Piggybacking on the previous post, it occurs to me that I might have readers in Puerto Rico now, some of whom may be able to help shape this book. Since I have been writing about Toole in Puerto Rico I have spoken with many of the instructors that served in Company A. But it has always bothered me that I have yet to speak to any of the trainees (or Puerto Rican recruits). My attempts to contact anyone from the Puerto Rican side of this story have not been successful. I would love to speak with any of the Puerto Rican trainees who came through Company A, B or C in the early 60s. So, dear readers, if anyone can help me make this connection, you would have my eternal gratitude. Gracias!
Monthly Archives: August 2009
I would have never expected to have gained my first bit of media recognition as a Toole biographer in Puerto Rico, but it seems apropos considering I have been continuously thinking about the Puerto Rico, and more specifically Fort Buchanan, of 1962 and 1963 over the past few months.
Sofia Cardona, a professor at University of Puerto Rico, contacted me a few weeks ago to ask some questions about Toole. We exchanged a few emails and then she posted a link to her very interesting review of Confederacy. She approaches the novel from a Puerto Rican perspective, which I think is an approach that deserves more exploration.
Her review was published in Claridad, a primary source for news and arts in Puerto Rico. View it here: “Sobre el libro de aquel gringo”
For those of you who do not speak Spanish, Google translator will give you a rough translation–but enough to get an idea of the article.
I just finished the chapter on 1963 (chapter 10), which was a turning point in Toole’s life. In January of 1963 he returned to Fort Buchanan, PR from a holiday trip to New Orleans and decided to begin writing Confederacy.
In May of 1963, his writing was going so well he decided to move back to New Orleans. In the chapter I explore his experience writing the book, some of the literary influences he gathered in Puerto Rico, and his eventual decision to move back home. It is a great deal of content to cover, but all of it very important to understanding Toole. It was this year in his life that gave us Confederacy, although his decision to return home was an ill-fated one.
As I struggled through this chapter, I recieved some sad news from Lafayette, LA. One of Toole’s closest friends, a woman he loved dearly, has become quite ill.
I spent a few hours with her at her house in April. She served me coffee and cookies and we talked about Toole, art, teaching, politics and humanity. She made me promise to teach the stories of her friend Ernest J. Gaines in my next Southern Literature Course. I agreed.
I showed her photos of Toole, many of which she had never seen. She looked at his Army pictures as if he were a stranger; she never saw him in a uniform. Then I showed her my favorite picture, Toole sitting at a table with a genuine smile that looks like he could erupt into laughter at any moment. She pointed to it and said, “Yes, that’s the Ken I remember. He looked just like that.”
Then she showed me her paintings and a beautiful pink rose she had picked; it was to be the subject of her next watercolor.
It was a lovely morning in the heart of Cajun country.
The book has a new title….
Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Brilliant and Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole
This title alludes to the last stanza from an unpublished poem by Toole titled “The Arbiter.” With permission, I will include this final stanza on one of the first pages of the book:
The book sold well, we understand,
Although the cover itself would command
A buyer’s attention: A large abstract bee
Crushing a butterfly with a typewriter key.
John Kennedy Toole
The original manuscript of the poem is in the Toole Papers in the .Special Collections at Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University