Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

Overview
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was a 20th century American writer. His works such as Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way...

(1963), Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

(1969) and Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday is a 1973 novel by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. Set in the fictional town of Midland City, it is the story of "two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." One of these men, Dwayne Hoover, is a normal-looking but...

(1973) blend satire
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, gallows humor
Gallows humor
Gallows humor , derives from gallows which is a platform with a noose used to execute people by hanging. Gallows humor is the type of humor that still manages to be funny in the face of, and in response to, a perfectly hopeless situation...

 and science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

. He was known for his humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association
American Humanist Association
The American Humanist Association is an educational organization in the United States that advances Humanism. "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that...

.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born in Indianapolis
Indianapolis
Indianapolis is the capital of the U.S. state of Indiana, and the county seat of Marion County, Indiana. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population is 839,489. It is by far Indiana's largest city and, as of the 2010 U.S...

, Indiana
Indiana
Indiana is a US state, admitted to the United States as the 19th on December 11, 1816. It is located in the Midwestern United States and Great Lakes Region. With 6,483,802 residents, the state is ranked 15th in population and 16th in population density. Indiana is ranked 38th in land area and is...

 to third-generation German-American parents, Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. and Edith Lieber. Both his father and his grandfather Bernard Vonnegut
Bernard Vonnegut Sr.
Bernard Vonnegut, Sr., WAA, FAIA, was an American lecturer and architect active in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Indiana. He was a co-founder of the locally renowned Indianapolis architectural firm of Vonnegut and Bohn. He was active in a range of residential, religious,...

 attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 and were architects in the Indianapolis firm of Vonnegut & Bohn
Vonnegut & Bohn
Vonnegut & Bohn, was an architectural firm active in early- to mid-twentieth-century Indianapolis, Indiana.Founded in 1888 by Bernard Vonnegut Sr., FAIA and Arthur Bohn , all the partners were German Americans and were trained in both American and German architectural academies, which gave their...

.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

I sometimes wondered what the use of any of the arts was. The best thing I could come up with was what I call the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.

"Physicist, Purge Thyself" in the Chicago Tribune Magazine (22 June 1969)

High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of.

Introduction to Our Time Is Now: Notes From the High School Underground, John Birmingham, ed. (1970)

I was taught in the sixth grade that we had a standing army of just over a hundred thousand men and that the generals had nothing to say about what was done in Washington. I was taught to be proud of that and to pity Europe for having more than a million men under arms and spending all their money on airplanes and tanks. I simply never unlearned junior civics. I still believe in it. I got a very good grade.

As quoted by James Lundquist in Kurt Vonnegut (1971)

I was taught that the human brain was the crowning glory of evolution so far, but I think it’s a very poor scheme for survival.

As quoted in The Observer [London] (27 December 1987)

1. Find a subject you care about.2. Do not ramble, though.3. Keep it simple.4. Have the guts to cut.5. Sound like yourself.6. Say what you mean to say.7. Pity the readers.

As quoted in Science Fictionisms (1995), compiled by William Rotsler

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

"Knowing What's Nice", an essay from In These Times (2003)
Encyclopedia
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was a 20th century American writer. His works such as Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way...

(1963), Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

(1969) and Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday is a 1973 novel by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. Set in the fictional town of Midland City, it is the story of "two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." One of these men, Dwayne Hoover, is a normal-looking but...

(1973) blend satire
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

, gallows humor
Gallows humor
Gallows humor , derives from gallows which is a platform with a noose used to execute people by hanging. Gallows humor is the type of humor that still manages to be funny in the face of, and in response to, a perfectly hopeless situation...

 and science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

. He was known for his humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

 beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association
American Humanist Association
The American Humanist Association is an educational organization in the United States that advances Humanism. "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that...

.

Early years


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born in Indianapolis
Indianapolis
Indianapolis is the capital of the U.S. state of Indiana, and the county seat of Marion County, Indiana. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population is 839,489. It is by far Indiana's largest city and, as of the 2010 U.S...

