Walker Percy was a writer who refused to be defined.
Yet his work, specifically “The Moviegoer” defined what many in the world thought of New Orleans.
Percy, who lived in New Orleans for a short time and then in Covington for 40 years, eschewed descriptions of him as a “Catholic” or “Southern” writer. Yet he was called both the best Southern and best Catholic writer of the time. Percy was born in Birmingham, Ala., and spent his adolescence in Greenville, Miss.
Though he studied medicine, a diagnosis of tuberculosis set him on a different path. He read European existentialists, especially Kierkegaard, during his convalescence. When he recovered, he moved to New Orleans. He decided to take the ideas he’d learned in his study of psychiatry and in his reading and translate them into a fictional novel. He set the novel “The Moviegoer” in post-war New Orleans. The novel won a National Book Award for fiction and was Percy’s most popular work.
After "The Moviegoer," Percy's novels included "The Last Gentleman"(1966), "Love in the Ruins" (1971), "Lancelot" (1977), "The Second Coming" (1980) and "The Thanatos Syndrome" (1987). Percy also taught at Louisiana State University and Loyola University. While at Loyola, John Kennedy Toole’s mother, Thelma Toole, approached Percy with the unpublished “Confederacy of Dunes.” The novel had been rejected by eight publishers since Toole committed suicide in 1969. Percy helped get the novel published in 1980 and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.