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The Lafayette Confederacy

Discover how Lafayette fits into the life of late author John Kennedy Toole at a booksigning next week.
by Erin Z. Bass

Next Thursday, October 25, Deep South will be hosting author Cory MacLauchlin at Saint Street Inn in Lafayette, Louisiana. Currently a member of the English faculty at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, MacLauchlin’s new book, “Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces,” is being called the first unbiased, true biography of the New Orleans one-hit wonder. Since Toole was born and grew up in New Orleans, you may be wondering why we wanted Cory in Lafayette.

Well, in the summer of 1959, having recently graduated from Columbia University, Toole crossed the basin into Cajun Country to teach freshmen-level writing courses at then Southwestern Louisiana Institute. He lived in a ground-floor apartment on Convent Street and called his university colleagues “a faculty composed of fiends and madmen.” A known prankster, Toole had no problem using them for fodder for jokes and eventually his writing. Medievalist and fellow teacher and New Orleanian Bobby Byrne may have left the biggest impression, and MacLauchlin believes he was the model for Ignatius J. Reilly.

But in Lafayette, it remains urban legend that a man who still teaches English at the university and rides his bike around town is the real model. Maurice DuQuesnay went to high school with Toole, but the two taught eight years apart at the university. DuQuesnay prefers Byrne as the model and told the weekly paper in 2005, “I fail to understand why so many are seeking of a ‘model’ for Ignatius. There is no single model; perhaps there is no model at all.” Read more about the legend and Lafayette sites associated with Toole in The Independent Weekly‘s article “The Lafayette Confederacy.” (The paper is co-host of the event.)

Other local ties to Toole include late university professor of English Dr. Patricia Rickels, who remained a dear friend of his throughout his short life. In “Butterfly,” she is quoted as saying Toole was in his “season of glory” in Lafayette. He only stayed for one year, but the impression he made on the town and impression its people made on him lasted much longer. UL Lafayette’s recent acquisition of Toole’s papers and memorabilia at auction only helps to cement his connection to Lafayette.

MacLauchlin will be discussing these local connections and signing books next Thursday from 5-6 p.m. If you’re a subscriber to our newsletter, you should have an invite in your inbox, but everyone is invited to join us for pyloric valve friendly Lucky Dogs and conversation that hopefully doesn’t include the philosophies of Boethius. RSVP on Facebook here. If you’re not able to attend, you can still see MacLauchlin at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge on October 27.

To read contributor Hunter Murphy’s review of “Butterfly in the Typewriter” and interview with MacLauchlin click here.

Saint Street Inn is located at 407 Brook Ave. just outside the UL Lafayette campus and across from Old Tyme Grocery. The signing and talk will be held on the alley stage and is free to attend. Make a reservation to stay for dinner by calling 337-534-8112. Hint: Maurice DuQuesnay lives just down the street from the restaurant is and is known to dine there. 

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