John Kennedy Toole was an American novelist from New Orleans, Louisiana, best known for his posthumously published, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces. He also wrote The Neon Bible. Although several people in the literary world felt his writing skills were praiseworthy, Toole's novels were rejected during his lifetime. After suffering from paranoia and depression due in part to these failures, he committed suicide at the age of 31.
Toole was born to a middle-class family in New Orleans. From a young age, his mother taught him an appreciation of culture. She was thoroughly involved in his affairs for most of his life, and at times they had a difficult relationship. With his mother's encouragement, Toole became a stage performer at the age of 10 doing comic impressions and acting. At 16 he wrote his first novel, The Neon Bible, which he later dismissed as "adolescent".
Toole received an academic scholarship to Tulane University. After graduating from Tulane, he studied English at Columbia University in New York while teaching simultaneously at Hunter College. He also taught at various Louisiana colleges, and during his early career as an academic he was valued on the faculty party circuit for his wit and gift for mimicry. His studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the army, where he taught English to Spanish-speaking recruits in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After receiving a promotion, he used his private office to begin writing A Confederacy of Dunces, which he finished at his parents' home after his discharge.