, Indiana
Indiana
Indiana is a US state, admitted to the United States as the 19th on December 11, 1816. It is located in the Midwestern United States and Great Lakes Region. With 6,483,802 residents, the state is ranked 15th in population and 16th in population density. Indiana is ranked 38th in land area and is...

 to third-generation German-American parents, Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. and Edith Lieber. Both his father and his grandfather Bernard Vonnegut
Bernard Vonnegut Sr.
Bernard Vonnegut, Sr., WAA, FAIA, was an American lecturer and architect active in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Indiana. He was a co-founder of the locally renowned Indianapolis architectural firm of Vonnegut and Bohn. He was active in a range of residential, religious,...

 attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 and were architects in the Indianapolis firm of Vonnegut & Bohn
Vonnegut & Bohn
Vonnegut & Bohn, was an architectural firm active in early- to mid-twentieth-century Indianapolis, Indiana.Founded in 1888 by Bernard Vonnegut Sr., FAIA and Arthur Bohn , all the partners were German Americans and were trained in both American and German architectural academies, which gave their...

. His great-grandfather Clemens Vonnegut, Sr.
Clemens Vonnegut Sr.
Clemens Vonnegut, Sr. was a German emigrant to the United States and successful businessman. He was the patriarch of the prominent German-American Vonnegut clan of Indiana – he was the father and grandfather of architects Bernard Vonnegut, Sr...

 was the founder of the Vonnegut Hardware Company
Vonnegut Hardware Company
Clemens Vonnegut, Sr., a German former textile salesman in Amsterdam, arrived in Indianapolis in 1850 and entered into a partnership with fellow German Charles Vollmer shortly thereafter. Their merchandising store was called Vollmer & Vonnegut...

, an Indianapolis institution. Vonnegut graduated from Shortridge High School
Shortridge High School
Shortridge High School is a public high school located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Opened in 1864, it is the oldest free, public high school in the state...

 in Indianapolis in May 1940 and matriculated
Matriculation
Matriculation, in the broadest sense, means to be registered or added to a list, from the Latin matricula – little list. In Scottish heraldry, for instance, a matriculation is a registration of armorial bearings...

 into Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

 that fall. Though majoring in chemistry, he was Assistant Managing Editor and Associate Editor of The Cornell Daily Sun
The Cornell Daily Sun
The Cornell Daily Sun is an independent daily newspaper published in Ithaca, New York by students at Cornell University. It is the oldest independent college daily in the United States....

. He was a member of the Delta Upsilon
Delta Upsilon
Delta Upsilon is the sixth oldest international, all-male, college Greek-letter organization, and is the oldest non-secret fraternity in North America...

 Fraternity, as was his father. While at Cornell, Vonnegut enlisted in the U.S. Army. The Army transferred him to the Carnegie Institute of Technology
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University is a private research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States....

 and the University of Tennessee
University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee is a public land-grant university headquartered at Knoxville, Tennessee, United States...

 to study mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering is a discipline of engineering that applies the principles of physics and materials science for analysis, design, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. It is the branch of engineering that involves the production and usage of heat and mechanical power for the...

.

On Mothers' Day in 1944, when Vonnegut was 21, his mother committed suicide with sleeping pills.

World War II


Kurt Vonnegut's experience as a soldier and prisoner of war had a profound influence on his later work. As a private with the 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division, Vonnegut was captured during the Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge was a major German offensive , launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium, hence its French name , and France and...

 on December 19, 1944, after the 106th was cut off from the rest of Courtney Hodges
Courtney Hodges
General Courtney Hicks Hodges was an American military officer, most prominent for his role in World War II, in which he commanded the First United States Army in Northwest Europe.-Early life and military career:...

'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..." Imprisoned in Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

, Vonnegut was chosen as a leader of the POWs because he spoke some German. After telling the German guards "...just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came..." he was beaten and had his position as leader taken away. While a prisoner, he witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden
Bombing of Dresden in World War II
The Bombing of Dresden was a military bombing by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force and as part of the Allied forces between 13 February and 15 February 1945 in the Second World War...

 in February 1945 which destroyed most of the city.

Vonnegut was one of a group of American prisoners of war to survive the attack in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker used by the Germans as an ad hoc detention facility. The Germans called the building Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five) which the Allied POWs adopted as the name for their prison. Vonnegut said the aftermath of the attack was "utter destruction" and "carnage unfathomable." This experience was the inspiration for his famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

, and is a central theme in at least six of his other books. In Slaughterhouse-Five he recalls that the remains of the city resembled the surface of the moon, and that the Germans 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. Vonnegut eventually 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."

