Kurt Vonnegut

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Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt-Vonnegut-US-Army-portrait.jpg
U.S. Army official portrait of Kurt Vonnegut, c. early 1940s
Born Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
(1922-11-11)November 11, 1922
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
Died April 11, 2007(2007-04-11) (aged 84)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, essayist
Nationality American
Alma mater Cornell University
Carnegie Institute of Technology
University of Tennessee
University of Chicago (M.A.)
Period 1949–2007
Genre Satire
Gallows humor
Science fiction
Notable works Cat's Cradle
Slaughterhouse-Five
Breakfast of Champions
Spouse Jane Marie Cox
Jill Krementz
Children Mark Vonnegut
Edith Vonnegut
Nannette Vonnegut
James Adams (nephew, adopted)
Steven Adams (nephew, adopted)
Kurt Adams (nephew, adopted)
Lily Vonnegut (adopted)
Relatives Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. (father)
Clemens Vonnegut, Sr.
Bernard Vonnegut, Sr.
Bernard Vonnegut
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch  United States Army
Rank Private
Unit 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards

Purple Heart

Prisoner of War Medal
Website
vonnegut.com

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (/ˈvɒnɨɡət/; November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer.[1] His works, such as Cat's Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), and Breakfast of Champions (1973), blend satire, gallows humor, and science fiction. As a citizen he was a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a pacifist intellectual, who often was critical.[2] He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.[3]

The New York Times headline at the time of his death called him "the counterculture's novelist".[4][5]

Life[edit]

Early years[edit]

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, to third-generation German-American parents, Edith (Lieber) Vonnegut and Kurt Vonnegut, Sr..[6] Both his father and his grandfather Bernard Vonnegut attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and were architects in the Indianapolis firm of Vonnegut & Bohn. His great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, Sr., was the founder of the Vonnegut Hardware Company, an Indianapolis firm.[7] Vonnegut had an older brother, Bernard and a sister, Alice.[8] Vonnegut was graduated from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis in May 1940 and went to Cornell University later that year. He majored in chemistry, and was assistant managing editor and associate editor of The Cornell Daily Sun.[9] He was a member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity, as was his father.

While at Cornell, Vonnegut enlisted in the United States Army.[10] The Army transferred him to the Carnegie Institute of Technology and later, to the University of Tennessee to study mechanical engineering.[1] On Mother's Day 1944, while on leave during World War II, he discovered that his mother had committed suicide with sleeping pills.[11]

His older brother, Bernard Vonnegut, was an atmospheric scientist at the University at Albany, who discovered that silver iodide could be used for cloud seeding, the process of artificially stimulating precipitation.[12]

World War II[edit]

Reassigned to a combat unit due to the manpower needs of the Allied invasion of France, Vonnegut was captured while a private with the 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. On December 19, 1944, the 106th Division was cut off from the rest of Courtney Hodges's First Army. "The other American divisions on our flanks managed to pull out; we were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks".[13] Imprisoned in Dresden, he was chosen as a leader of the POWs because he spoke some German. After telling some German guards "what [he] was going to do to them when the Russians came", he was beaten and had his position as leader revoked.[14] He witnessed the Allied firebombing of Dresden in February 1945, which destroyed most of the historic city.[15]

Vonnegut was part of a group of American prisoners of war who survived the bombing in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker used as an ad hoc detention facility. The German guards called the building Schlachthof Fünf ("Slaughterhouse Five"), and the POWs adopted that name. Vonnegut said that the aftermath of the attack on the defenseless city was "utter destruction" and "carnage unfathomable". The experience was the inspiration for his famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a central theme in at least six of his other books. In Slaughterhouse-Five—which is nominally a fictional work—he described the ruined city as resembling the surface of the moon and he said the German guards put the surviving POWs to work, breaking into basements and bomb shelters to gather bodies for mass burial, while German civilians cursed and threw rocks at them.[14] Vonnegut remarked, "There were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Germans sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians' remains were burned to ashes".[16]

Vonnegut was liberated by Red Army soldiers in May 1945 at the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border.[14] On his return to the U.S., on May 22, he was awarded a Purple Heart for what he called a "ludicrously negligible wound",[17][18] later, writing facetiously in Timequake, he said that he was given the decoration after suffering a case of "frostbite".[19] His other decorations included the Army Good Conduct Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal (which is shown mounted with three bronze service stars in the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library), the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He was discharged with the rank of Corporal.

Vonnegut's experience as a soldier and prisoner of war had a profound influence on his later work.

