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About the Book

Beyond the Book

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 19 halftones, notes, index

Published in association with the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

ISBN  978-1-4696-1910-1
Published: August 2014

William Alexander Percy

The Curious Life of a Mississippi Planter and Sexual Freethinker

By Benjamin E. Wise

In this evocative biography, Benjamin E. Wise presents the singular life of William Alexander Percy (1885-1942), a queer plantation owner, poet, and memoirist from Mississippi. Though Percy is best known as a conservative apologist of the southern racial order, in this telling Wise creates a complex and surprising portrait of a cultural relativist, sexual liberationist, and white supremacist.

We follow Percy as he travels from Mississippi around the globe and, always, back again to the Delta. Wise's exploration brings depth and new meaning to Percy's already compelling life story--his prominent family's troubled history, his elite education and subsequent soldiering in World War I, his civic leadership during the Mississippi River flood of 1927, his mentoring of writers Walker Percy and Shelby Foote, and the writing and publication of his classic autobiography, Lanterns on the Levee. This biography sets Percy's life and search for meaning in the context of his history in the Deep South and his experiences in the gay male world of the early twentieth century. In Wise's hands, these seemingly disparate worlds become one.

About the Author

Benjamin E. Wise is associate professor of history at the University of Florida.


"This beautifully written biography will appeal to general readers as well as scholars of gay history and the South."
--Library Journal

“[Wise] highlights Percy’s dedication to his adopted family and intellectual pursuits, rendering his subject a compellingly complex character.”
--Publishers Weekly

“An excellent biography.”
--Memphis Magazine

“Wise’s crisp and clear articulation of Percy’s views of love and sexuality will attract the attention of scholars and general readers far beyond the field of southern studies.”
--Southern Spaces

“Wise’s biography [is] the first full-length treatment of Percy to foreground his homosexuality from start to finish. There is still a lot of speculation here, but there’s also a lot of sound, fundamental archival research that is placed effectively within a broad social and cultural history of homosexual identity and practice in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, in both Mississippi and the world at large. This is truly a groundbreaking biography.”
--Virginia Quarterly Review

“Wise’s book succeeds because it is smart, thorough, and gorgeously written. It also succeeds because, unlike so many of the people who have written about Percy in the past, Wise clearly understands the difference between sex, which is comparatively easy to write about, and sexuality, which can easily take nothing less than a lifetime to begin to be understood. . . . A major contribution to southern history and the history of gender and sexuality.”
--Journal of American History

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