Vonnegut was liberated by Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 troops in May 1945 at the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border. Upon returning to America, he was awarded a Purple Heart
Purple Heart
The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is located in New Windsor, New York...

 for what he called a "ludicrously negligible wound," later writing in Timequake
Timequake
Timequake is a semi-autobiographical work by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. published in 1997. Vonnegut described the novel as a "stew", in which he alternates between summarizing a novel he had been struggling with for a number of years, and waxing nostalgic about various events in his life.-Plot...

that he was given the decoration after suffering a case of "frostbite".

Post-war career


After the war, Vonnegut attended the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked at the City News Bureau of Chicago
City News Bureau of Chicago
City News Bureau of Chicago, or City Press, was a news bureau that served as one of the first cooperative news agencies in the United States. It was founded in the late 19th century by the newspapers of Chicago to provide a common source of local and breaking news and also used by them as a...

. He described his work there in the late 1940s in terms that could have been used by almost any other City Press reporter of any era: "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." Vonnegut admitted that he was a poor anthropology student, with one professor remarking that some of the students were going to be professional anthropologists and he was not one of them. According to Vonnegut in Bagombo Snuff Box
Bagombo Snuff Box
Bagombo Snuff Box is an assortment of short stories written by Kurt Vonnegut published in 1999. The book contains previously published, but uncollected short fiction that did not appear in Vonnegut's previous collection, Welcome to the Monkey House...

, the university rejected his first thesis on the necessity of accounting for the similarities between Cubist
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

 painters and the leaders of late 19th Century Native American
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States are the indigenous peoples in North America within the boundaries of the present-day continental United States, parts of Alaska, and the island state of Hawaii. They are composed of numerous, distinct tribes, states, and ethnic groups, many of which survive as...

 uprisings, saying it was "unprofessional." He left Chicago to work in Schenectady
Schenectady, New York
Schenectady is a city in Schenectady County, New York, United States, of which it is the county seat. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 66,135...

, New York, in public relations for General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

, where his brother Bernard worked in the research department. Vonnegut was a technical writer
Technical writer
A technical writer is a professional writer who designs, creates, and maintains technical documentation...

, but was also known for writing well past his typical hours while working. 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
Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way...

as his thesis, citing its anthropological content, and awarded him the M.A. degree in 1971.

In the mid 1950s, Vonnegut worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated is an American sports media company owned by media conglomerate Time Warner. Its self titled magazine has over 3.5 million subscribers and is read by 23 million adults each week, including over 18 million men. It was the first magazine with circulation over one million to win the...

magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse that 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. On the verge of abandoning writing, Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa is a public state-supported research university located in Iowa City, Iowa, United States. It is the oldest public university in the state. The university is organized into eleven colleges granting undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees...

 Writers' Workshop
Iowa Writers' Workshop
The Program in Creative Writing, more commonly known as the Iowa Writers' Workshop, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, is a highly regarded graduate-level creative writing program in the United States...

. While he was there, Cat's Cradle became a best-seller, and he began Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

, now considered one of the best American novels of the 20th century, appearing on the 100 best lists of Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine and the Modern Library.

Early in his adult life he moved to Barnstable
Barnstable, Massachusetts
Barnstable is a city, referred to as the Town of Barnstable, in the U.S. state of Massachusetts and the county seat of Barnstable County. Barnstable is the largest community, both in land area and population, on Cape Cod. The town contains seven villages within its boundaries...

, Massachusetts
Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, a town on Cape Cod
Cape Cod
Cape Cod, often referred to locally as simply the Cape, is a cape in the easternmost portion of the state of Massachusetts, in the Northeastern United States...

, where he managed the first Saab
Saab Automobile
Saab Automobile AB, better known as Saab , is a Swedish car manufacturer owned by Dutch automobile manufacturer Swedish Automobile NV, formerly Spyker Cars NV. It is the exclusive automobile Royal Warrant holder as appointed by the King of Sweden...

 dealership established in the U.S.

Personal life


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 simply billed as Kurt Vonnegut. His older brother, Bernard Vonnegut
Bernard Vonnegut
Bernard Vonnegut was an American atmospheric scientist credited with discovering that silver iodide could be used effectively in cloud seeding to produce snow and rain...

, was an atmospheric scientist at the University at Albany, SUNY, who discovered that silver iodide
Silver iodide
Silver iodide is a yellow, inorganic, photosensitive iodide of silver used in photography, in medicine as an antiseptic, and in rainmaking for cloud seeding.-Crystal structure:...

 could be used for cloud seeding
Cloud seeding
Cloud seeding, a form of intentional weather modification, is the attempt to change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds, by dispersing substances into the air that serve as cloud condensation or ice nuclei, which alter the microphysical processes within the cloud...

