Photo from this year’s festival poster, Copyright Christopher R. Harris, all rights reserved.

We’re getting together soon to plan Walker Percy Weekend 2018, which will take place, as usual, on the first weekend of June (June 1-2, 2018). I would like to have a list of proposed speakers and topics to take to my fellow organizers. Based on feedback we received from last year’s festivalgoers, I’d like the 2018 program to go in these directions:

  • A greater focus on Percy’s essays, as opposed to his novels. Not his essays in general, but specific topics. I’d love to have someone come talk about Percy’s essay on Southern Stoicism.
  • Other Southern writers, in addition to Percy. We’ve had panels and presenters on writers like Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. Who else should we feature? Personally, I’d love to hear someone talk about Shelby Foote, either Foote’s histories, or his correspondence and friendship with Percy.
  • The Moviegoer and the spirit of our time. A couple of years ago, Matthew Sitman gave a talk about Love In The Ruins in an age of Trump. I recently ran across this short 2013 piece in The Paris Review which invites us to “consider The Moviegoer a signpost in these strange times, a beacon lit by the eternal flames of Percy’s imagination: the alienation and despair that persist in times of plenty and paucity alike; the power of language and humor to still these tremors and give them meaning. The malaise will endure, he warns us. The search will continue.” Can someone give a compelling talk about this?
  • Walker Percy and sex. Sexual expression recurs in Walker Percy’s novels and his commentaries on modern morals. What would he make of a world in which Teen Vogue publishes how-to articles on anal sex? One in which Cosmopolitan explores the tender romantic life (“This just feels like love, perfect love”) of an incestuous, adulterous couple? What would Percy’s read on this be as a “sign of the times”?
  • Walker Percy and the Jews. Percy considered the enduring presence of the Jewish people to be a sign. He wrote, “Why does no one find it remarkable that in most world cities today there are Jews but not one single Hittite, even though the Hittites had a great flourishing civilization while the Jews nearby were a weak and obscure people? When one meets a Jew in New York or New Orleans or Paris or Melbourne, it is remarkable that no one considers the event remarkable. What are they doing here? But it is even more remarkable to wonder, if the Jews are here, why are there not Hittites here?” Is there someone who could deliver a talk on the meaning of the Jews in Percy’s thought?
  • Walker Percy and the gift of catastrophe. Percy: “Why do people often feel so bad in good environments that they prefer bad environments? Why does a man often feel better in a bad environment? Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, New Jersey, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon? Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?” Explain, and apply to our own day and age.
  • Walker Percy and Confederate monuments. Know what I’d love to see? A discussion between two knowledgeable Percy readers, one of whom makes a case that Percy would support removing Confederate statues, the other arguing that he would defend their presence. I’m curious to understand how Percy’s principles would apply to the contemporary question. Percy opposed segregation, but once wrote (in Commonweal, if I’m not mistaken) that Northern liberals will not succeed in their goals if success requires that Southern whites hate their ancestors. Is that still true? Why or why not?

Any ideas for specific presentations based on these suggestions?

Any other ideas?

We also welcome suggestions for artistic presentations (theater, film, music) related to Percy and Southern culture of the 20th century.

Walker Percy Weekend is a not-for-profit festival, and, sorry to say, a relatively poor one. We cannot offer honoraria to our speakers and presenters. What we can do is provide them with hotel accommodations and free access to meals and all things at the festival. It’s an intimate weekend in a beautiful Mississippi River town in the Deep South. We draw around 400 people each year, because it’s hard to find room for more than that. The advantage here is that it enables festivalgoers to meet each other, drink bourbon together, eat crawfish together, and talk to scholars and other presenters. For many, spending time laughing with Mary Pratt Percy Lobdell, one of Walker and Bunt’s daughters, and listening to her stories, is worth the price of the ticket.

So: if you have a proposal for a paper or a presentation, please e-mail it to me at rod – at – amconmag – dot – com — and please put in the subject line (in all caps) WALKER PERCY WEEKEND. I get lots of email daily, and I don’t want to overlook them. Please note that this is not an academic conference. Don’t expect to sit at a desk and read from a paper, and don’t expect to write at a scholarly level. We want the papers and presentations to be smart, but accessible. You’ll talk for about 45 minutes, then answer questions for that time.

We are interested in both panels and individual presenters, by the way.

All I can promise you now is that I will present all serious proposals to our team. Please don’t delay sending your ideas. Even for a small festival like this, it takes a long time to plan it.