As outlined in the introduction to a later revised edition, the book would never have been published if Toole's mother had not found a smeared carbon copy of the manuscript left in the house following Toole's 1969 suicide at age 31. Thelma Toole was persistent and tried several different publishers to no avail.
Thelma repeatedly called Walker Percy, an author and college instructor at Loyola University New Orleans, demanding he read it. He initially resisted; however, as he recounts in the book's foreword:
...the lady was persistent, and it somehow came to pass that she stood in my office handing me the hefty manuscript. There was no getting out of it; only one hope remained—that I could read a few pages and that they would be bad enough for me, in good conscience, to read no farther. Usually I can do just that. Indeed the first paragraph often suffices. My only fear was that this one might not be bad enough, or might be just good enough, so that I would have to keep reading.
In this case I read on. And on. First with the sinking feeling that it was not bad enough to quit, then with a prickle of interest, then a growing excitement, and finally an incredulity: surely it was not possible that it was so good."
The book was published by LSU Press in 1980. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.
While Tulane University in New Orleans retains a collection of Toole's papers, and some early drafts have been found, the location of the original manuscript is unknown.