John Kennedy Toole is an enigma. He was bright young writer from New Orleans who for a time in the early 1960s taught at South Louisiana Institute — now called UL Lafayette — and was inspired by a fellow English instructor there, albeit a certifiably eccentric one, to create Ignatius J. Reilly, the equally eccentric Lucky Dog vendor and star of Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning stroke of genius, A Confederacy of Dunces.
In 1969, despairing after futile attempts to get the manuscript published, Toole used a garden hose attached to the tailpipe of his car on a roadside near Biloxi to commit suicide. Confederacy sat for another couple of years in his bedroom in New Orleans before his mother, after several years of repeated rejections from publishers, got the manuscript to author Walker Percy, then on the faculty at Loyola University. Percy shepherded Confederacy to publication in 1980. A year later Toole was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer for his comic masterwork set in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Toole’s life and struggles are the focus of a fine new biography on the author — Butterfly in the Typewriter
by Cory MacLauchlin. Subtitled “The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces,” MacLauchlin’s new book examines the many contradictions in Toole’s brief life — he was 31 when he killed himself — and the events that set him on a tragic trajectory.
This evening, just blocks away from where Toole taught, MacLauchlin will sign copies of Butterfly in the Typewriter
. The event at Saint Street Inn, 407 Brook Ave. across St. Mary from Old Tyme Grocery, runs from 5-6 p.m.