By RAY CAVANAUGH
Along with Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy’s name is about the first to surface when it comes to Southern Catholic writers. Yet he was neither born nor raised Catholic. He also had a somewhat unusual literary career — not publishing his first book until he was well into his forties, and yet he became a major Southern voice when that first book appeared.
Though Walker Percy wrote his novels in Covington, La., he was born in Birmingham, Ala., exactly 100 years ago this May 28. He was the eldest of three boys in an aristocratic Southern family that had problems with depression and suicide.
Not long after Percy was born, his grandfather killed himself. Then when he was age 13, his father committed suicide. The Percys moved to the mother’s family in Athens, Ga. Soon after relocating, his mother died when her car veered off a bridge.
The incident went into the books as an accident, but Percy regarded it as a suicide — a view he kept secret “even from members of his family and his closest friends,” according to Walker Percy: A Life, written by the Jesuit scholar Patrick Samway.
Following the mother’s death, Percy and his brothers moved to Greenville, Miss., to live with their second cousin, known as “Uncle Will,” a lawyer and a writer who fostered the boy’s love for literature.
While in Greenville, Percy met a boy his age, Shelby Foote, who would also become a prominent writer. The two would maintain a lifelong friendship and correspondence. … Continue Reading