Walker Percy: A Documentary Film

In a rare television interview in 1980, Walker Percy said his concerns as writer were with “a theory of man, man as more than organism, more than consumer––man the wayfarer, man the pilgrim, man in transit, on a journey.” This one-hour program, entitled Walker Percy: A Documentary Film, looks at Percy’s own journey, and is framed as a narrative about his life and ideas.

As a doctor turned writer and philosopher, Percy was concerned with the big issues: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" But he knew his audience was inured to a direct approach. Binx Bolling, in The Moviegoer, is almost allergic to such discussions-––“...if they spoke to me of God, I would jump into the bayou”––yet he is preoccupied with what he calls ‘the search.’ It is a preoccupation that haunts all of Percy’s work.

Part of what makes Percy’s characters like Binx, Will Barrett, and Thomas More so indelible is their wry humor despite being ‘Lost in the Cosmos.’ In Percy’s fifth novel, The Second Coming, the protagonist, Will Barrett, descends into a cave, determined to confront God. He is thwarted by a toothache. For Walker, “humor was an instrument of introspection,” writer Robert Coles says in the film. “That’s what he beautifully combined: that lighthearted sensibility merged with a grave, seriously introspective side. This takes a genius.”

Walker Percy: A Documentary Film tells the story with archival film, excerpts from Percy’s work, and interviews with family, friends and scholars. Three years in the making, Walker Percy: A Documentary Film is currently in post-production. Support for this film comes from The Watson Brown Foundation, The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, The Reily Foundation, The Southern Humanities Media Fund, The National Endowment for the Arts, and Brad Hipps.

Articles and Commentary on Walker Percy

Websites and Online Resources on Walker Percy

The Walker Percy Project, An Internet Literary Center directed and edited by Henry P. Mills for the University of North Carolina. The mission of the Walker Percy ILC is to provide "comprehensive access to information, resources, and people associated with American novelist and philosopher Walker Percy."
Walker Percy: From Pen to Print. Exhibition at UNC-Chapel Hill. April 17-August 15, 2002.
The Walker Percy Society

Interviews with Walker Percy

By Walker Percy

Books by Walker Percy

The Moviegoer. New York: Knopf, 1961, reprinted, Avon, 1980.

The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans' French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

Book Reviews

    Review, by Stephen Amidon. New Statesmen Dec. 3, 2001.
    Review, by Peter A. Huff. Cross Currents, åÊWinter, 1998.
The Last Gentlemen. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1966; reprinted, Avon, 1978.

Will Barrett is a 25-year-old wanderer from the South living in New York City, detached from his roots and with no plans for the future, until the purchase of a telescope sets off a romance and changes his life forever.
Love In The Ruins. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1971; reprinted, Avon, 1978.

Dr. Tom More has created a stethoscope of the human spirit. With it, he embarks on an unforgettable odyssey to cure mankind's spiritual flu. This novel confronts both the value of life and its susceptibility to chance and ruin.

Book Reviews

Lancelot. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1977.

Lancelot Lamar is a disenchanted lawyer who finds himself confined in a mental asylum with memories that don't seem worth remembering. It all began the day he accidentally discovered he was not the father of his youngest daughter, a discovery which sent Lancelot on modern quest to reverse the degeneration of America. Percy's novel reveals a shining knight for the modern age--a knight not of romance, but of revenge.

Book Reviews

The Second Coming. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1980.

Will Barrett (also the hero of Percy's The Last Gentleman) is a lonely widower suffering from a depression so severe that he decides he doesn't want to continue living. But then he meets Allison, a mental hospital escapee making a new life for herself in a greenhouse. The Second Coming is by turns touching and zany, tragic and comic, as Will sets out in search of God's existence and winds up finding much more.
The Thanatos Syndrome. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1987.

Returning home to the small Louisiana parish where he had praticed psychiatry, Dr. Tom More quickly notices something strange occuring with the townfolk, a loss of inhibitions. Behind this mystery is a dangerous plot drug the local water supply, and a discovery that takes More into the underside of the American search for happiness.

Nonfiction by Walker Percy
The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do with the Other. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1975.

In Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy offers insights on such varied yet interconnected subjects as symbolic reasoning, the origins of mankind, Helen Keller, Semioticism, and the incredible Delta Factor. Confronting difficult philosophical questions with a novelist's eye, Percy rewards us again and again with his keen insights into the way that language possesses all of us.
Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.

Walker Percy's mordantly funny and wholly original contribution to the self-help book craze deals with the Western mind's tendency toward heavy abstraction. This favorite of Percy fans continues to charm and beguile readers of all tastes and backgrounds. Lost in the Cosmos invites us to think about how we communicate with our world.
Conversations with Walker Percy, edited by VictoråÊA.åÊKramer. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.


Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy, edited by Walker Percy. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc, 1998.

Book Reviews

    Review by Ralph C. Wood. Christian Century Nov. 12, 1997.
Signposts In a Strange Land. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1991.

At his death in 1990, Walker Percy left a considerable legacy of uncollected nonfiction. Assembled in Signposts in a Strange Land, these essays on language, literature, philosophy, religion, psychiatry, morality, and life and letters in the South display the imaginative versatility of an author considered by many to be one the greatest modern American writers.
A Thief of Peirce: The Letters of Kenneth Laine Ketner & Walker Percy. University Press of Mississippi, October 1995.

More Conversations with Walker Percy. University Press of Mississippi, June 1993.

Books about Walker Percy

Walker Percy's The Moviegoer at Fifty: New Takes on an Iconic American Novel
by Jennifer Levasseur (Editor), Mary A. McCay (Editor)
LSU Press (April 11, 2016)

More than fifty years after its publication, Walker Percy's National Book Award Winner, The Moviegoer, still confronts, comforts, and enlightens generations of readers. This collection of twelve new essays, edited and introduced by Jennifer Levasseur and Mary A. McCay, emphasize the evolving significance of this seminal, New Orleans novel. Authors' consider the text with diverse perspectives, drawing from philosophy, theology, disability theory, contemporary music and literature, social media, and film studies.

Jay Tolson opens the volume with reflections on rereading the novel on a Kindle decades after writing his important biography of Percy. H. Collin Messer, Montserrat Gins, Jessica Hooten Wilson, and Brian Jobe follow with illuminating essays analyzing Percy's influences, from St. Augustine and Cervantes to Heidegger and Dostoevsky. Jonathan Potter and Read Mercer Schuchardt, Mary A. McCay, Matthew Luter, and Dorian Speed delve into the novel's significance to cinema, including an exhaustive guide to its film references, a meditation on Binx Bolling as a director of his existence, and the semiotics of celebrity. Brent Walter Cline and Robert Bolton, Michael Kobre, and L. Lamar Nisly present a roadmap for Bolling's inward journey, exploring a variety of elements from the role of the broken body to the spiritual connection to Bruce Springsteen lyrics.

Walker Percy's The Moviegoer at Fifty is the first critical work devoted solely to the author's debut novel. Coinciding with the centenary of Percy's birth, this collection invites both new and veteran readers to enjoy The Moviegoer with fresh perspectives that underscore its lasting relevance.

A Political Companion to Walker Percy
by Peter Augustine Lawler (Editor, Contributor)
University Press of Kentucky (July 19, 2013)

In 1962, Walker Percy (1916–1990) made a dramatic entrance onto the American literary scene when he won the National Book Award for fiction with his first novel, The Moviegoer. A physician, philosopher, and devout Catholic, Percy dedicated his life to understanding the mixed and somewhat contradictory foundations of American life as a situation faced by the wandering and won-dering human soul. His controversial works combined existential questioning, scientific investigation, the insight of the southern stoic, and authentic religious faith to produce a singular view of humanity's place in the cosmos that ranks among the best American political thinking.

An authoritative guide to the political thought of this celebrated yet complex American author, A Political Companion to Walker Percy includes seminal essays by Ralph C. Wood, Richard Reinsch II, and James V. Schall, S.J., as well as new analyses of Percy's view of Thomistic realism and his reaction to the American pursuit of happiness. Editors Peter Augustine Lawler and Brian A. Smith have assembled scholars of diverse perspectives who provide a necessary lens for interpreting Percy's works. This comprehensive introduction to Percy's "American Thomism" is an indispensable resource for students of American literature, culture, and politics.

