Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, John Kennedy Toole

John Kennedy Toole, if he were alive, would be 73 years old today.  Sadly, Toole chose to take his own life on March 26, 1969, at age 31.

John Kennedy Toole is, of course, best known for the wonderful novel he was unable to get published during his lifetime, A Confederacy of Dunces.  I defy anyone to read Confederacy and then tell me that they will ever forget the book's main character, Ignatius J. Reilly.  That is not to say that Ignatius is a lovable, or even a likable, character; it is simply to say that he is unforgettable because of his unique approach to life.

Several years after his death, Toole's mother was able to get novelist Walker Percy to look at A Confederacy of Dunces, and Percy eventually saw that the novel was published.  In 1981, twelve years after his death, John Kennedy Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Note: Readers familiar with Confederacy might also want to find a copy of The Neon Bible, written by Toole at age 16.  This one is no Confederacy, of course, but it is a rather remarkable effort for a 16-year-old high school student.  Toole did not believe that the novel held up very well over the years and considered it to be an "adolescent" effort.  I wish I were capable of something so "adolescent" today.


  1. I love the letter he writes to one of his distributors who dared to complain about the pants having legs of different lengths, chastising him for lacking the salesmanship to sell such an item.

  2. Just thinking about that letter made me laugh.