Post-war career[edit]

After the war, Vonnegut attended the University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and he also worked at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He described his work there: "Well, the Chicago City News Bureau was a tripwire for all the newspapers in town when I was there, and there were five papers, I think. We were out all the time around the clock and every time we came across a really juicy murder or scandal or whatever, they'd send the big time reporters and photographers, otherwise they'd run our stories. So that's what I was doing, and I was going to university at the same time".[20] Vonnegut admitted that he was a poor anthropology student, with one professor remarking that some of the students were going to be professional anthropologists, but he was not one of them.[citation needed] According to Vonnegut in Bagombo Snuff Box, the university rejected his first thesis on the necessity of accounting for the similarities between Cubist painters and the leaders of late nineteenth century Native American uprisings, saying it was "unprofessional".

He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York, in public relations for General Electric, where his brother Bernard worked in the research department. Vonnegut was a technical writer, but also was known for writing well past his typical work hours. While in Schenectady, Vonnegut lived in the tiny hamlet of Alplaus, located within the town of Glenville, just across the Mohawk River from the city of Schenectady. Vonnegut rented an upstairs apartment located along Alplaus Creek across the street from the Alplaus Volunteer Fire Department, where he was an active volunteer fire-fighter for a few years. To this day, the apartment where Vonnegut lived for a brief time still has a desk at which he wrote many of his short stories. Vonnegut carved his name on its underside. The University of Chicago later accepted his novel Cat's Cradle as his thesis, citing its anthropological content, and awarded him a master of arts degree in 1971.[21][22]

In the mid-1950s, Vonnegut worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse who had jumped a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at the blank piece of paper on his typewriter all morning, he typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence", and left.[23] On the verge of abandoning writing, Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. While he was there, Cat's Cradle became a best-seller, and he began Slaughterhouse-Five, now considered by some to be one of the best American novels of the twentieth century, appearing on the 100 best lists of Time magazine,[24] and the Modern Library.[25]

Early in his adult life he moved to Barnstable, Massachusetts, a town on Cape Cod[26] where, in 1957, he established one of the first Saab dealerships in the U.S. The business failed within a year.[27][28]

Personal life[edit]

The author's name appears in print as "Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.", throughout the first half of his published writing career; beginning with the 1976 publication of Slapstick, he dropped the "Jr." and was billed simply, as Kurt Vonnegut.

After returning from World War II, Kurt Vonnegut married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, writing about their courtship in several of his short stories. In the 1960s they lived in Barnstable, Massachusetts, where for a while Vonnegut worked at his Saab dealership. The couple separated in 1970. That same year, Vonnegut began living with the woman who later, would become his second wife, photographer Jill Krementz.[1] He did not divorce Cox until 1979. Krementz and Vonnegut were married after the divorce from Cox was finalized.

He raised seven children: three from his first marriage; three of his sister Alice's four children, adopted by Vonnegut after her death from cancer;[29] and a seventh, Lily, adopted with Krementz. His son, Mark Vonnegut, a pediatrician, has written two books: one about his experiences in the late 1960s and his major psychotic breakdown and recovery; the other includes anecdotes of growing up when his father was a struggling writer, his subsequent illness and a more recent breakdown in 1985, as well as what life has been like since then. Mark was named after Mark Twain, whom Vonnegut considered an American saint.[30]

His daughter Edith ("Edie"), an artist, was named after Kurt Vonnegut's mother, Edith Lieber. She has had her work published in a book entitled Domestic Goddesses and was once married to Geraldo Rivera.

His youngest biological daughter, Nanette ("Nanny"), was named after Nanette Schnull, Vonnegut's paternal grandmother. She is married to realist painter Scott Prior and is the subject of several of his paintings, notably "Nanny and Rose".

Of Vonnegut's four adopted children, three are his nephews: James, Steven, and Kurt Adams. The fourth is Lily, a girl he adopted as an infant in 1982. James, Steven, and Kurt were adopted after a traumatic week in 1958, during which their father James Carmalt Adams was killed in the Newark Bay rail crash on September 15, when his commuter train went off the open Newark Bay bridge in New Jersey, and their mother—Kurt's sister Alice—died of cancer. In Slapstick, Vonnegut recounts that Alice's husband died two days before Alice did. Her family had tried to hide the knowledge from her, but she found out when an ambulatory patient gave her a copy of the New York Daily News a day before she died. The fourth and youngest of his sister's boys, Peter Nice, was an infant and went to live with a first cousin of their father in Birmingham, Alabama.

Adopted as an infant while Vonnegut was married to Jill Krementz, his daughter, Lily, became a singer, actress, and the producer of the YouTube series, "The Most Popular Girls in School".

Vonnegut's first wife Jane Marie Cox later married Adam Yarmolinsky[31] and she wrote an account of the Vonneguts' life with the Adams children. It was published after her death as the book, Angels Without Wings: A Courageous Family's Triumph Over Tragedy.[32]

On November 11, 1999, an asteroid was named in Vonnegut's honor: 25399 Vonnegut.[33]

A lifelong smoker, Vonnegut smoked unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes, a habit he sardonically referred to as a "classy way to commit suicide".[34]

Vonnegut taught at Harvard University, where he was a lecturer in English, and the City College of New York, where he was a distinguished professor.[35]

At the age of 84, Vonnegut died on April 11, 2007, from massive head trauma suffered while falling down a flight of stairs in his home.[1][36][37]

Writing career[edit]

Vonnegut's first published short story, "Report on the Barnhouse Effect",[38] appeared in the February 11, 1950, edition of Collier's (it has since been reprinted in his short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House). His first novel was the dystopian novel, Player Piano (1952), in which human workers have been largely replaced by machines. He continued to write short stories before his second novel, The Sirens of Titan, was published in 1959.[39]

Through the 1960s, the form of his work changed, from the relatively orthodox structure of Cat's Cradle to the acclaimed, semi-autobiographical Slaughterhouse-Five, given a more experimental structure by using time travel as a plot device. These structural experiments were continued in Breakfast of Champions (1973), which includes many rough illustrations, lengthy non-sequiturs, and an appearance by the author as a deus ex machina.

Breakfast of Champions became one of his best-selling novels. It includes, in addition to the author, several of Vonnegut's recurring characters. One of them, science fiction author Kilgore Trout, plays a major role and interacts with the author's character.

In 1974, Venus on the Half-Shell, a book by Philip José Farmer in a style similar to that of Vonnegut was published that was attributed to Kilgore Trout. This caused some confusion among readers, as for some time many assumed that Vonnegut wrote it. When the truth of its authorship was revealed, Vonnegut was reportedly "not amused". In an issue of The Alien Critic/Science Fiction Review, published by Richard E. Geis, Farmer claimed to have received a very angry telephone call from Vonnegut about it.

Although many of his novels involved science fiction themes, they were read widely and reviewed outside the field, due in no small part to their anti-authoritarianism. For example, in his seminal short story, "Harrison Bergeron", egalitarianism is rigidly enforced by overbearing state authority, engendering horrific repression.

In much of his work, Vonnegut's own voice is apparent, often filtered through his character, the science fiction author Kilgore Trout (whose name is based on that of real-life science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon). His works are characterized by wild leaps of imagination and a deep cynicism, tempered by humanism. In the foreword to Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut wrote that as a child, he saw men with locomotor ataxia, and it struck him that these men walked as if they were broken machines; it followed that healthy people were working machines, suggesting that humans are helpless prisoners of determinism. Vonnegut also explored this theme in Slaughterhouse-Five, in which protagonist Billy Pilgrim "has come unstuck in time" and has so little control over his own life that he cannot even predict which part of it he will be living through from minute to minute.

Vonnegut's well-known phrase "so it goes", used ironically in reference to death, also originated in Slaughterhouse-Five. "Its combination of simplicity, irony, and rue is very much in the Vonnegut vein".[36]

With the publication of his novel Timequake in 1997, Vonnegut announced his retirement from writing fiction. He was in his seventies. He continued to write for the magazine In These Times, where he was a senior editor,[40] until his death in 2007. In that work he focused on subjects ranging from contemporary U.S. politics to simple observational pieces on topics such as a trip to the post office. In 2005, many of his essays were collected in a new bestselling book entitled A Man Without a Country, which he insisted would be his last contribution to letters.[41]

An August 2006 article reported:

He has stalled finishing his highly anticipated novel If God Were Alive Today —or so he claims. "I've given up on it... It won't happen... The Army kept me on because I could type, so I was typing other people's discharges and stuff. And my feeling was, 'Please, I've done everything I was supposed to do. Can I go home now?' That's what I feel right now. I've written books. Lots of them. Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?"[16]

At the age of eighty-four, Vonnegut died the next year, on April 11, 2007.

The April 2008 issue of Playboy featured the first published excerpt from Armageddon in Retrospect, the initial posthumous collection of Vonnegut's work. The book was published in the same month. It included never before published short stories and a letter that was written to his family during World War II when Vonnegut was captured as a prisoner of war. The book also contains drawings by Vonnegut and a speech he wrote shortly before his death. Its introduction was written by his son, Mark Vonnegut.

Art career[edit]

Vonnegut's work as a graphic artist began with his illustrations for Slaughterhouse-Five and developed with Breakfast of Champions, which included numerous felt-tip pen illustrations. Many Vonnegut works of art may be found in his novels and short story collections such as, Armageddon in Retrospect. Later in his career, he became more interested in art, particularly silk-screen prints,[42] which he pursued in collaboration with Joe Petro III. Vonnegut cited artists Paul Klee and Georges Braque as particular influences.[43] According to his daughter Nanette, Vonnegut also was influenced by illustrators, Al Hirschfeld and Edward Gorey.[44]

In October 1980, Vonnegut exhibited his drawings in pen, pencil, and colored felt-tipped markers at the Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd. in New York.[45][46][47] Fellow writers Norman Mailer and George Plimpton attended the opening of the Vonnegut exhibition,[48] as did television personality and fellow artist, Morley Safer.[49] Later, Vonnegut would remark, "I actually had a one-person show of drawings a few years back... in Greenwich Village, not because my pictures were any good but because people had heard of me".[50] On the occasion of the show's opening, Vonnegut expressed his preference for using colored felt-tipped markers rather than oil paints or watercolor. "Oil is such a commitment", Vonnegut explained, whereas he found watercolors "too bland, too weak". He said, however, "they make such extraordinary Magic Markers, such brilliant colors. It makes things very easy". He also compared the creative process of drawing with that involved in writing. "If you make a mistake on a picture it's satisfying to wad it up and toss it out" he said. "When you have to do that with a written page, it's a more depressing failure."[51] Whereas the writer is only satisfied upon the work's completion, Vonnegut said, "the act [of painting] itself is enjoyable".[52] He further explained that "in a picture there may be 10 or 12 significant details. On a printed page there are 2,500".[51] As to his art's significance, Vonnegut declared, "My drawings are as rare as exotic postage stamps."[49]

In 2004, Vonnegut participated in the project The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were, for which he created an album cover for Phish called Hook, Line and Sinker, which has been included in a traveling exhibition for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In May 2014, Vonnegut's daughter, Nanette Vonnegut, published a book of her father's drawings entitled Kurt Vonnegut Drawings through Monacelli Press, a division of Random House.[53] In her introduction, Nanette discusses her father's preference for drawing to writing. She quotes him that "the making of pictures is to writing what laughing gas is to the Asian influenza." [54] A book signing and an exhibition of original drawings by Vonnegut was held at the Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd. in New York, the gallery where, in 1980, Vonnegut had shown his work. Attendees at the event continued the original guestbook from Vonnegut's 1980 solo show. The Wall Street Journal reported that, "if they flipped back a few pages, they could see the signatures of luminaries like George Plimpton, some of which were accompanied by personal messages to Mr. Vonnegut." Margo Feiden related to the Journal that "she was struck by Mr. Vonnegut after he told her that he thought of himself as a visual artist but had to work as an author to make a living." [55]

Politics[edit]

Vonnegut was deeply influenced by early Socialist labor leaders, especially Indiana natives, Powers Hapgood and Eugene V. Debs, and he frequently quoted them in his work. He named characters after both Debs, (Eugene Debs Hartke in Hocus Pocus and Eugene Debs Metzger in Deadeye Dick), as well as Russian Communist leader Leon Trotsky (Leon Trotsky Trout in Galápagos).

Vonnegut was a lifetime member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He was featured in a print advertisement for them.

In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[56]

Vonnegut frequently addressed moral and political issues, but rarely dealt with specific political figures until after his retirement from fiction. Although the downfall of Walter Starbuck, a minor Nixon administration bureaucrat, who is the narrator and main character in Jailbird (1979), would not have occurred but for the Watergate scandal, the focus is not on the administration. His collection God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian referred to the controversial assisted suicide proponent, Jack Kevorkian.

With his columns for In These Times, he began an attack on the George W. Bush administration and the Iraq War. "By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East?" he wrote. "Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas." In These Times quoted Vonnegut as saying "The only difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected."[57][58]

In a 2003 interview Vonnegut said, "I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'état imaginable. And those now in charge of the federal government are upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka 'Christians,' and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or 'PPs.'"[59] When asked how he was doing at the start of a 2003 interview, he replied: "I'm mad about being old and I'm mad about being American. Apart from that, OK."[60]

He did not regard the 2004 election with much optimism. Speaking of Bush and John Kerry, he said that, "no matter which one wins, we will have a Skull and Bones President at a time when entire vertebrate species, because of how we have poisoned the topsoil, the waters and the atmosphere, are becoming, hey presto, nothing but skulls and bones."[61]

In 2005, Vonnegut was interviewed by David Nason for The Australian. During the course of the interview Vonnegut was asked his opinion of modern terrorists, to which he replied, "I regard them as very brave people." When pressed further Vonnegut also said that "They suicide bombers are dying for their own self-respect. It's a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It's [like] your culture is nothing, your Race is nothing, you're nothing ... It is sweet and noble—sweet and honourable I guess it is—to die for what you believe in." (This last statement is a reference to the line, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" ["it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country"], from Horace's Odes, or possibly to Wilfred Owen's ironic use of the line in his Dulce Et Decorum Est.)

Nason took offense at Vonnegut's comments and characterized him as an old man who "doesn't want to live any more ... and because he can't find anything worthwhile to keep him alive, he finds defending terrorists somehow amusing." Vonnegut's son, Mark, responded to the article by writing an editorial to the Boston Globe in which he explained the reasons behind his father's "provocative posturing" and stated that "If these commentators can so badly misunderstand and underestimate an utterly unguarded English-speaking 83-year-old man with an extensive public record of saying exactly what he thinks, maybe we should worry about how well they understand an enemy they can't figure out what to call."[62]

A 2006 interview with Rolling Stone stated, " ... it's not surprising that he disdains everything about the Iraq War. The very notion that more than 2,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed in what he sees as an unnecessary conflict makes him groan. 'Honestly, I wish Nixon were president,' Vonnegut laments. 'Bush is so ignorant.'"[16]

Although he was a dissident to the end, Vonnegut held a bleak view on the power of artists to effect change. "During the Vietnam War", he told an interviewer in 2003, "every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high".[60]

Religion[edit]

Vonnegut was descended from a family of German freethinkers, who were skeptical of "conventional religious beliefs."[63] His great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, had authored a freethought book entitled, Instruction in Morals, as well as an address for his own funeral in which he denied the existence of God, an afterlife, and Christian doctrines about sin and salvation. Kurt Vonnegut reproduced his great-grandfather's funeral address in his book Palm Sunday, and identified these freethought views as his "ancestral religion", declaring it a mystery as to how it was passed on to him.[64]

Vonnegut described himself variously as a skeptic,[64] freethinker,[65] humanist,[65] Unitarian Universalist,[66] agnostic,[64] and atheist.[67] He disbelieved in the supernatural,[64] considered religious doctrine to be "so much arbitrary, clearly invented balderdash", and he believed people were motivated to join religions out of loneliness.[68] He rejected the divinity of Jesus,[67] but was nevertheless an admirer of the Sermon on the Mount.[69]

In 2003, he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto.[70] Vonnegut considered humanism to be a modern-day form of freethought,[71] and advocated it in various writings, speeches, and interviews. His ties to organized humanism included membership as a Humanist Laureate in the Council for Secular Humanism's International Academy of Humanism.[72] In 1992, the American Humanist Association named him the Humanist of the Year. Vonnegut went on to serve as honorary president of the American Humanist Association (AHA), having taken over the position from his late colleague Isaac Asimov, and serving until his own death in 2007.[73] In a letter to AHA members, Vonnegut wrote: "I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead."[74]

Vonnegut was, at one time, a member of a Unitarian congregation.[64][75] Palm Sunday reproduces a sermon he delivered to the First Parish Unitarian Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concerning William Ellery Channing, who was a principal founder of Unitarianism in the United States. In 1986, Vonnegut spoke to a gathering of Unitarian Universalists in Rochester, New York, and the text of his speech is reprinted in his book Fates Worse Than Death. Also reprinted in that book was a "mass" by Vonnegut, which was performed by a Unitarian Universalist choir in Buffalo, New York.[76] Vonnegut identified Unitarianism as the religion that many in his freethinking family turned to, when freethought and other German "enthusiasms" became unpopular in the United States during the World Wars.[65] Vonnegut's parents were married by a Unitarian minister, and his son had, at one time, aspired to become a Unitarian minister.[64]

Self-assessment[edit]

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O'Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that. He wrote an earlier version of writing tips that was even more straightforward and contained only seven rules (although it advised using Elements of Style for more in-depth advice).[77]

In "The Sexual Revolution", Chapter 18 of his book Palm Sunday, Vonnegut grades his own works. He states that the grades "do not place me in literary history" and that he is comparing "myself with myself." The grades are as follows:

Appearances[edit]

  • Vonnegut held a cup of coffee and appeared on screen for approximately 1.5 seconds in a 1984 commercial sponsored by the National Coffee Association.[78]
  • Vonnegut played himself in a cameo in the 1986 Back to School, in which he is hired by Rodney Dangerfield's Thornton Melon to write a paper on the topic of the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Recognizing the work is not Melon's own, Professor Turner tells him, "Whoever did write this doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut."
  • Vonnegut also made brief cameos in the film adaptations of his novels Mother Night and Breakfast of Champions.
  • Vonnegut appeared in the opening sequence of Showtime's 1991 anthology series, Kurt Vonnegut's Monkey House, based on his short stories.
  • Vonnegut narrated and wrote the narrative of two oratorios with composer Dave Soldier, recorded by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra: A Soldier's Story, based on the execution of Private Eddie Slovik and Ice-9 Ballads, adapted from Cat's Cradle.
  • Vonnegut recorded a number of first-person voice-overs for Ken Burns's documentary The Civil War, including one of a young soldier reflecting on a visit with a prostitute.
  • Vonnegut appeared briefly in the 2005 dramatic documentary, The American Ruling Class, playing himself.
  • Vonnegut appeared briefly in the 2005 Dutch release of the three-part BBC documentary, D-Day to Berlin: The allies' journey to victory, telling about his memories of the bombing of Dresden.
  • Vonnegut was interviewed in August 2006 on the national weekly public radio program, The Infinite Mind, from inside the 3-D virtual on-line community, Second Life. The program made broadcast history as the first to be taped inside a virtual world,[79] and it was the author's last face-to-face sit-down interview. The host was The Infinite Mind's John Hockenberry, who was with Vonnegut in the studio as the program was taped. Vonnegut's virtual interview was taped in front of a virtual audience of 100 people from around the world at the 16-acre (65,000 m2) virtual broadcast center created by producer Bill Lichtenstein and Lichtenstein Creative Media,[80] which produces The Infinite Mind.
  • Vonnegut was featured in the 2007 film, Never Down, and appeared in several scenes as, Robert.
  • Vonnegut appeared in a forty-minute conversation with Adrian Mitchell in a 1982 BBC Two TV program, together with a rebroadcast of a surrealistic NET drama based on his work.

