Greetings from St. Francisville, Louisiana. When I checked into my hotel for Walker Percy Weekend (I live in Baton Rouge, now, 40 miles away), the desk clerk looked at my driver’s license, then said: “You Miss Ruthie’s brother? Lord, everybody loved Miss Ruthie.”
That made me feel so good. Back home. If you want to know why everybody loved Miss Ruthie, here it is.
If you are not a Mars Hill Audio Journal subscriber, well, what’s wrong with you? It’s so, so great. People still stop me to thank me for putting them onto it. Users of iOS can download the Mars Hill app, and listen to some content for free. Ken Myers has produced a special Walker Percy discussion that everyone, not just Journal subscribers, can access on the app. Here’s the script for the introduction:
This is the Friday Feature for June 1st from MARS HILL AUDIO; I’m Ken Myers.
Today is the first day of the fifth annual Walker Percy Weekend in St. Francisville, Louisiana. The website for this unique festival celebrating Walker Percy’s life and work assures potential participants that it will be “intellectually serious but broadly accessible.” We also learn that bourbon will be consumed, although (one hopes) not in quantities comparable to some of Percy’s characters. As I recall, in Love in the Ruins, Dr. Thomas More holed up in a Howard Johnson’s with 15 cases of Early Times.
Love in the Ruins, published in 1971 and a finalist for a National Book Award, bears the subtitle The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World. Percy once commented on the book: “A serious novel about the destruction of the United States and the end of the world should perform the function of prophecy in reverse. The novelist writes about the coming end in order to warn against present ills and so avert the end.” As Ralph Wood has recently written, Percy “doubted the efficacy of a serene Christian humanism. Better to serve as the canary in the coal mine, so as to detect the asphyxiating gas that sickens unto death.”
Ralph Wood has given talks at previous Walker Percy weekends. I’m told he won’t be there this year, but two weeks back, The American Conservative published an article he wrote about Love in the Ruins called “Walker Percy’s Funny and Frightening Prophecy.” Earlier this week, I called Dr. Wood in his office to chat about the article and about Percy more generally. We agreed that Percy’s work is not as well known as it may have been 20 years ago, or at the time of his death in 1990. I asked Wood why he thought Percy has not enjoyed as much attention as another 20th century Southern Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor.
[RALPH WOOD QUOTE]
Since this weekend is an occasion for concentrated attention to Walker Percy, at least in St. Francisville, we’ve just released a new Audio Reprint: a reading of an article by John F. Desmond called “Walker Percy and Suicide.” The article compares themes in Percy’s fiction and non-fiction with reflections about selfhood in Camus and Kierkegaard. You can purchase that reading for $2 from our website and listen to it through our app or via any web browser.
Way back in 1993, on volume 3 of the Journal, I talked with Jay Tolson, who had just written Pilgrim in the Ruins: a Life of Walker Percy. In his book, Tolson reported that — before he started writing fiction, he read a number of works by Kafka and Dostoevsky, stories about figures who were outcasts in search of spiritual meaning. I asked Jay Tolson if Percy felt himself to be such a figure.
Jay Tolson, from volume 3 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. Tolson’s Pilgrim in the Ruins: a Life of Walker Percy was the first Percy biography to appear after Percy’s death in 1990. In 1997, Patrick Samway’s book, Walker Percy: A Life, was published. Samway was a guest on volume 27 of the Journal, in a conversation in which we talked about Percy’s relationship with the characters of his books.
Patrick Samway, the author of Walker Percy: A Life, from volume 27 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal.
By the way, we’ve just released volume 139, and if you’re not currently a subscriber, I invite you to take the plunge, sign up today, and enjoy over two hours of listening to something intellectually serious but broadly accessible. Guests include Simon Oliver, Matthew Levering, and Esther Lightcap Meek, and the overarching theme that emerged in the six conversations was how modern culture obscures the nature of Creation.
On next week’s Friday Feature, I’ll be talking with Jeremy Beer about the late Christopher Lasch. For MARS HILL AUDIO, I’m Ken Myers.
I’m off to the Magnolia Cafe now, where Charlie Clark and I will be hosting a back porch conversation about his Fare Forward article, “The Walker Percy Option.” The event is sponsored by The American Conservative, which is picking up the bar tab. Don’t you wish you were here?