I just returned from New Orleans where I caught up with one of Toole’s childhood friends, John Geiser. I have written about him on this site before. John is an encyclopedia of New Orleans history. He is also one of the kindest men I have ever known.
Although, if you are ever in his company, do not say something as ridiculous as “N’awlins.” Pronounce the syllables for God’s sake. And be sure you do not use the words Cajun and Creole interchangeably. They are not the same thing. You will offend both Creoles and Cajuns. Keep these two things in mind, and an afternoon with John is like stepping back into a bygone era of New Orleans history.
One of the things John keeps me posted on is a little known part of John Kennedy Toole’s legacy. In addition to the Toole papers at Tulane, the Toole estate also established the John Kennedy Toole Scholarship. It started with fairly modest funds after Thelma Toole died, but today it is worth over 1.5 million dollars and growing. This scholarship enables talented students to pursue their undergraduate degrees in the Fine Arts or English at Tulane.
You won’t find it trumpeted on the Tulane website. Nor will you find it in discussions about Toole’s influence. It is a contribution far quieter than his outrageous characters. But as another academic year begins, another round of students and aspiring writers enter Tulane as benefactors to Toole’s posthumous success, his mother’s tenacity to pursue the publication of A Confederacy of Dunces and the thoughtfulness of the heirs to the Toole estate.
It is just one more way the story of John Kennedy Toole continues to inspire.