Cover image for The correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy
The correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy
Foote, Shelby.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Center for Documentary Studies in association with W.W. Norton & Co., [1997]

Physical Description:
310 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A DoubleTake book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3511.O348 Z468 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3511.O348 Z468 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

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In the late 1940s comic moralist Walker Percy and novelist Shelby Foote, friends since their teenage years, began a correspondence which would last until Percy's death in 1990. The letters trace their lives from their early careers, when they were struggling fiercely and openly with their ambitions, artistic doubts and personal problems. They discuss such serious matters as the death of Foote's mother and Percy's battle with cancer, but their letters are also full of humour, good-natured ribbing and self mockery.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

That two writers‘good friends from boyhood‘could be so different in outlook and lifestyle gives this correspondence its interest. Even their attitudes toward each other's work can be seen in Walker Percy's preserving most of Foote's letters while his easy-living, thrice-married, allegedly unmoneyed pal began keeping Percy's letters only after 20 years of neglect. The reason becomes obvious. A slow starter but eventually a distinguished novelist whose wry fiction belies his letters, Percy (The Moviegoer) was rigid in thought and rather dull. A Roman Catholic convert and a physician by training, he was often gibed at by Foote, who claimed that the best writing emerges from doubt rather than certainty and that there was "something terribly cowardly... about the risks to which you won't expose your soul." Rejecting prayer, Foote confided, "I do know that the closest to God I ever come is when I'm at my work. Otherwise I don't even feel that I'm part of creation." Both products of Mississippi, Foote, largely unsuccessful in fiction, produced a now-classic three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative. His feisty opinions on writers and writing are of far more interest than what one learns of their very different lives, the exchange ending with Percy's death in 1990. Now 80, Foote has gone on to popular recognition as commentator in Ken Burns's TV documentary The Civil War. Tolson (Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy) has done an inadequate job of annotating the letters, leaving many titles, names, events and other obscurities unidentified. Photos through the text take the principals and supporting players from their teens into old age. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Foote, a novelist and Civil War historian (Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, Random, 1994), and Percy, erstwhile physician, latter-day philologist, and philosophical novelist (e.g. The Moviegoer), spent their teens together in Greenville, Mississippi. But if Percy biographer Tolson's edition of their 40-odd-year correspondence is any indication, they did not get around to writing each other regularly until their thirties, with Foote always the sparkplug. Not only do his letters far outnumber Percy's, but they show he fancied himself the latter's cultural mentor to such a tiresome degree that finally the usually pliant Percy breaks out, "Christ, you sound like Ralph Waldo Emerson." Unfortunately, Foote was allowed to play the schoolmarm from hell until Percy died in 1990. Would that the far wittier and more intellectually accomplished Percy had been the chattier one. For as Foote himself recognizes, "Our trouble is you talk about what brings books into being and I talk about this books themselves." Hit-or-miss indexing also weakens the value of this edition. For libraries collecting everything by either writer.-John Dye, Panhandle State Univ. Lib., Goodwell, Okla. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Childhood chums, personal and literary confidants, lifelong best friends, southern writers Percy and Foote engaged in a fascinating correspondence for more than 40 years. Percy's biographer Jay Tolson (Pilgrim in the Ruins, 1992) selected from the University of North Carolina's complete collection the letters for this volume. The first letter (one of Foote's) is dated May Day 1948; the last (from a terminally ill Percy) is dated August 18, 1989, less than nine months before his death. Unfortunately the collection is egregiously one-sided, since Foote did not begin saving Percy's letters until 1970 and since Foote even in the later years was a much more prolific correspondent than his friend. Nevertheless, what emerges is a strikingly vivid sense of the two men: their reading, their writing, their economic travails, their struggles with depression and health problems, their beliefs and opinions, and their manifold enthusiasms. Both wrote novels, of course, but Percy also wrote essays on philosophical and semiotic issues, and Foote was engaged for two decades in his three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative (1958-74; v.3, CH, Feb'75). Tolson deliberately avoids busy intrusion with his notes and has therefore not been as helpful as many might wish. Further, he confides very little about his selection process, emends texts silently, and indexes (selectively and incompletely) only names and titles. Still, scholars and general readers alike must be grateful for such a delightful read. A. J. Griffith Our Lady of the Lake University