[percy-l] A New Member and a Question

Michael Kobre kobrem at queens.edu
Fri Oct 2 16:15:38 EDT 2015

After a long, long delay, I'm happy to join the Percy-L community.  I'm a professor and Chair of the Department of English and Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte.  More to the point though, I'm the author of Walker Percy's Voices which was published a long, long time ago (there's that theme again) by the University of Georgia Press.  In my other life as a scholar, before spending the last 15 years as co-director of our MFA program in creative writing, I focused primarily on a Bakhtinian interpretation of Percy's work and tried to hear in his prose the sort of polyphony of voices that Bakhtin discusses.  Since then, when I've had the opportunity to write about Percy, I've tried to examine the parallels and connections between Percy and Bruce Springsteen (who's a lot louder and more famous than Bakhtin).

I'm working now, however, on an essay that examines the changing fortunes of the literary reputations of Percy and Richard Yates respectively.  Yates' signature novel Revolutionary Road had been nominated for the National Book Award alongside The Moviegoer, and both books-at least on a superficial level-occupy a similar territory, following the lives of their protagonists in the new suburban landscapes of America (although to very different effects).  Yates felt that his loss of the National Book Award dramatically altered the trajectory of his career; the sales of his books were at best uneven, and by the end of his life virtually all of his work was out of print.  And yet, over the last decade or so, Yates' work has enjoyed a significant revival.  Everything is back in print, and Revolutionary Road is now seen as a classic work of post-war American fiction and is-here's an important component of my argument-a canonical work within the discipline of creative writing in particular.

By contrast however, it seems as though Percy's work, which was far more celebrated when both Percy and Yates were alive, receives less attention these days.  Yes, there remains a loyal audience of Percy fans (I'm reaching out to many of you right now), but his work isn't taught and discussed in the same way that Yates' work is now.

At least that's my perception.  And this is one reason why I'm reaching out to all of you.  Do you agree that Percy's work and reputation have become a little more obscure to the culture at large?  If so, can you think of evidence that supports this perception?  Any thoughts on this or help will be much appreciated.

Michael Kobre, MFA, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of English and Creative Writing
Queens University of Charlotte
1900 Selwyn Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28226

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