Monthly Archives: December 2011

New York City, 1959


Film Footage: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr–Harmony Bar & Restaurant–New York 1959

Between Mad Men, the new series Pan Am the 2010 film Howl and the upcoming film adaptation of On the Road, popular media has obviously taken a renewed interest in the late 1950s and early 60s. And what a remarkable time it was, especially in New York City. Fidel Castro eating ice cream at the Bronx Zoo–Nikita Khrushchev brandishing his shoe at the U.N. General Assembly and having a temper tantrum because the authorities would not permit him to go to Disneyland—and of course the Beats emerging from a cult status to becoming the literary voice of a generation.

Fred Kaplan authored an intriguing account of this year in history titled 1959: The Year Everything Changed. As evident in the title, he presents a bold thesis, but lines up such compelling events, from Allen Ginsberg’s triumphant reading at Columbia University to the recording of Kind of Blue, it is clear that this single year in history marked the beginning of the tidal changes of the mid and late 1960s.

To me, it is beyond coincidence that Toole was in New York during this time. In fact, because he taught across the street from the Soviet Embassy, he saw the comings and goings of Castro and Khrushchev in September of 1960.

It was around this period in New York that he started “sketching” what would become his famous character Ignatius Reilly. He would finish his novel in Puerto Rico—but there is no mistake that Ignatius was crafted in the heart of the social changes so evident at the turn of the decade in New York City.

And during this time Toole walked across the Columbia campus–from his dorm room to his classes at Philosophy Hall–everyday passing the School of Journalism–established by Joseph Pulitzer. In that same building over twenty years later (and eleven years after his suicide) the Pulitzer committee would gather with Toole’s novel in hand and award him the Pulitzer Prize.

Surely if I had my hands on a time machine, New York City between 1959 and 1961 would be at the top of my list.

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Filed under Allen Ginsberg, Fidel Castro, Jack Kerouac, john kennedy toole, Kind of Blue, Miles Davis, Nikita Khrushchev

Done with Copyedits

Earlier this week I got my first glance at the design of the book. It is quite exciting to see it coming together. Copy edits were finalized and today they started transferring the text into the designed pages.

On my last day of reviewing the copy edits I received an email from a past student of Toole’s. She gave me the phone number of a woman who knew him. I had a lovely conversation with her. Although she did not know Toole very well, he went to several parties at her apartment in the French Quarter in 1967. Luckily, I included some of her memories in the manuscipt, which echoed many of the other stories about him I have documented.

We have also been working hard on the photo insert. It is shaping up quite nicely. I gave Joe Sanford a sneak peak at it and he commented: “Wonderful–It is a most beautiful photo essay of Ken’s life.”

Proofs will be coming next week. After that there is one last chance for any corrections and then we are off to print.

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Filed under biography, john kennedy toole, toole biograpy