Wingless Chickens, Bayou Catholics, and Pilgrim Wayfarers: Constructions of Audience and Tone in O'Connor, Gautreaux, and Percy
by L LaMar Nisly (Author)
Mercer University Press (January 1, 2011)

O'Connor, Gautreaux, and Percy, are all Catholic writers from the Southand seem to embody very fully both parts of that label. Yet their fiction employs markedly different tones and modes of addressing their audience. O'Connor seems intent on shocking her reader, whom she anticipates will be hostile to her deepest beliefs. Gautreaux gently and humorously engages his reader, inviting his expected sympathetic audience to embrace the characters' needed moral growth. Percy satirically lampoons an array of social ills and failings in the Church, as he tries to get his audience laughing with him while he makes his deadly serious point about the flaws he finds in the Church and larger culture. Linking together biographical information and a reading of their fiction, Nisly argues that their sense of audience has been shaped in significant ways by each author's own experience of Catholicism.

Novelists of the American South (Walker Percy and Shelby Foote)
by Gaikwad Shahaji (Author)
Atlantic Publishers & Distributors Pvt Ltd (December 1, 2010)

Walker Percy was an American Southern author whose interests included philosophy and semiotics. He is best known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for fiction in 1962. He devoted his literary life to the exploration of the dislocation of man in the modern age. His work displays a unique combination of existential questioning southern sensibility and deep Catholic faith. Shelby Foote, another American Southern novelist, was a noted historian of the American Civil War who wrote The Civil War: A Narrative — a massive three-volume history of the war. With geographic and cultural roots in the Mississippi delta, Foote's life and writing paralleled the radical shift from the agrarian planter system of the old south to the civil rights era of the new south.

The need to study the works of Percy and Foote afresh arises from a basic academic requirement (i.e., the contemporary need to understand the southern consciousness in its relation to history and culture). The study focuses on the issues of history and consciousness as treated by these writers. The southern minds' obsession with the past is quite familiar, but through fictitious protagonists, both Percy and Foote have represented it in a new form of characters stance towards the past in the context of the new south. Confounded by the changes that the American South has witnessed in social political economic and industrial spheres, the characters in the novels of Percy and Foote experience the loss of self, which in turn results in meaningless existence. Since the present fails to provide them with meaningful existence, they turn to the past to seek an alternative to their present living.

Walker Percy Remembered: A Portrait in the Words of Those Who Knew Him
by David Horace Harwell
The University of North Carolina Press (August, 2010)

Walker Percy (1916-1990), the reclusive southern author most famous for his 1961 novel The Moviegoer, spent much of his adult life in Covington, Louisiana. In the spirit of traditional southern storytelling, this biography of Percy takes its shape from candid interviews with his family, close friends, and acquaintances. In thirteen interviews, we get to know Percy through his lifelong friend Shelby Foote, Percy's brothers LeRoy and Phin, his former priest, his housekeeper, and former teachers, among others--all in their own words. Over the course of the interviews, readers learn intimate details of Percy's writing process; his interaction with community members of different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds; and his commitment to civil rights issues. What emerges is a multidimensional portrait of Percy as a man, a friend, and a family member.

With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party: in Company with Flannery O'Connor, T.S. Eliot, and Others
by Marion Montgomery.
St. Augustines Press (September 2009)

Peculiar Crossroads: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Catholic Vision in Postwar Southern Fiction
by Farrell O'Gorman.
Louisiana State University Press (October 2007).

In Peculiar Crossroads, Farrell O'Gorman explains how the radical religiosity of both Flannery O'Connor's and Walker Percy's vision made them so valuable as southern fiction writers and social critics. Via their spiritual and philosophical concerns, O'Gorman asserts, these two unabashedly Catholic authors bequeathed a postmodern South of shopping malls and interstates imbued with as much meaning as Appomattox or Yoknapatawpha. O'Gorman builds his argument with biographical, historical, literary, and theological evidence, examining the writers' work through intriguing pairings, such as O'Connor's Wise Blood with Percy's The Moviegoer, and O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find with Percy's Lancelot. An impeccable exercise in literary history and criticism, Peculiar Crossroads renders a genuine understanding of the Catholic sensibility of both O'Connor and Percy and their influence among contemporary southern writers.

Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction: Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Walker Percy
by Gary M. Ciuba
LSU Press (2007).

