He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice,” Mississippi’s William Faulkner said of man upon receiving the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature, “but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.”
New Englanders can rightfully claim to have been America’s 19th-century literary hub, but no other regional landscape dominated 20th-century literature like the South and its genius for storytelling. Famously, Faulkner’s imaginary Yoknapatawpha County, Chickasaw for “split land,” provided the setting for his most inspired novels.
American high school students should read Southern writers like Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, author of the 1962 National Book Award-winning “The Moviegoer.” Percy crafted stories about “the dislocation of man in the modern age,” while contributing to a “community of discourse” around fiction writing. His Greenville, Miss., was a wellspring of outstanding writers.
Greenville’s patriarch, William Alexander Percy, was a lawyer, planter and poet from a suicide-plagued family. He authored the best-selling 1941 memoir “Lanterns on the Levee.” His second cousin, Walker Percy, and Walker’s lifelong best friend, Shelby Foote, were both young when they lost their fathers. Will Percy’s book-filled house became a sanctuary for writers, journalists and musicians, as the man himself mentored a region.