Walker Percy was born, on 28 May 1916, in Birmingham, Alabama. His father's family had illustrious forebears, including a Civil War hero and a U.S. Senator. His grandfather had committed suicide in 1917. In 1929, when Percy was 13, his father committed suicide and two years later his mother died in a car crash that may also have been a suicide. These deaths haunted Percy throughout his life.
After the death of his parents, Percy lived with his cousin in Greenville, Mississippi. Percy earned his B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1937 and then went on to medical school at Columbia University. He earned his M.D., there, in 1941, and while completing his residency at Bellevue Hospital he contracted tuberculous while performing an autopsy.
Percy then spent several years recovering in a sanatorium at Saranac Lake, New York. While there he became interested in existentialist writings and philosophy. Though he was raised as an atheist, Percy began to study Catholicism with his new wife, Mary Bernice Townsend (m. 1946); both converted to Catholicism in 1947.
In 1956, Percy began writing articles for the Catholic magazine
Commonweal. Percy received published his first book,
The Moviegoer (1961). The book won the prestigious National Book Award for 1962. Percy later earned many awards and prizes including a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a National Catholic Book award and a National Book Critics Circle citation in 1980. Percy wrote for most of his professional life for a living. Walker Percy's literary career is cataloged in
Walker Percy: A Bibliography: 1930-1984, by Stuart Wright (1985).
On 10 May 1990, Percy passed away from prostate cancer, in Covington, LA.
"Walker Percy". [Biographical Sketch]
Wikipedia. Accessed 30 November 2016.
"Walker Percy" [Biographical Sketch]
Gale Literature Resource Center. Accessed 30 November 2016.
"Walker Percy Papers, circa 1910-1996 (#4292)". 27.0 lin. ft.
Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson, Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.
"Walker Percy Papers, 1945-2000 (bulk 1970-1990)". 3.75 lin. ft.
Monroe Library, Special Collections, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA.
"Patrick Samway, S.J. Papers". 49 lin. ft. Monroe Library, Special Collections, Loyola University, New Orleans, LA.
Author: Jonathan Dembo, with the assistance of John Leche, 11/30/2016, 3/17/2017.
Stuart Wright collected and compiled the Percy Walker Papers. He was born, Stuart Thurman Wright, on 30 March 1948, in Roxboro, North Carolina. He was the son of Frances Critcher Wright (1919-2010) and Wallace Lyndon Wright (1921-1965). An avid reader as a boy, Wright developed a strong interest in the American Civil War and with his father toured many of the war's battlefields searching for artifacts and studying the history of the era. At the age of 12, he won a statewide "Johnny Reb" essay contest and by the age of 15 had visited every major battlefield of the Civil War. Wright attended Roxboro High School, from which he graduated in 1966. It was during these years that he developed an interest in collecting historical books and manuscripts and began relationships with a number of local collectors and dealers.
In the fall of 1966, Wright enrolled at Wake Forest University as a pre-med, history, German and music student. Wright earned a B.A. in German and music in 1970. As a graduate student at Wake Forest University, Wright focused his studies on Southern history and literature, his ambition being to build an authoritative Southern Studies collection for the university. He received a master's degree in Southern Studies in 1973 and a second master's degree in U.S. History in 1980. Additionally Wright holds a professional degree from England in a medically related field. It was while studying there that he became interested in Thomas Wolfe, the noted North Carolina native and novelist.
Following his graduation from Wake Forest, Wright began to develop his collections more systematically, acquiring many first editions of Southern writers. In 1976 he began teaching at Reynolda House, a Wake Forest University affiliate dedicated to the arts and arts education. Wright taught classes in American music as well as human anatomy for art students. In 1978 Wright became Lecturer in Education at Wake Forest University. During his 10 years teaching at Wake Forest University, Wright authored numerous works of Civil War and North Carolina history, and dozens of articles, bibliographies, essays and reviews on Southern literature and the writers whose papers he collected. In addition, he developed a strong interest in the writings of the English poet Donald Davie and the Minnesota-born poet Richard Eberhart, whose works he also collected.
At the same time, Wright also began a career as a publisher by starting Palaemon Press in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. By 1984, Palaemon Press had produced 316 titles, consisting mainly of broadsides and limited editions, of the poetry and essays of such Southern writers as A. R. Ammons, Fred Chappell, James Dickey, William Goyen, George Garrett, and Eudora Welty. He also built comprehensive collections and compiled book-length descriptive bibliographies of A.R. Ammons, Andrew Lytle, Reynolds Price, James Dickey, William Goyen, Walker Percy, Randall Jarrell, Peter Taylor, George Garrett, Richard Eberhart, and Donald Davie. As well as serving as editor of the contemporary literature section of the
Bulletin of Bibliography throughout the 1980s, Wright also contributed pioneering checklists of the writings of Southern poets Henry Taylor, Charles Wright, and Robert Morgan. For Meckler Publishing he served as series editor for a number of book-length bibliographies and checklists. In recognition of these accomplishments, when he was just 32, Wright was elected to membership in New York's prestigious Grolier Club.
All of these works are represented in the Stuart Wright Collection. In his dealings with these various authors Wright made consistent efforts to acquire personal papers, letters and documents, photographs, manuscripts, drafts, proofs, and published materials to supplement his continuing activities as a purchaser of their works. In this way, Wright acquired perhaps a majority of his overall collection. Over the years a number of biographers used Wright’s collection to aid their research. For example, James A. Grimshaw, Jr. used the collection extensively for his
Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922-1979 published by the University Press of Virginia, in 1981 and Craig S. Abbott did so as well for
John Crowe Ransom: A Descriptive Bibliography, published by Whitston Publishing Company, Inc. in 1999. Joseph Blotner also used the Wright collection in researching
Robert Penn Warren: A Biography, published by Random House in 1997.
Nevertheless, from the mid- to late 1980s, Wright began to look for a permanent home for his collection, which he felt had grown too large and yet had been too little used. Unable to find a repository willing to accept the entire collection under suitable conditions, he sold a number of individual author collections to Vanderbilt University, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Emory University. It was not until 2010 that he reached agreement to house the remaining, and largest part of his collection at East Carolina University. The Stuart Wright Collection in the East Carolina Manuscript Collection of J.Y. Joyner Library includes 106 sub-collections of the papers of Southern American writers, illustrators, composers, and publishers. The related Stuart Wright Book Collection holds several thousand volumes by or about many of the same writers. Many of these volumes contain annotations, inscriptions, and insertions that reveal much about the authors in the collection and their relationships with one another. In 1998 Wright moved to England, and since 2001 he has resided in the medieval market town of Ludlow, in Shropshire.
Author: Jonathan Dembo, 11/2/2016