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The Walker Percy Project

Walker Percy: A Life


Patrick Samway, S.J.

— "[Percy's life is] a highly self-conscious visionary quest eminently ironic, bitingly satirical, and darkly comic." – Lewis P. Simpson

When he won the National Book Award in 1962 for his first novel The Moviegoer, Walker Percy quickly established a wide and devoted following. Trained as a physician (who never practiced medicine after suffering from tuberculosis in the 1940s), Dr. Percy became a careful diagnostician of modern society in his five subsequent novels and three nonfiction books.

This biography, written with Percy's approval and assistance, tracks the unexpected twists and complexities of his life. The tragic deaths of his father and mother were traumatic events for their thirteen-year-old son. His subsequent adoption by "Uncle Will" William Alexander Percy, the noted writer and patrician extended his cultural horizons. After his studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at Columbia University's School of Medicine, he married Mary Bernice Townsend. Patrick Samway's meticulous biography tracks their conversion to Roman Catholicism and Percy's dogged determination to continue his career as a novelist and semiotician in Covington, Louisiana.

Percy maintained that one of the hardest things in life was to get through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, but from his birth in 1916 in Birmingham until his death in 1990 in Covington, he confronted life's challenges with courage, humor, and wisdom. Walker Percy: A Life is a marvelous testament to that struggle.

Patrick Samway, S.J., the literary editor of America, is the author of a book on William Faulkner and the editor of many collections, including Signposts in a Strange Land (1991), Percy's uncollected essays and assorted writings.

Publication Date: 1997