Tributes[edit]

  • A sort of anti-tribute appears in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's novel, Inferno, which is set in Dante's Hell. The protagonist, a version of Niven, encounters Vonnegut's tomb in the city of Dis; another character theorizes it is punishment for Vonnegut's satire of religion in several of his stories. Above the tomb is a green neon sign that blinks "SO IT GOES", a central refrain which appears in Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • The 2009 Hollywood adaptation of Vonnegut's story "Harrison Bergeron", a film entitled 2081 is dedicated "To Kurt Vonnegut, Jr."
  • At the annual Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library McFadden Memorial Lecture at Butler University in Indianapolis, on April 27, 2007, where Vonnegut was being honored posthumously, his son Mark delivered a speech that the author wrote for the event, and which was reported as the last thing he wrote. It ends with this: "I thank you for your attention, and I'm outta here."[81]
  • The satirical newspaper, The Onion, contained a tribute to Vonnegut soon after he died, with a reference to his work Slaughterhouse-Five stating that he shouldn't be referred to as dead "without checking Dresden for his younger self first."[82]
  • On November 11, 2007, Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver reintroduced Kurt's Mile High Malt to celebrate the anniversary of the birthday of the late author.[83]
  • When Vonnegut died, members of the Alplaus Volunteer Fire Department in New York lowered the American flag to half staff, hung the funeral shroud, and rang a fire bell in accordance with the traditional 5-5-5 alarm used to honor fallen brothers. Vonnegut's name still appears on an old active fire-fighters roster, located next to a screen-print that he donated to the department.
  • The Elvis Costello song "Man Out Of Time" is based on the character Billy Pilgrim.
  • The 1975 song, "Nice, Nice, Very Nice", by the rock band Ambrosia uses lyrics Vonnegut wrote for his 1963 novel Cat's Cradle. Vonnegut was delighted with the song and shared a writing credit with the band.[84]
  • On Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis, Indiana (Vonnegut's hometown) there is a 40-foot mural of Vonnegut. Indianapolis is also home to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.
  • The Born Ruffians included in their debut album, Red, Yellow & Blue, a song entitled "Kurt Vonnegut", which contains lines from Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle.
  • "Members Only", a song by The Mad Conductor (an experimental hip hop band fronted by MC Devlin, aka Chris Tray, references a quote from the book of Bokonon in Cat's Cradle “Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly, Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why, why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land, Man got to tell himself he understand.”
  • "Happiness By The Kilowatt", a song by Canadian Post-Hardcore band Alexisonfire, makes several references to the Vonnegut's short story, "The Euphio Question."

