Southern or completely unpuritanical experience. … The South at its finest. We’ll look forward to seeing you here in West Feliciana next year. Bring your friends, your appetite, and your bug spray.