Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
John Kennedy Toole
Toole received a master's degree at Columbia University, and then spent a year as assistant professor of English at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He then went to New York to take a teaching position at Hunter College. Toole also spent some time pursuing a doctorate at Columbia, but did not finish because he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1961, where he served two years in Puerto Rico teaching English to Spanish-speaking recruits.
After his time in the military, Toole returned to New Orleans to live with his parents and began to teach at Dominican College. He spent time hanging around the French Quarter with musicians and, on at least one occasion, helped a musician friend with his second job selling tamales from a cart. After Toole graduated with honors from Tulane University, he worked briefly in a men's clothing factory. Both of these scenarios played a part in the inspiration for his great comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces.
Toole sent his novel's manuscript to Simon and Schuster. After initial excitement about the book, the publisher eventually rejected it, saying that the book "isn't really about anything." Toole began to deteriorate rapidly after he lost hope of publishing his book, which he considered to be a masterpiece. He began to drink heavily and started taking medication for headaches; he also stopped teaching at Dominican and quit his doctoral classes at Tulane.
Biographers have since suggested that Toole was confused about his sexuality, which added to his depression. Friends and family of Toole disagree with this idea, including David Kubach , a longtime friend who also served with Toole in the army. The authors of the biography did not know him, and "not knowing him makes a big difference", Kubach said.
Toole committed suicide on March 26, 1969, after disappearing from New Orleans, by putting one end of a garden hose into the exhaust pipe of his car and the other into the window of the car where he was sitting.
After his death, Toole's mother insisted that author Walker Percy read the manuscript for Dunces. Percy eventually gave in and fell in love with the book. A Confederacy of Dunces was published in 1980, and Percy provided the foreword.
Toole's only other novel is The Neon Bible, which Toole wrote at age 16 and which he considered too juvenile a writing attempt to submit for publication while he was alive. Due to the great interest in Toole, The Neon Bible was published in 1989.
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