Bibliography[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Smith, Dinitia (April 12, 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut, Novelist Who Caught the Imagination of His Age, Is Dead at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2007.  In print: Smith, Dinitia, "Kurt Vonnegut, Novelist Who Caught the Imagination of His Age, Is Dead at 84", The New York Times, April 12, 2007, p.1
  2. ^ ACLU entry for Vonnegut
  3. ^ Friedman, Elaine (April 18, 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut, Humanist, 1922-2007". American Humanist Association. Retrieved August 5, 2011. 
  4. ^ Smith, Dinitia (April 13, 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut, Counterculture’s Novelist, Dies". New York Times. 
  5. ^ Smith, Dinitia (April 11, 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut, Writer of Classics of the American Counterculture, Dies at 84". New York Times. 
  6. ^ "Kurt Vonnegut" NNDB Retrieved November 13, 2010
  7. ^ Kelly, Rin. "'Can I Go Home Now?'". The District Weekly. Retrieved November 25, 2008. 
  8. ^ Smith, Dinita (11 April 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut, Writer of Classics of the American Counterculture, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  9. ^ Lowery, George (April 12, 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut Jr., novelist, counterculture icon and Cornellian, dies at 84". Chronicle Online. 
  10. ^ "Kurt Vonnegut Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. 
  11. ^ Grossman, Lev (12 April 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut, 1922–2007". Time Magazine. Retrieved 3 January 2013. 
  12. ^ U.S. Pat. No. 3,877,642
  13. ^ Vonnegut, Kurt (May 29, 1945). Slaughterhouse Five. Letters of Note.
  14. ^ a b c Vonnegut, Kurt, JR. Armageddon in Retrospect. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008.
  15. ^ Kurt Vonnegut, Author | germany.travel/GermanOriginality
  16. ^ a b c Brinkley, Douglas (August 24, 2006). "Vonnegut's Apocalypse". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 23, 2007. 
  17. ^ Sarah Land Prakken: The Reader's Adviser: A Layman's Guide to Literature, R. R. Bowker 1974, ISBN 0-8352-0781-1, p. 623
  18. ^ Arthur Salm: Novelist Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes, The San Diego Union-Tribune April 15, 2007
  19. ^ Vonnegut, Kurt (1997). Timequake.
  20. ^ Wikipedia City News Bureau of Chicago
  21. ^ Katz, Joe (April 13, 2007). "Alumnus Vonnegut dead at 84". Chicago Maroon. Retrieved April 17, 2007. 
  22. ^ David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes, "The Art of Fiction No. 64: Kurt Vonnegut", Paris Review, Issue 69, Spring 1977
  23. ^ Excerpt: 'Armageddon in Retrospect', NPR.org, June 3, 2008.
  24. ^ "100 Best Novels: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)". Time Magazine. October 16, 2005. Retrieved March 8, 2013. 
  25. ^ "100 Best Novels". Modern Library. July 20, 1998. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  26. ^ Levitas, Mitchel (August 19, 1968). "A Slight Case of Candor". The New York Times. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  27. ^ Anderson, Kurt (26 October 2012). "True to Character - Kurt Vonnegut's Letters". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  28. ^ Shields, Charles J. (2009). And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (1st ed. ed.). New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt and Co. pp. 142–144. ISBN 0805086935. 
  29. ^ Buckley, Christopher (27 November 2011). "How It Went". The New York Times. p. 1. 
  30. ^ "And The Twain Shall Meet". University of Wisconsin-Madison. November 21, 1997. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  31. ^ "Dr. Sarah Ellis, Psychologist, Marries Adam Yarmolinsky, College Provost". New York Times. February 11, 1990. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  32. ^ "Klinkowitz Book" (PDF). Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  33. ^ "25399 Vonnegut (1999 VN20)". Jet Propulsion Laboratory: California Institute of Technology. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  34. ^ Barber, Lynn (February 5, 2006). "I smoke, therefore I am". London: The Guardian Observer. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  35. ^ "Speakers Worldwide, Inc. - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr". Speakersworldwide.com. Retrieved March 13, 2010. 
  36. ^ a b Feeney, Mark (April 12, 2007). "Counterculture author, icon Kurt Vonnegut Jr. dies at 84". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  37. ^ Lloyd, Christopher (April 12, 2007). "Author Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84". Indianapolis Star. Archived from the original on October 10, 2007. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  38. ^ David Hayman, David Michaelis, George Plimpton, Richard Rhodes (1977). "The Paris Review — The Art of Fiction No. 64 - Interview with Kurt Vonnegut". The Paris Review. Retrieved December 6, 2009. 
  39. ^ Stableford, Brian (1993). "Vonnegut, Kurt Jr.". In John Clute & Peter Nicholls (eds.). The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction (2nd ed.). Orbit, London. p. 1289. ISBN 1-85723-124-4. 
  40. ^ NY1 Story April 12, 2007
  41. ^ Callahan, Rick (January 14, 2007). "Indianapolis honors literary native son". Delaware News-Journal (reprinting from the Associated Press). Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2007. 
  42. ^ "Kurt Vonnegut". Vonnegut.com. 2012-12-07. Retrieved 2013-10-31. 
  43. ^ KurtVonnegut. Uiowa.edu. Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  44. ^ Vonnegut, Nanette. Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, the Monacelli Press, 2014, pp. 10-11
  45. ^ Klinkowitz, Jerome, Kurt Vonnegut's America. University of South Carolina Press, 2009, p. 97.
