Author Cory McLauchlin will this morning (October 20) be talking about his book Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Short, Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story A Confederacy of Dunces”. The talk will take place in Culpeper, Virginia. McLauchlin himself is a Virginian, having been born in Newport News.
The event is being held in the Culpeper County Library at 271 Southgate Shopping Centre.
John Kennedy Toole was born in New Orleans on December 17, 1937.
A Confederacy of Dunces is a picaresque novel featuring the misadventures of protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly, a lazy, obese, misanthropic, self-styled scholar who lives at home with his mother. It is hailed for its accurate depictions of New Orleans dialects.
Toole began writing A Confederacy of Dunces while in the Army. He served two years at Fort Buchanan in San Juan, Puerto Rico, teaching English to Spanish-speaking recruits. A friend, David Kubach, also an aspiring writer, lent Toole a green Halda typewriter.
Kubach was later transferred to Madison, Wisconsin, and took his typewriter with him, so Toole had to buy his own.
After writing A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole corresponded with Robert Gottlieb of Simon & Schuster for two years. Exhausted from Gottlieb’s suggested revisions, Toole declared the publication of the manuscript a hopeless cause and in 1966 stored it in a box in his bedroom. Three years later he suffered a mental breakdown, took a two-month journey across the US, and suicided on a road outside of Biloxi, on March 27, 1969. Following the funeral, Toole’s mother discovered the manuscript. After many rejections, in 1976 she cornered Walker Percy, who found it a brilliant novel and spearheaded its publication.
A Confederacy of Dunces was published by Louisiana State University Press in 1980. The first printing was only 2500 copies, The book has since sold more than 1.5 million copies, in 18 languages. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981, 12 years after Toole’s suicide.
In Butterfly in the Typewriter, McLauchlin draws on interviews with Toole’s friends, family and colleagues, as well as access to the Toole archive at Tulane University. McLauchlin captures Toole’s upbringing in New Orleans, his years in New York City, his frenzy of writing in Puerto Rico, his return to his beloved New Orleans, and his descent into paranoia and depression.
Butterfly in the Typewriter was released on March 27 this year and critics have called it “a gripping read”, “haunting” and “one of the most compelling stories in American literary history”.
The dark humour of A Confederacy of Dunces falls into context when examined through Toole’s extraordinary life.
The author’s website is here.