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The Mallord Mystery Continues

Dear Daniel,
Thank you for your comment and your research. You are right that the Tulane Catalog lists the inscription dated January 30, 1969. But the actual inscription appears to have both dates. “20” appears to have been inscribed over “30.” It seems almost too coincidental that someone would have revised the date to correspond with the day that Toole left New Orleans, but there it is. The pen and penmanship appears similar to the rest of the note. And because this inscription includes the line “universal oneness with you and Shelley” which Mallord also wrote in a letter to philosopher Bertrand Russell, I am confident that the inscription is his.

You bring up a great point that this could be self-promotion. In fact, someone placed a newspaper ad for the book on the inscription page with the date 2-2-69 written on the ad. But the February date looks similar to Thelma Toole’s handwriting. So it seems possible, and perhaps even likely, that Mallord and Toole never met. However, I find it intriguing that a young poet, likely based in the Quarter, would seek out an Uptown professor at a small catholic college to help promote his book. And this certainly speaks to the space between Toole, perhaps the most famous New Orleans novelist, and the bohemian artists living in the quarter during the late 60s.

I have contacted one Richard Mallord Silverman in New York who replied to say that he was not the Mallord I sought.


Idiosyncrat said…
Dear Cory:

The fact that the copy is inscribed to “Mr. Toole” certainly augurs against even a passing friendship between the two. If the Tulane Web site’s cited reference is correct, the book was actually inscribed on the 30th, not the 20th– suggesting that it was merely mailed to Toole’s New Orleans residence, not presented in person.

Might it not be that Toole had never met Mallord, and that the latter somehow knew that the former was, or had been, an English instructor, and that the latter merely sent the copy of his book to the former to promote it? If he used basically the same inscription to send a copy to a famous intellectual whom he presumably had never met, it strikes me as doubtful that the inscription to Toole would imply any necessary relationship between him and Mallord.

I ran Mallord’s full name through the Social Security Death Index, and it came up with no results. Unless he left the country and died abroad, it seems likely that he is still alive. Running the name through and, there is no listing for that full name; but, unsurprisingly, there are quite a few Richard M. Silvermans. There are only a few, however, who would seem old enough to be a good candidate for Mallord. One is 71, which would have made him thirtyish in January 1969. The other two are 82 and 86, which would have made them in their forties already– which strikes me as older than the photographed Mallord appears!?!

I believe that the 71 year old is a real estate agent and landlord, with an N.Y.U. degree in Management and Marketing: That seems like an unlikely match– but, then again, look what happened to Jerry Rubin, after his Yippie days!?! If nothing else, it might be worth your contacting that Richard M. Silverman to see if he has any knowledge of Richard Mallord Silverman. F.W.I.W. Good luck! I look forward to the book….

Sincerely yours,

/s/ Dan Hand

Daniel Kevin Hand, B.A., M.S., M.B.A., J.D.

6/27/10 @ 5:00 a.m. E.D.T. :: 4:00 a.m. C.D.T.

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I spent this past weekend in New York. I visited the room in which Toole lived while he attended Columbia University. The trip offered me insight into his time in New York in the late 50s and early 60s. I saw the view he had from his dorm window and I strolled the tranquil Columbia campus, forgetting I was in Manhattan. And it became clear, after reviewing his transcripts how Toole began to veer from the often seeming inanity of graduate studies towards a more “authentic” literary life as fiction writer.

I also took a stroll around Hunter College and got some pictures of the exterior of the house he moved to on the East Side, the same place he began drafting the character that would become Ignatius Reilly. It was one of those moments where Toole’s letters came alive to me.

But perhaps the most intriguing event I experienced seemed beyond coincidence. However it will likely not make it into this biography. So I share it with you here…

After seeing the room in which he stayed at Columbia, my wife and I got a bite to eat at a Greek restaurant. Being the end of term it was almost empty and we overheard the mixed conversations of two parties. The two men behind us were smug religious scholars who discussed Saint Ignatius and how one of the scholars had found the “key” to the moral dilemma of the modern age. The couple behind them talking in a loud New Jersey accent discussed the marvel of caffeinated vitamin-enriched water: “I’m tellin ya I feel betta in da mornin wid just some nutrients and a pick-me-up. Cawfee got nut’n on dis watta stuff.” I couldn’t help but smile. It was the kind of moment Toole would have relished.

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Screening a Success

It is not everyday I dine with an award winning filmmaker and a published author. And it is a rare occasion to be on a panel with both of them to discuss the life and works of John Kennedy Toole. But on May 8th Joe Sanford and Bobbie Westerfield flew up from New Orleans and joined Joel Fletcher and me for dinner. Compliments to Joel and John Copenhaver–chef and host extrordinaire, respectively. Afterward we all went to the screening of Sanford’s documentary.