  46. ^ Lilly Library, Indiana University. "Papers 1941-2007 of Kurt Vonnegut". Series V, Folders 4-6. Indiana University. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  47. ^ University of Delaware Library, University of Delaware. "Asa Pieratt Collection of Ephemera Relating to Kurt Vonnegut". Series II, folder 3. University of Delaware. Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  48. ^ The Michigan Daily vol. XCI, no. 23, "Slapbrush", The Michigan Daily, October 23, 1980
  49. ^ a b The Reading Eagle "Another Dimension", The Reading Eagle, October 22, 1980
  50. ^ Reed, Peter. "The Incredible Artwork of Kurt Vonnegut", in Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, p. 21
  51. ^ a b Palm Beach Daily News "Felt Pens Mark Magic Change in Vonnegut's Art", Palm Beach Daily News, November 5, 1980
  52. ^ Reed, p. 19
  53. ^ Vonnegut, Nanette. Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, with Essay by Peter Reed. The Monacelli Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-58093-377-3
  54. ^ Kurt Vonnegut Drawings p. 10
  55. ^ Shapiro, David. "Author by Day, Artist by Night: Vonnegut's Next Chapter", The Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2014, p. A18. [1]
  56. ^ "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  57. ^ Gordon, Scott. "15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will". The A.V. Club. Retrieved March 13, 2010. [dead link]
  58. ^ Vonnegut, Kurt (May 10, 2004). "Cold Turkey". In these Times. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  59. ^ Kurtzman, Daniel. The Political Wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut. About.com
  60. ^ a b Hoppe, David. Aggressively Unconventional: An Interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Utne Reader. May/June 2003.
  61. ^ Vonnegut, Kurt (October 29, 2004). "The End is Near". In These Times. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  62. ^ Vonnegut, Mark (December 27, 2005). "Twisting Vonnegut's views on terrorism". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 12, 2007. 
  63. ^ Timequake, by Kurt Vonnegut, New York: G.P. Putnam's, 1997.
  64. ^ a b c d e f Palm Sunday, by Kurt Vonnegut, 1981. Republished by The Dial Press, 2006.
  65. ^ a b c Vonnegut Unbound: The master of irreverence on life, death, God, humanism, and the souls of aspiring artists, By Christopher R. Blazejewski, The Harvard Crimson, Friday, May 12, 2000
  66. ^ Vonnegut, Fates Worse Than Death, p. 157; Haught, 2000 Years of Disbelief, p. 287
  67. ^ a b Haught 1996, p. 287
  68. ^ Vonnegut, Palm Sunday, p 196
  69. ^ "I say of Jesus, as all humanists do, 'If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?' But if Christ hadn't delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn't want to be a human being. I'd just as soon be a rattlesnake." Vonnegut, A Man without a Country, pp 80-81
  70. ^ "Notable Signers". Humanism and Its Aspirations. American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 6, 2012. 
  71. ^ David Brancaccio: Now on PBS (transcript), 10.07.05
  72. ^ International Academy of Humanism, published on the website of the Council for Secular Humanism
  73. ^ Vonnegut, A Man without a Country (2005), p. 80
  74. ^ Humanist President Kurt Vonnegut Mourned American Humanists Association Press Release, April 12, 2007
  75. ^ Unitarian Universalism was formed in 1961 from a denominational merger of Unitarians and Universalists in the United States, and is a religion that does not require its adherents to subscribe to any creed. Even after the merger, many individual congregations retained the pre-merger denominational designations ("Unitarian" or "Universalist") within their names. "Unitarian" is a common shorthand designation for members of the denomination, although "Unitarian Universalist" (abbreviated as UU) is the more technically correct term.
  76. ^ Vonnegut's mass had been written as a counterpoint to a "sadistic and masochistic" 1570 Catholic mass. It was translated into Latin and set to music by acquaintances. Fates Worse than Death, pp. 69-73, 223-234
  77. ^ Vonnegut, Kurt. "How To Write With Style". How to Use the Power of the Printed Word. 
  78. ^ "Coffee Acheivers 1984". Retrieved 24 December 2013. 
  79. ^ Zimmer, Linda. "The Infinite Mind Radio Program is Now Simulcasting in Second Life" Business Communicators in Virtuality.
  80. ^ Business Week, "Why Savvy CEOs Hang Out in Second Life"
  81. ^ Herman, Steve. "Vonnegut's Hometown Honors Late Author". Retrieved April 28, 2007. [dead link]
  82. ^ SSNGetName(); (April 13, 2007). "Kurt Vonnegut Dead | The Onion — America's Finest News Source". The Onion. Retrieved March 13, 2010. 
  83. ^ Drew Bixby. "Kurt's Mile-High Celebration". Westword. Retrieved December 15, 2008. 
  84. ^ The entire letter of appreciation he wrote in 1976 appears in the band's 1997 CD release Anthology; an excerpt is available here, [2].

References[edit]

  • Farrell, Susan (August 2008), Critical Companion to Kurt Vonnegut: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, Facts on File, ISBN 0-8160-6598-5 
  • Leeds, Marc. (1995) The Vonnegut Encyclopedia: An Authorized Compendium with a Foreword by Kurt Vonnegut. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29230-2. (Second edition expected in 2013 by Random House/Delacorte.)
  • Shields, Charles. (2011). And So It Goes:Kurt Vonnegut: A Life. Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-8693-5.
  • Sumner, Gregory. (2011). Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut's LIfe and Novels. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 978-1-60980-349-0.
  • Tally, Robert T. (2011). Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern Iconography. London & New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-4411-6445-2.
  • Failey, Majie Alford (2011). We Never Danced Cheek to Cheek: The Young Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis and Beyond. Hawthorne Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9841456-8-3.
  • Vonnegut, Nanette. (2014). Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, with an Essay by Peter Reed. The Monacelli Press. ISBN 978-1-58093-377-3.

External links[edit]