, the process of artificially stimulating precipitation.

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 a Saab dealership. The couple separated in 1970. He did not divorce Cox until 1979, but from 1970 Vonnegut lived with the woman who would later become his second wife, photographer Jill Krementz
Jill Krementz
Jill Krementz is a photographer and author. She has published some 31 books, mostly of photography and children's books....

. Krementz and Vonnegut were married after the divorce from Cox was finalized.

He raised seven children: three from his first marriage; his sister Alice's three children, adopted by Vonnegut after her death from cancer; and a seventh, Lily, adopted with Krementz. His only biological son, Mark Vonnegut
Mark Vonnegut
Mark Vonnegut is an American pediatrician and memoirist. He is the son of the late writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and his first wife, Jane Cox. He is also the brother of Edith and Nanette Vonnegut. He described himself in the preface to his 1975 book as "a hippie, son of a counterculture hero, B.A...

, a pediatrician, wrote the book The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity
The Eden Express
The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity is a 1975 book by Mark Vonnegut, son of American writer Kurt Vonnegut, about Mark's experiences in the late 1960s and his major psychotic breakdown and recovery...

(Seven Stories Press, 2010), about his experiences in the late 1960s and his major psychotic
Psychosis
Psychosis means abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality"...

 breakdown and recovery. Mark was named after Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

, whom Vonnegut considered an American saint.

His daughter Edith
Edith Vonnegut
Edith Vonnegut is an American painter.Her work — most of which juxtaposes heavenly beings and mundane activities — has been showcased at galleries across the United States, and is featured in the book Domestic Goddesses, along with her humorous commentary...

 ("Edie"), an artist, was named after Kurt Vonnegut's mother, Edith Lieber. She has had her work published in a book titled Domestic Goddesses and was once married to Geraldo Rivera
Geraldo Rivera
Geraldo Rivera is an American attorney, journalist, author, reporter, and former talk show host...

. 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, in which their father James Carmalt Adams was killed on September 15 in the Newark Bay rail crash when his commuter train went off the open Newark Bay bridge in New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

, and their mother—Kurt's sister Alice—died of cancer. In Slapstick, Vonnegut recounts that Alice's husband died two days before Alice herself, and her family 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
New York Daily News
The Daily News of New York City is the fourth most widely circulated daily newspaper in the United States with a daily circulation of 605,677, as of November 1, 2011....

a day before she herself died. The fourth and youngest of the boys, Peter Nice, went to live with a first cousin of their father in Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham is the largest city in Alabama. The city is the county seat of Jefferson County. According to the 2010 United States Census, Birmingham had a population of 212,237. The Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Area, in estimate by the U.S...

, as an infant. Lily is a singer and actress.

Jane Marie Cox later married Adam Yarmolinsky
Adam Yarmolinsky
Professor Adam Yarmolinsky , son of Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky, was an American academic, educator and author, as well as a political appointee who served in numerous capacities in the Kennedy, Johnson and Carter administrations.Besides serving in the White House, he also held posts in...

 and 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.

On November 11, 1999, an asteroid
Asteroid
Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

 was named in Vonnegut's honor: 25399 Vonnegut
25399 Vonnegut
25399 Vonnegut is an asteroid discovered on November 11, 1999 by C. W. Juels at Fountain Hills. The asteroid is named after Kurt Vonnegut. The asteroid was discovered on Vonnegut's birthday, November 11, and received the designation VN20 in 1999. The asteroid is located in the main asteroid belt...

.

On January 31, 2001, a fire destroyed the top story of his home. Vonnegut suffered smoke inhalation
Smoke inhalation
Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in victims of indoor fires.Smoke inhalation injury refers to injury due to inhalation or exposure to hot gaseous products of combustion. This can cause serious respiratory complications....

 and was hospitalized in critical condition for four days. He survived, but his personal archives were destroyed. After leaving the hospital, he recuperated in Northampton, Massachusetts
Northampton, Massachusetts
The city of Northampton is the county seat of Hampshire County, Massachusetts, United States. As of the 2010 census, the population of Northampton's central neighborhoods, was 28,549...

.