The first screening was sold out. It was wonderful to hear the audience respond to interviews with people that Joe, Joel and I have come to know well in our exploration of the Toole story. And it was much fun to field the many questions that surround Toole’s life and work. Many thanks to Paul Lewis of the Athenaeum and Rappahanock Independent Film Festival for organizing the evening.

For those of you who could make it, thank you for coming. And for those who could not make it, I hope the film will be available in a theatre near you soon. I like Susanna Powers’s suggestion of a screening at the Prytania….How fitting!

Image–Standing from left to right: Joe Sanford and Paul Lewis. At table from left to right: Bobbie Westerfield (Producer), Cory MacLauchlin and Joel Fletcher.

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Bravo Mr. Sanford!

Today I had the pleasure of watching the documentary John Kennedy Toole: The Omega Point with my good friend and author Joel Fletcher. I am in the film so I may be inherently biased. But regardless of my contributions, it is a brilliant work of documentary craftsmanship. As a biographer, I can attest to its remarkable balance between compelling storytelling and historical accuracy. And the images are simply beautiful.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. It recently won The Rising Star Award for Excellence in Film at the 2010 Canada International Film Festival.

The Athenaeum in Fredericksburg, VA will host a screening of the film on April 17, 2010. Following the screening there will be a panel with Joe Sanford (Filmmaker), Joel Fletcher (friend of JKT and author of Ken & Thelma) and me.

I look forward to the day you all will be able to select this film in your Netflix queue. Until then, you can keep an eye on the progress of the film at

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Elemore Morgan Jr.: LA Artist and Toole’s Friend

Two years ago when I approached Joel Fletcher about this project, he recommended I contact Louisiana artist Elemore Morgan, Jr. who had lived in the apartment above Toole in Lafayette from 1959-1960. I delayed and I missed my opportunity to speak with him before he passed away.

But yesterday I enjoyed a lovely conversation with his wife. She is now going through many of her husband’s papers and there is a good chance she will find more material that could help me bring readers into the moment of Toole’s life in Lafayette in 1960. Toole formed many lasting friendships in that year. And in his friends he had an audience that enjoyed his short tales of New Orleans life.

Here is a short video about Morgan’s work.

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The Yellow Brick Road

After several revisions my agent has placed his seal of approval on the book proposal. How nice the title page looks with an agency logo at the bottom! He will begin pitching it to major publishing houses next week.

I now stand on the margins of the modern publishing industry, closer than I have ever been before. But from my limited vantage point, I have gained some insight into this most elusive world. And it has given me some perspective on Toole’s struggle with publication.

I sympathize with his two years of revisions, as Confederacy was under consideration by Simon & Schuster. But how fortunate he was to send a manuscript directly to Simon & Schuster, have an editor read it, and then engage in an elaborate correspondence with the particularly brilliant editor, Robert Gottlieb.

Thelma Toole was wrong to blame Gottlieb for her son’s mental collapse. She made him the scapegoat for her son’s mental illness, which had elaborate underpinnings, including his homelife with his mother. Ultimately, Gottlieb mentored Toole–offering advice and criticism. And he did so with compassion, as his letters testify.

For better or worse the major publishing houses of today are much larger than in Toole’s day. For a new writer to step into this world it takes precision, a balance between the roles of artist and salesperson, and the crucial services of an agent.

I have been fortunate to have such a patient and dedicated agent. Thus far my first few steps have been challenging, but enjoyable. Of course, I recognize the road ahead will have significant trials. But like any aspiring writer, I have some degree of faith that it will end in triumph.


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A call to anyone at Fort Buchanan 1961-1963

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!

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Review in Puerto Rico

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.

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New Title

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.

“The Arbiter”
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


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Question Posed

Dear Readers,

I am happy to report that I now have a literary agent, which brings this biography one step closer to your bookshelf. As I prepare my book proposal for potential publishers I have been thinking about the population of readers that scholars tend to neglect. They are the casual readers, those strolling through a Barnes and Noble on a Sunday afternoon with an overpriced coffee in hand, or those at the airport bookshop looking to read something on their flight. I have asked myself, why would these readers pick up this biography? What about this story might appeal to them?

And so I hand over this question to anyone willing to offer their thoughts. If you are familiar with Toole, what do you want out of this biography? And if you are not familiar with Toole, what do you look for in a biography? What would make you stop in the bookstore or the airport, pick up this book, and buy it.

I will consider all your comments. And as I reference this blog in the proposal, your comments may very well be seen by a publisher.


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