In this groundbreaking study, Gary M. Ciuba examines how four of the South's most probing writers of twentieth-century fiction -- Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O'Connor, Cormac McCarthy, and Walker Percy -- expose the roots of violence in southern culture. Ciuba draws on the paradigm of mimetic violence developed by cultural and literary critic René Girard, who maintains that individual human nature is shaped by the desire to imitate a model. Mimetic desire may lead in turn to rivalry, cruelty, and ultimately community-sanctioned -- and sometimes ritually sanctified -- victimization of those deemed outcasts. Ciuba offers an impressively broad intellectual discussion that gives universal cultural meaning to the southern experience of desire, violence, and divinity with which these four authors wrestled and out of which they wrote.

In a comprehensive analysis of Porter's semiautobiographical Miranda stories, Ciuba focuses on the prescribed role of women that Miranda imitates and ultimately escapes. O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away reveals three characters whose scandalous animosity caused by religious rivalry leads to the unbearable stumbling block of violence. McCarthy's protagonist in Child of God, Lester Ballard, appears as the culmination of a long tradition of the sacred violence of southern religion, twisted into his own bloody faith. And Percy's The Thanatos Syndrome brings Ciuba's discussion back to the victim, in Tom Moore's renunciation of a society in which scapegoating threatens to become the foundation of a new social regime. From nostalgia for the old order to visions of a utopian tomorrow, these authors have imagined the interrelationship of desire, antagonism, and religion throughout southern history. Ciuba's insights offer new ways of reading Porter, O'Connor, McCarthy, and Percy as well as their contemporaries who inhabited the same culture of violence -- violence desired, dreaded, denied, and deified.

Walker Percy's Sacramental Landscapes: The Search in the Desert,
by Allan Pridgen.
Susquehanna University Press (November 2000)

This book maintains that a Catholic sacramental understanding of the self and the world is at the center of Percy's imaginative and philosophical vision. In close textual analysis of The Last Gentleman, The Second Coming, Love in the Ruins, and The Thanatos Syndrome, the author shows bow these works present Percy's sacramental worldview. The imagery and symbolism in these novels point out how the novels' existential wayfarers make their journeys toward a new way of seeing. This reading of the novels reveals precisely how Percy uses his fiction to dramatize the sometimes abstruse philosophical and religious ideas developed in these works.

Walker Percy's Search for Community
by John F. Desmond
University of Georgia Press (May 2004)

In the first undertaking of its kind in Percy criticism, John F. Desmond traces—through Walker Percy's six published novels--the writer's central and enduring concerns with community. These concerns, Desmond argues, were grounded in the realism of such Scholastics as Aquinas and Duns Scotus—realism as updated by the semiotic theory of Charles Sanders Peirce, the American philosopher whose work Percy studied for more than forty years. Percy gleaned from Peirce the basic truth that humans are by nature relational beings, a truth reinforced by Percy's Catholic belief in mystical community.

Desmond shows how Percy's theosemiotic outlook shaped each of his novels, from The Moviegoer (1961) to The Thanatos Syndrome (1987), and provided a foundation for his analysis of alienation, his critique of scientism, and his vision of community. Percy's vision of community extended from the flawed social world of modern America and Western society to the mystical community beyond time and place prophesied in the Hebrew-Christian scriptures. This vision grew more explicit as Percy's novelistic career unfolded and was of a piece with the ideas developed in his many essays and in his "self-help" parable, Lost in the Cosmos (1983).

Percy saw himself as a witness to the collapse of scientific humanism in the face of consumerism, self-absorption, and violence. However, Desmond says, Percy also looked forward to a reconciliation of science, religion, and art. In one of his last public lectures, "The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind," Percy called for a "new anthropology" based on a Peircean realism that accurately accounted for man's true nature as a wayfarer on a journey with others toward God. This call is echoed in the novels, in which, according to Desmond, Percy explores his vision of community "through representation of the shattered and deformed state of society and the searching of his protagonists, and through suggesting possibilities for healing their riven state."

Eudora Welty and Walker Percy: The Concept of Home in Their Lives and Literature
by Marion Montgomery
McFarland & Company (December 2003)

Eudora Welty and Walker Percy were friends but very different writers, even though they were interested in the relation of place to their fiction. This work explores in each the concept of home and the importance of home to the homo viator (man on his way) and anti-idealism and anti-romanticism.