Vonnegut smoked unfiltered Pall Mall
Pall Mall (cigarette)
Pall Mall cigarettes are a brand of cigarettes produced by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and internationally by British American Tobacco at multiple sites.- History :...

 cigarettes, a habit he referred to as a "classy way to commit suicide".

Vonnegut suffered irreversible brain injuries following a fall at his home and died in Manhattan
Manhattan
Manhattan is the oldest and the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City. Located primarily on the island of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River, the boundaries of the borough are identical to those of New York County, an original county of the state of New York...

 on April 11, 2007.

Writing career


Vonnegut's first short story, "Report on the Barnhouse Effect
Report on the Barnhouse Effect
"Report on the Barnhouse Effect" is the first short story written and published by Kurt Vonnegut. It originally appeared in the February 11, 1950 issue of Collier's Weekly. It is also part of the collection Welcome to the Monkey House.-Plot summary:...

" 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 dystopia
Dystopia
A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four...

n novel Player Piano
Player Piano
Player Piano, author Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, was published in 1952. It is a dystopia of automation and capitalism, describing the dereliction they cause in the quality of life. The...

(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
The Sirens of Titan
The Sirens of Titan is a Hugo Award-nominated novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., first published in 1959. His second novel, it involves issues of free will, omniscience, and the overall purpose of human history...

, was published in 1959. Through the 1960s, the form of his work changed, from the relatively orthodox structure of Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way...

(which in 1971 earned him a Master's Degree) to the acclaimed, semi-autobiographical Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

, given a more experimental structure by using time travel as a plot device.

These structural experiments were continued in Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions
Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday is a 1973 novel by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. Set in the fictional town of Midland City, it is the story of "two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." One of these men, Dwayne Hoover, is a normal-looking but...

(1973), which includes many rough illustrations, lengthy non-sequiturs and an appearance by the author himself, as a deus ex machina
Deus ex machina
A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.-Linguistic considerations:...

.
"This is a very bad book you're writing," I said to myself.
"I know," I said.
"You're afraid you'll kill yourself the way your mother did," I said.
"I know," I said.


Deadeye Dick
Deadeye Dick
Deadeye Dick is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut originally published in 1982.- Plot summary :The novel's main character, Rudy Waltz, nicknamed Deadeye Dick, commits accidental manslaughter as a child and lives his whole life feeling guilty and seeking forgiveness for it...

, although mostly set in the mid-twentieth century, foreshadows the turbulent times of contemporary America; it ends prophetically with the lines "You want to know something? We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages — they haven't ended yet." The novel explores themes of social isolation and alienation that are particularly relevant in the postmodern world. Society is seen as openly hostile or indifferent at best, and popular culture as superficial and excessively materialistic.

Vonnegut attempted suicide in 1984 and later wrote about this in several essays.

Breakfast of Champions became one of his best-selling novels. It includes, in addition to the author himself, several of Vonnegut's recurring characters. One of them, science fiction author Kilgore Trout
Kilgore Trout
Kilgore Trout is a fictional character created by author Kurt Vonnegut. He was originally created as a fictionalized version of author Theodore Sturgeon , although Trout's consistent presence in Vonnegut's works has also led critics to view him as the author's own alter ego...

, plays a major role and interacts with the author's character.

In 1974, Venus on the Half-Shell
Venus on the Half-Shell
Venus on the Half-Shell is a science fiction novel attributed to the fictional author Kilgore Trout but actually written by Philip José Farmer. Kilgore Trout is a recurring character of many of the novels of Kurt Vonnegut and this book was first mentioned as a fictional work in his novel God Bless...

, a book by Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer was an American author, principally known for his award-winning science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories....

 in a style similar to that of Vonnegut and attributed to Kilgore Trout
Kilgore Trout
Kilgore Trout is a fictional character created by author Kurt Vonnegut. He was originally created as a fictionalized version of author Theodore Sturgeon , although Trout's consistent presence in Vonnegut's works has also led critics to view him as the author's own alter ego...

, was published. This caused some confusion among readers, as for some time many assumed that Vonnegut wrote it; when the truth of its authorship came out, Vonnegut was reported as being "not amused". In an issue of the semi-prozine The Alien Critic/Science Fiction Review, published by Richard E. Geis
Richard E. Geis
Richard E. Geis is an American erotica writer and science fiction fan and writer from Portland, Oregon who won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 1982 and 1983; and whose science fiction fanzine Science Fiction Review won the 1969, 1970, 1977 and 1979 Hugo Awards for Best Fanzine...

