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Ken and Thelma: The Story of A Confederacy of Dunces Hardcover – March 31, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

John Kennedy Toole's mother, Thelma, was a domineering presence in the Pulitzer Prize-winning author's life, keeping him from socializing as a child and neglecting, after his suicide, to tell any of his close friends about his funeral. Yet Thelma's influence ultimately defined "Ken" Toole's legacy as she tirelessly pushed for Confederacy's publication, pressing the otherwise-forgotten manuscript upon Walker Percy at the LSU press. Fletcher, a friend of both Ken and Thelma, sets the record straight on the chronology of Confederacy's writing and Thelma's role-correcting the "greatly simplified and distorted version" of the accepted story. But he also reveals just how much Thelma enjoyed the "spotlight she had craved from childhood." Exploring the Louisiana lifestyle, Fletcher also offers perhaps the most bizarre Bayou crazy quilt of names gathered this side of the Mississippi, including, among others, Welton P. Mouton, Jr., Doonie Guibet, and a Mr. and Mrs. Crump. Wisely included here are a series of letters written by Ken to the author and the extraordinary letters between Ken and Robert Gottlieb, the Simon & Schuster editor who would eventually reject Confederacy. But these valuable resources are revealed fully only towards the book's end, an unfortunate choice that interrupts the story abruptly just when things start to get interesting. What this memoir lacks is both a feeling for the richness of the characters involved in the Toole's lives and, most disappointingly, a thorough sense of Ken Toole and the worldview that motivated him to write his comic classic. With Fletcher choosing to focus more on his own relationship with Thelma in the period after her son's death, perhaps a more appropriate title for this volume would have been Thelma and Joel and Ken. 16 pages of b&w photos.
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Review

"A very important work, containing much valuable insight into the life and mind of John Toole..." -- The Forum

"Fletcher, a friend of both Ken and Thelma, sets the record straight..." -- Publisher's Weekly

"He portrays the two candidly but with fairness and sensitivity." -- Le Raconteur

"If you have any interest in John Kennedy Toole...'Ken and Thelma'is a must read." -- Poppy Z. Brite in the New Orleans

"This valuable companion to Dunces will be a treat to those who’ve enjoyed the novel. . ." -- The Washington Times
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Pelican Publishing (March 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1589802969
  • ISBN-13: 978-1589802964
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,068,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joel L. Fletcher, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, was educated at Tulane and Stanford. He served as a gunnery officer in the U. S. Navy, directed a language school in Florence, Italy, and worked in France and England in the field of educational exchange for the Council on International Educational Exchange and the City University of New York. He has been a dealer in fine art for the past thirty-five years, has written widely on art, and has curated a number of museum exhibitions. He currently resides in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he is a partner in Fletcher/Copenhaver Fine Art, specializing in nineteenth and early twentieth century American and European fine art.

Customer Reviews

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There is also an excellent "audio book" available.
California tea drinker
A rather intimate biography, culled from memories of its author, Ken & Thelma is first-rate and fascinating from cover to cover.
F. Pleasants
This is such a likable, welcome book, though, that such a small and subjective flaw is virtually irrelevant.
Poppy Z. Brite

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Poppy Z. Brite on June 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Joel Fletcher met John Kennedy Toole at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette), where Fletcher was a self-described "campus brat" and Toole (known throughout his life as Ken) was a member of the English faculty. Their friendship continued for five years via letters and visits, and Fletcher later became friends with Ken's legendary mother, Thelma. A memoir of both characters rather than a biography of either, KEN & THELMA is valuable for its affectionate but never idealized portraits of its subjects, its glimpses of Toole's fellow USL instructor Bobby Byrne (a prototype for CONFEDERACY protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly), and its appendix of letters from Toole to the author, in which his wry but always sweet-natured voice comes through at full strength. (On the letters about CONFEDERACY he'd been receiving from a New York editor: "Also, I am 'like one of those geniuses who turn up in Tanganyika or New Zealand.' Poor New Orleans. Suppose I had sent the thing in from Breaux Bridge ... or Parks.")

More than a decade after Toole's suicide, Fletcher stopped by Thelma Toole's house on Elysian Fields Avenue to congratulate her on the impending publication of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. Though she had only met Fletcher once, many years before, Mrs. Toole exclaimed, "Come in, Joel, honey, I was just thinking about you," and a friendship was born. Fletcher squired the "mother of the book" around to various parties, premieres, and even her 1981 star turn on the Tom Snyder show in New York, where she had a chance to show off her extensive training in elocution and theatrics: "[A] production assistant came in to give her a few tips. 'I don't know if you've ever had any experience in front of a camera ...
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By F. Pleasants on May 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ken & Thelma recounts an extraordinary story of the brilliant and disturbed author John Kennedy Toole (Ken) and his bigger-than-life Tennessee Williamsesque mother, Thelma.

Ken spent years writing and later unsuccessfully editing his masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces. When he killed himself in 1969, he had given up any hope of seeing it published. It was nearly a decade later that Thelma stepped in. Refusing to accept no for an answer, she undauntedly peddled her late son's manuscript from publisher to publisher ...ultimately bullying southern author Walker Percy to read it and take up her cause. The result of these years of struggle and rejection (it was refused by at least ten publishing houses!) was a posthumous Pulitzer prize and nearly two million copies sold.

To have any understanding of Ken, you would have to know something of Thelma; and there lies the specialness of this original and engrossing book. Author Fletcher knew them both well. A prolific keeper of diaries, he kept notes of everything, from his early encounters with Ken at the University of Southern Louisiana, through his important friendship with the mother after ken's suicide, including a stint as Thelma's « escort» in the months following the publication of Confederacy.

I had never read A Confederacy of Dunces, and this in no way diminished the interest that Fletcher's book held for me. A rather intimate biography, culled from memories of its author, Ken & Thelma is first-rate and fascinating from cover to cover. I highly recommend it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tee on September 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This little book (and it is little in both page count and size, note the dimensions) is quite charming but in some ways disappointing. The author was a friend of John Kennedy Toole but theirs does not seem to have been a friendship close enough to share any real intimacy beyond casual letters and hanging out together at times. The real star of this book is not Toole but his mother, the defiantely eccentric yet amazingly heroic and strong Thelma Toole who became very much a Louisiana legend following the posthumous publication of her son's A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES in 1980 up to her death in 1983. Stopping by Ms. Toole's home to congratulate her on the book's success, the author quickly became something of a surrogate son to Thelma, chaperoning her to events and even to New York for an appearance on NBC's TOMORROW talk show. And as such the book is invaluable in giving of a glimpse on this willful woman who would not let her son's work sit unpublished despite almost a decade of rejection. Although Fletcher seems most concerned about that "other" book's presumptions about Toole's private life, to me it's most appalling point was it's vicious cartoonish take on Thelma who is made a fool on almost every page with no redeeming qualities. Fletcher saw her flaws (and bluntly says he is glad she was not HIS mother) but he also recognized the strength and humanity in her. And some of her crabbing most definately seems justified. One wishes Fletcher could tell us a little more about Toole but it appears JKT was exceptionally remote even among friends.Read more ›
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