Author. He was posthumously awarded a 1981 Pulitzer Prize for his uproarious picaresque novel "A Confederacy of Dunces". Its antihero, Ignatius J. Reilly, is one of the most original characters in American Literature, a gargantuan self-professed scholar at war with what he believes is the "lack of theology and geometry" in the modern world, and whose intellectual egomania is matched only by his sloth. Set in a richly evoked New Orleans of the 1960s, the book weaves Ignatius's misadventures with a host of colorful types into what one critic called "a grand comic fugue". It has been translated into 18 languages. Toole was born in New Orleans. At 16 he wrote his first novel, "The Neon Bible", but never attempted to have it published. He studied at Tulane and Columbia universities, receiving a master's degree in English, and was an assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. From 1961 to 1963 he served in the US Army in Puerto Rico, teaching English to Spanish-speaking recruits, then returned home to live with his parents and teach at Dominican College. It was during this period that he wrote "A Confederacy of Dunces". In 1964 he submitted it to Simon & Schuster, where senior editor Robert Gottlieb was initially enthusiastic but demanded extensive revisions. Toole worked on these for two years without meeting Gottlieb's approval (though the editor continued to offer encouragement), and in time he lost faith in the book, stowing it away in a closet. He was already prone to depression and now began drinking heavily; colleagues on the Dominican faculty saw him exhibit signs of paranoia. In January 1969 he disappeared, allegedly on an aimless cross-country odyssey. On March 26 Toole parked his car outside Biloxi, Mississippi, attached a garden hose to the exhaust pipe, and committed suicide. He was 31. Two years after his death his mother, Thelma Ducoing Toole, discovered the typescript of "A Confederacy of Dunces" and began a one-woman crusade to get it published. In 1976 she persuaded author Walker Percy to read what she proclaimed was her son's "masterpiece"; to his surprise he fell in love with it. "A Confederacy of Dunces", with Percy's foreword, finally appeared in 1980. Its comic brilliance and compelling backstory made it one of the best-reviewed books of the decade, and to date it has sold 1.5 million copies. "The Neon Bible" was published in 1989 and made into a 1995 film. Ironically, numerous attempts to bring "A Confederacy of Dunces" to the screen (with John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, and Will Ferrell variously considered to play Ignatius) failed to materialize. A bronze statue of Ignatius J. Reilly stands in front of the former D.H. Holmes Department Store on Canal Street in New Orleans, where the opening scene of the novel takes place.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards