Walker Percy (May 28, 1916 – May 10, 1990) was an American Southern author whose interests included philosophy and semiotics. Percy 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.
Percy was born in Birmingham, Alabama, into a distinguished Mississippi Protestant family whose past luminaries had included a U.S. Senator and a Civil War hero. Prior to Percy's birth, his grandfather had killed himself with a shotgun, setting a pattern of emotional struggle and death that would haunt Percy throughout his life.
After Percy's father's suicide in 1929 the Percy family moved to Athens, Georgia. Two years later, his mother died in a car crash when she drove off a country bridge and into Deer Creek near Leland, Mississippi – an accident that Percy regarded as another suicide. Walker and his two younger brothers, Phin and Roy, then moved to Greenville, Mississippi, where his bachelor uncle William Alexander Percy, a lawyer, poet, and autobiographer, became their guardian and adopted them. Percy was raised an agnostic, though nominally affiliated with a theologically liberal Presbyterian church. "Uncle Will" introduced him to many writers and poets and to a neighboring boy his own age – Shelby Foote, who became his life-long best friend.
As young men, Percy and Foote decided to pay their respects to William Faulkner by visiting him in Oxford, Mississippi. However, when they finally drove up to his home, Percy was so in awe of the literary giant that he could not bring himself to talk to him. Later on, he recounted how he could only sit in the car and watch while Foote and Faulkner had a lively conversation on the porch.
Percy joined Foote at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then trained as a medical doctor at Columbia University in New York City, receiving his medical degree in 1941. After contracting tuberculosis from performing an autopsy while interning at Bellevue Hospital Center, Percy spent the next several years recuperating at the Trudeau Sanitorium in the Saranac Lake, New York in the Adirondacks.
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