The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage,
by Paul Elie.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (April 5, 2003).

In the mid-twentieth century four American Catholics came to believe that the best way to explore the questions of religious faith was to write about them-in works that readers of all kinds could admire. The Life You Save May Be Your Own is their story-a vivid and enthralling account of great writers and their power over us.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk in Kentucky; Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic Worker in New York; Flannery O'Connor a "Christ-haunted" literary prodigy in Georgia; Walker Percy a doctor in New Orleans who quit medicine to write fiction and philosophy. A friend came up with a name for them-the School of the Holy Ghost-and for three decades they exchanged letters, ardently read one another's books, and grappled with what one of them called a "predicament shared in common."

A pilgrimage is a journey taken in light of a story; and in The Life You Save May Be Your Own Paul Elie tells these writers' story as a pilgrimage from the God-obsessed literary past of Dante and Dostoevsky out into the thrilling chaos of postwar American life. It is a story of how the Catholic faith, in their vision of things, took on forms the faithful could not have anticipated. And it is a story about the ways we look to great books and writers to help us make sense of our experience, about the power of literature to change-to save-our lives.

Book Reviews

    Writing lives, by Joseph Cunneen.
    Christian Century, May 31, 2003.

Walker Percy's Voices
by Michael Kobre
University of Georgia Press (2000)

Walker Percy's novels are fraught with characters struggling toward a destiny and purpose in life who must sort through conflicting inner voices and the voices of family, friends, therapists, and mentors until they finally find their own paths. Through trial, error, and retrial, Percy's characters continuously reinvent themselves, struggling until they reach solutions, satisfaction, and maturity.

In this multifaceted work, Michael Kobre analyzes Walker Percy's major fiction works--The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome--in terms of the Russian philosopher and literary scholar Mikhail Bakhtin's critical theory. Kobre begins with an introduction to Percy's view of language and consciousness and a clear, accessible explanation of Bakhtin's ideas. His subsequent discussion of the novels connects each work in turn with Percy's advancing career and explores the deepening conflict in Percy's fiction between his desire to express his own religious and moral beliefs and his commitment to the essential freedom of his art--the play of many voices in his narratives.

The Last Physician: Walker Percy and the Moral Life of Medicine
by Carl Elliott (Editor), John Lantos (Editor)
Duke University Press Books (1999)

Walker Percy brought to his novels the perspective of both a doctor and a patient. Trained as a doctor at Columbia University, he contracted tuberculosis during his internship as a pathologist at Bellevue Hospital and spent the next three years recovering, primarily in TB sanitoriums. This collection of essays explores not only Percy’s connections to medicine but also the underappreciated impact his art has had—and can have—on medicine itself.

The contributors—physicians, philosophers, and literary critics—examine the relevance of Percy’s work to current dilemmas in medical education and health policy. They reflect upon the role doctors and patients play in his novels, his family legacy of depression, how his medical background influenced his writing style, and his philosophy of psychiatry. They contemplate the private ways in which Percy’s work affected their own lives and analyze the author’s tendency to contrast the medical-scientific worldview with a more spiritual one. Assessing Percy’s stature as an author and elucidating the many ways that reading and writing can combine with diagnosing and treating to offer an antidote to despair, they ask what it means to be a doctor, a writer, and a seeker of cures and truths—not just for the body but for the malaise and diseased spirituality of modern times.

This collection will appeal to lovers of literature as well as medical professionals—indeed, anyone concerned with medical ethics and the human side of doctoring.

Walker Percy: A Life,
by Patrick Samway, SJ.
Loyola Press, March 1999.

Book Reviews

    Review by Matthew Carolan. National Review Feb. 9, 1998.
    Review by Peter A. Huff. Cross Currents Winter 1998.
    The Doubtful Pilgrim, by Robert C. Coles. New York Times June 8, 1997.


Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy,
by Jay Tolson.
UNC-Chapel Hill Press. February, 1994.

The first major biography of Walker Percy traces his literary career back to his childhood days spent carousing with Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty on his uncle's plantation. 17,500 first printing.
Book Reviews
    The Homesick Homeless, by Molly Finn. First Things 33 (May 1993): 46-48. Review of Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy, by Jay Tolson. Simon & Schuster.