Walker Percy: From Pen to Print

The Walker Percy Papers

Pic: Pages from the original typescript of The MoviegoerThe papers located in the Manuscripts Department occupy 21.5 linear feet of shelving space and consist of about 1,565 discrete items. Their organization and the details of their contents are fully described in the Inventory of the Papers, which is accessible on the website of the Manuscripts Department.

The papers include manuscript and/or typescript notes, drafts, and various stages of production and proof of all of the author's major writings and a substantial portion of his shorter fiction and essays. Significant materials relating to his unpublished writings are also present, notably fragments of a journal and notes concerning his early novel The Charterhouse (early 1950s), and the typescript of another apprentice novel, The Gramercy Winner (1950s).

The papers also contain a large section of correspondence, consisting of about 650 items, dating from 1951 to 1990. Notable among these are a series of seventy letters, notes, and cards written by Percy to his lifelong friend Shelby Foote between 1960 and 1982 and later returned by Foote. These contain, along with important biographical information, significant discussions of the various writing projects of the two authors. There is also an important series of letters from Caroline Gordon, dating from the early 1950s, discussing Percy's early efforts at writing fiction and specifically his first apprentice novel, The Charterhouse. Also included in this section of the papers are letters from Cleanth Brooks, Jacques Maritain, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Louis P. Simpson, Allen Tate, and Eudora Welty.

pic: Endpapers from Percy's copy of The ExistentialistsAnother potentially very useful series consists of sixty-eight folders, each of them devoted to a specific subject and bearing the same titles originally assigned by the author. Many of these contain printed articles or clippings and are similar in content and value to the book materials in the Percy library (described below); others contain holograph notes on their subjects. A number of the folders reflect Percy's interests in selected literary authors. The folders on Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Jean-Paul Sartre may have originated in his preparations for teaching at Louisiana State University in 1974-75 and would seem to complement the heavily annotated books by these authors in his library.

Among other papers in the collection is a photocopy of a typescript of John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. Toole's mother brought the copy to Percy a number of years after her son committed suicide. Much impressed by what he read, Percy helped secure its publication by Louisiana State University Press in 1980 and wrote an introduction for that edition. The papers also include photocopies of a very interesting series of letters between Toole and Robert Gottleib, an editor at Simon and Schuster, written between 1964 and 1966, reflecting the author's unsuccessful attempts to interest a publisher in his novel. It is not clear how these copies came to be in Percy's possession.

There are other collections in the Manuscripts Department of relevance to the study of the life and works of Walker Percy. Of particular interest are the papers of Percy's friends Shelby Foote (with 315 letters to Percy) and Robert Coles (to whom Percy dedicated The Thanatos Syndrome). Inventories of these collections are available in the Manuscripts Department and online (http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/).

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Walker Percy
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