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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2004

11th Oxford Conference for the Book dedicated to novelist Walker Percy

March 17, 2004

By Jennifer Southall
University of Mississippi News Services

Oxford Conference for the Book poster
The poster for the 11th Oxford Conference for the Book features a portrait of Walker Percy by Baxter Knowlton.

OXFORD, Miss. — The 11th annual Oxford Conference for the Book, April 1-4, examines the life and works of the late Walker Percy, National Book Award winner and one of the most influential American novelists and essayists of the 20th century.

“Percy’s family is very important to Mississippi literary history,” said Kathryn McKee, McMullan Associate Professor of Southern studies and associate professor of English. “On his own, Percy is a writer who commands national respect but at the same time reflects on the particular dimensions of Southernness.”

Percy, who won the National Book Award for his first novel, The Moviegoer, was born in Birmingham, Ala. After his father’s death, Percy moved with his two brothers to the Greenville home of cousin William Alexander Percy, known for the 1941 autobiography Lanterns on the Levee.

Forced to give up his career as a pathologist following a bout with tuberculosis, Walker Percy wrote five more novels and three nonfiction works exploring the human condition.

Attending the Conference for the Book to discuss Percy’s life and legacy are Paul Elie, an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own, who also will examine other Southern writers; Lucius Lampton, collector of Percy-related publications; Patricia A. Sullivan, professor of English and director of the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Robert Livingston Lobdell, one of Percy’s four grandsons; and Mary Pratt Percy Lobdell, Percy’s daughter.

2004 Conference for the Book poster prints and T-shirts featuring Percy are to be sold during the conference for $10 and $15, respectively. The featured image for both was reproduced from a portrait by Mississippi native and Little Rock resident Baxter Knowlton, courtesy of the painting’s owners. Two other Knowlton paintings of Percy are to be displayed April 2 at UM’s Ford Center for the Performing Arts. (Knowlton’s paintings of William Faulkner, Barry Hannah, Willie Morris and Eudora Welty are on display in Oxford at L&M’s Kitchen and Salumeria. For more information, e-mail

Besides the conference sessions on Percy, an entire day of the Delta Literary Tour, which runs March 29-April 1, is spent in Greenville and dedicated to the life and work of Percy and other authors from that town, such as his close friend Shelby Foote.

“I’m delighted that my son and I have been asked to attend,” said Mary Pratt Percy Lobdell. “(Walker Percy) was always a father first, but the author part was very important. His message to the world — that we’re in a sort of malaise but it’s not terminal and we need to look to a higher power— is very important and as his daughter, I was able to get that before anyone else.”

All conference sessions are open to the public without charge, although preregistration is recommended to ensure seating. Reservations and advance payment are required for three optional conference events: a cocktail buffet with panelists at Isom Place ($50), cocktail party with panelists at Off Square Books ($25) and country dinner at Taylor Catfish ($25). The Delta tour requires advance registration of $350.

To register for the conference or Delta tour, or for more information, visit

For senior adults, Elderhostel, an international program of educational travel, offers a special conference package. For $441 per person, everything except the Delta tour is included: the entire conference (including special events), three nights’ lodging at the newly renovated Best Western Downtown Oxford Inn and Suites, all meals from dinner April 1 through lunch April 4, and transportation in Oxford.

To register for the Elderhostel program, call 877-426-8056 and refer to “So You Love Books? Get Between the Pages at the Oxford Conference for the Book,” program number 11183-040104. For Elderhostel information, call Carolyn Vance Smith at 601-446-1208, or e-mail

The 2004 Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, Lafayette County Literacy Council and Square Books, and is partially funded by the University of Mississippi, a contribution from the R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Tribal State Compact Fund, Mississippi Humanities Council and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. The Delta tour is sponsored by CSSC and Viking Range Corp.

For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-7236.

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