statue of Ignatius J. Reilly
I understand from learned friends that winning a Pulitzer prize requires more than talent. It takes a champion, and a great deal of luck. Winning posthumously magnifies the difficulty. Winning 12 years after your death is unheard of.
Forty two years ago this weekend, John Kennedy Toole, a young, unpublished writer, overcome by migraines, depression and a liquid diet, decided that Biloxi, Mississippi was as good a place as any to end it all. I was in Biloxi at the time, fighting the battle of Keesler AFB, and wouldn't have disagreed.
Ten years later,his mother Thelma, found a smeared carbon copy of her son's unpublished novel in a drawer. Only through her determination, and regularly badgering Walker Percy to read her son's novel, Mr. Percy's unexpected understanding of the inherent worth of the work, and push to have it published, led to Ken Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces" eventual status as an American classic novel.
For this we thank a mother's love and what a piece of work she was. At best narcissistic, at worst wildly eccentric, she had a brief career appearing on afternoon and late night television shows, regaling all who would listen with stories of her now famous son. It is said she never told the same story, the same way, twice.
After appearing on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show, she returned to her hotel room to watch the program. She told interviewers " that she would love to meet the woman on the show. She seemed so nice." Snyder invited her back on the show, suggesting he would provide drinks and snacks. " Only Champagne Tom", she replied, "I'm not just someone you can drag in off the streets." Eventually, the real Toole became unknowable. His mother's hagiography obliterated most of the real man behind the words.
If somehow you haven't read it, please do. Pour a cold drink,wear a white suit, pretend you are in New Orleans, and let the story take over.
Ken where ever you are, thank you.
British friends: don't forget your clocks!