One never knows how a novel will enter the literary marketplace, let alone be labeled as cult fiction. The path to success for John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is the quintessential example in modern times of how a novel attains cult, or breakout, status. Tragically, Toole suffered many rejections from publishing houses while teaching at a university in New Orleans. He committed suicide at age thirty-two. His completed novel, however, did not die with him.
Toole’s mother was persistent in approaching novelist Walker Percy while he was teaching a writing course at Loyola University. (She herself was not enrolled.) As Percy related the story, he tried to beg off several times, but to no avail. Ms. Toole brought the smudged, typed manuscript, considerably dog-eared, to Percy in 1976. Percy hoped that the novel’s first few pages would be bad enough to justify his putting the work aside, enabling him to give Ms. Toole an honest critique in good conscience. To his amazement, Percy found the manuscript to be excellent, with protagonist Ignatius Reilly railing against the eccentricities and outrages of the twentieth century.
Because of Percy’s clout as a best selling novelist, A Confederacy of Dunces was published by Louisiana State University Press in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1981. It is now available as a Penguin paperback and considered a quintessential example of a cult book. Toole’s success came through tragedy, although as this website documents, successful fiction can rise to the top in different and unexpected ways. When one encounters frustration or rejection, it is best to beat up some pillows, take a long walk, and then sit at the keyboard and start pounding out the next story. Most successful novelists have suffered rejection countless times. Stephen King gave up after his first four novels were rejected and was talked into trying one more time by his wife Tabitha. Never take rejection personally.
About This Website
Index of Articles on This Website
What Is Cult Fiction?
Is Cult Fiction the Same as Underground Fiction?
Cult Fiction and Genre
Cult Fiction and ON THE ROAD
Cult Fiction and A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES
Moby-Dick: The Ultimate Cult Novel
John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe: Cult Fiction in the Making?
The Next Wave of Cult Fiction
List of Cult Fiction Classics
Cult Fiction Websites
Current Trends in Fiction
Understanding the Literary Marketplace
Emerging Writers in the Literary Marketplace
Resources for Writers
About Cat Spaulding