Beer, crawfish, bourbon and books. Walker Percy would be right at home.
The first-ever Walker Percy Weekend: A Literary Festival will be June 6-8 in St. Francisville, and will include all of those things in addition to a pervasive, deep love for the late Louisiana author that surprised festival organizer Rod Dreher.
“Everyone who’s coming to speak is coming for love of Walker Percy,” Dreher said, adding that about half the tickets already sold are going to people from out of state. “Some people are even road-tripping from the upper Midwest, just to be a part of it.”
The program, which includes a crawfish boil, dinner and a series of panel discussions, was dictated by Percy’s loves, Dreher said, and emphasizes the author’s connections to the Florida Parishes.
“This is a writer whose whole way of seeing the world is so tied to the Felicianas,” Dreher said.
Binx Bolling, the main character in “The Moviegoer,” was from Feliciana Parish, and Percy’s last novel, “The Thanatos Syndrome” is also set there. But, Dreher said, the landscapes of all of Percy’s fiction would be easily recognizable to any Louisiana reader.
“Percy writes about the South,” he said. “But it’s not the old South, it’s the new South; the South of golf courses and subdivisions. He likes to walk that neutral ground between the old South and the new South, and all of its anxieties.”
While Percy is most recognized for his fiction — “The Moviegoer” won the National Book Award in 1962 — Dreher also hopes the festival, particularly the panel discussions, will call attention to his non-fiction.
Scheduled for Saturday, June 7, the discussions will include panels on media culture and its effect on our lives; science, religion and the relationship therein; stoicism in Southern aristocracy; and Percy’s characters and the search for home.
The panels and tours of Entergy’s River Bend nuclear plant and the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, both sites from “The Thanatos Syndrome,” are free, but donations are accepted. Tickets for the other festivities — the crawfish boil ($27.24), bourbon tasting tour ($32.49), raffle for a framed copy of George Rodrigue’s painting of Walker Percy ($20) and gala dinner ($53.49) — are available through the festival’s Eventbrite website. An all-inclusive pass for the whole weekend is $111.24.
“Don’t delay getting tickets,” Dreher said, adding that organizers only printed a small number for the first festival.
The weekend benefitted from another, much larger St. Francisville festival, the Audubon Pilgrimage, Dreher said, especially from the efforts of Pilgrimage veteran Nancy Vinci.
“We call her the Dowager Countess,” Dreher said. “We do it out of love, because no one tells Nancy Vinci no. Nancy’s been an inspiration to all of us in how you get this stuff done, how you make the past live.”
Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Julius Freyhan Foundation, dedicated to restoring a 100-year-old school, built with a donation from Julius Freyhan, into a community center and source for art and culture in West Feliciana Parish.
“With any luck with the Walker Percy Weekend,” Dreher said, “we’ll have many more of them and have some of the events in the Julius Freyhan building.”