John Kennedy Toole
When a true genius appears in the world
You may know him by this sign, that the dunces
Are all in confederacy against him.
The quote from which the title of his famous novel was taken (from Jonathan Swift‘s Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting) could have easily applied to Toole himself as well as to his wonderful hero Ignatius J Reilly. His literary success only came long after his suicide in 1969.
John Kennedy Toole was born in 1937 in New Orleans. He was an only child. His father was a car salesman and his mother a teacher. His undergraduate degree was from Tulane University in New Orleans and he took a Master’s from Columbia.
After an initial career teaching, he was drafted into the army in 1961 and served in Puerto Rico. While there, he wrote the book that was to become A Confederacy of Dunces. After the army, he returned to teaching and submitted his novel to Simon & Schuster for publication. When it was rejected, he fell into a depression and started drinking. He also gave up his job. In 1969, he killed himself.
After his death, his mother tried to get his book published but she had no better luck. Finally, she took it to Walker Percy, then teaching at Loyola University and tried to persuade him to read it. Initially he refused but, finally, after much persistence, he agreed, merely to get rid of her. He anticipated reading only a few pages before being able to reject it but soon realised that this was a quality novel. He arranged to have it published and it soon had considerable success, even winning the Pulitzer Prize. His early work, The Neon Bible was published in 1989 but clearly was not of the same standard.
Books about John Kennedy Toole
Rene Pol Nevils and Deborah George Handy: Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole
1980 A Confederacy of Dunces
1989 The Neon Bible