[percy-l] A New Member and a Question

Rachel Humphries mrs.rachel.humphries at gmail.com
Tue Oct 6 13:18:13 EDT 2015

I've actually noticed that Percy has been popping up more frequently
lately, at least in the NYT. There was the article, linked to on this list,
on Percy's "Theory of Hurricanes" a month or two ago, and he gets
name-dropped in the discussion of the "novel of ideas" in the Book Review
last week.
I've been out of academia for a long, long time (to continue a theme), but
I might be able to comment on his prominence in the "culture at large." It
seems to me that Percy is still quite well-known, and studied, within
certain spheres of interest: literature & religion, Southern/regional
literature, literature & philosophy. However, outside of those, it does
seem that his work does seem to grow more obscure with the passage of time.
I haven't noticed that it comes with a reassessment of the *quality* of his
work; it's not like people are saying "Meh, it wasn't as good as we thought
it was." When it is discussed, it is with respect; it is just discussed
This, too, is merely perception.  I have no concrete evidence besides the
total mystification of that guy at the gym who wanted to know what I was
reading on the stationary bike (*The Moviegoer). *In pursuit of your
evidence, it might be interesting to see if Percy is increasingly
"siloed"--in other words, if he is mentioned most often by people who are
also discussing another specific topic (Catholicism, e.g.).
Rachel Humphries

On Fri, Oct 2, 2015 at 3:15 PM, Michael Kobre <kobrem at queens.edu> wrote:

> 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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