A Walker Percy Festival?
I take that kindly. I admire Barth, Pynchon, Heller, Vonnegut—you could also throw in Updike, Cheever, and Malamud—but perhaps Bellow most of all. He bears the same relationship to the streets of Chicago and upper Broadway—has inserted himself into them—the way I have in the Gentilly district of New Orleans or a country town in West Feliciana Parish in Louisiana.
I live in that country town, St. Francisville, and have just written a book about my town, its people, my sister, my wayfaring, and my discovery in the middle of the road of my life of a sense of place, one that my late sister always had. Last night, over drinks at the Baton Rouge Galatoire’s, some friends and I decided that we would work towards starting a Walker Percy Festival in St. Francisville. Maybe we could call it Walker Percy Weekend, I dunno. It seems to us that Percy, who set some of his novels here, and who lived at the other end of the Florida parishes (but who has lots of cousins here — at least one is a reader of this blog!), ought to be remembered, and not only remembered, but celebrated. He has so much to say to us as a Southerner, as a Catholic, as a writer of fiction and non-fiction, and as a man of the world. Folks today don’t love him and appreciate him as we should. At least not enough of us do.
My Feliciana friends and I would like to change that — and I’m asking for your help. We’re laying initial plans for the event, and I’d like to crowdsource ideas with Percy fans in my readership. Generally speaking, we’d like to have an event that has some highbrow literary elements, but that’s also fun and accessible to people who may not be all that familiar with Percy’s work, but who are interested in books and ideas and Southern culture, and who would enjoy coming out and being a part of it.
I foresee a few talks and panels on Percy’s work and concerns — political, literary, cultural, religious, philosophical — as well as readings and other events related to Percy’s sensibility. For example, Percy wrote a much-beloved essay on bourbon. I think it would be great to get the famous New Orleans cocktail craftsman and Southern man of letters Alan Walter — a native of the Florida parishes — to come up to the hills and do a lecture on bourbon in Percy, and create some bourbon cocktails. He might also do some gin fizzes, in honor of Dr. Tom More. We could have music too, and dinners, and even talk about Uncle Will Percy, and Lanterns On The Levee, and Delta culture. How about music? What kind of live music would enhance Walker Percy Weekend?
And who would come? Would you drive in or fly in from far away for a weekend of Southern literary talk, music, food, and cocktails here in West Feliciana Parish?
Again, we’re just starting to plan, but this is going to be a thing. Please share your ideas, either in the comments box below, or by e-mailing me at rod (at) amconmag.com. We are especially interested in ideas that make Percy’s life, legacy, work and ideas accessible to a broad audience, not just literary specialists. To be sure, we’ll have things for those who want to go deeper into Percy, from a more academic point of view, but it’s important that we also have events for folks who are more casual readers of Percy, or who just want to know more about the man and his time and place.
I look forward to hearing from you, and will keep you updated on our progress.