, Farmer claimed to have received an angry, obscenity-laden telephone call from Vonnegut about it.

In addition to recurring characters, there are also recurring themes and ideas. One of them is ice-nine (a central wampeter
Bokononism
Bokononism is a religion invented by Kurt Vonnegut as a fictional religion, and practiced by many of the characters in his novel Cat's Cradle.It is based on the concept of foma, which are defined as harmless untruths...

 in his novel Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle
Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way...

).

Although many of his novels involved science fiction themes, they were widely read and reviewed outside the field, not least due to their anti-authoritarianism. For example, in his seminal short story "Harrison Bergeron
Harrison Bergeron
"Harrison Bergeron" is a satirical, dystopian science fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and first published in October 1961. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the story was re-published in the author's collection Welcome to the Monkey House in...

" egalitarianism
Egalitarianism
Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality of some sort among moral agents, whether persons or animals. Emphasis is placed upon the fact that equality contains the idea of equity of quality...

 is rigidly enforced by overbearing state authority, engendering horrific repression.

In much of his work, Vonnegut's own voice is apparent, often filtered through the character of science fiction author Kilgore Trout (whose name is based on that of real-life science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon was an American science fiction author.His most famous novel is More Than Human .-Biography:...

). It is 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
Locomotor ataxia
Locomotor ataxia is the inability to precisely control one's own bodily movements. Persons afflicted with this disease may walk in a jerky, nonfluid manner. They will not know where their arms and legs are without looking, but can, for instance, feel and locate a hot object placed against their feet...

, and it struck him that these men walked like broken machines; it followed that healthy people were working machines, suggesting that humans are helpless prisoners of determinism
Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

. Vonnegut also explored this theme in Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

, in which protagonist Billy Pilgrim
Billy Pilgrim
Billy Pilgrim was an American folk rock duo based in Atlanta, Georgia, comprising Andrew Hyra and Kristian Bush. The band's name was taken from the time-traveling anti-hero of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five. The name was adopted in 1994; prior to that the duo simply billed itself as...

 "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."

With the publication of his novel Timequake
Timequake
Timequake is a semi-autobiographical work by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. published in 1997. Vonnegut described the novel as a "stew", in which he alternates between summarizing a novel he had been struggling with for a number of years, and waxing nostalgic about various events in his life.-Plot...

in 1997, Vonnegut announced his retirement from writing fiction. He continued to write for the magazine In These Times
In These Times
In These Times is a politically progressive monthly magazine of news and opinion published by the Institute for Public Affairs in Chicago...

, where he was a senior editor, until his death in 2007, focusing 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 titled A Man Without a Country
A Man Without a Country
A Man Without a Country is an essay collection published in 2005 by the author Kurt Vonnegut. The extremely short essays that comprise this book deal with topics ranging from the importance of humor, to problems with modern technology, to Vonnegut's opinions on the differences between men and women...

, which he insisted would be his last contribution to letters.

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?"


The April 2008 issue of Playboy
Playboy
Playboy is an American men's magazine that features photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction. It was founded in Chicago in 1953 by Hugh Hefner and his associates, and funded in part by a $1,000 loan from Hefner's mother. The magazine has grown into Playboy Enterprises, Inc., with...

featured the first published excerpt from Armageddon in Retrospect
Armageddon in Retrospect
Armageddon in Retrospect is a collection of short stories and essays about war and peace written by Kurt Vonnegut. It is the first posthumous collection of his previously unpublished writings. The book includes an introduction by Mark Vonnegut as well as a letter from Kurt to his family about his...

, the first posthumous collection of Vonnegut's work. The book itself was published in the same month. It included never before published short stories by the writer 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. The introduction was written by his son, Mark Vonnegut.

Vonnegut also taught at Harvard University, where he was a lecturer in English, and the City College of New York
City College of New York
The City College of the City University of New York is a senior college of the City University of New York , in New York City. It is also the oldest of the City University's twenty-three institutions of higher learning...

, where he was a Distinguished Professor.

Art career


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. Later in his career, he became more interested in artwork, particularly silk-screen prints
Screen-printing
Screen printing is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink or other printable materials which can be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate...

, which he pursued in collaboration with Joe Petro III
Joe Petro III
Joe Petro III is a second generation fine artist, who works as a sculptor in bronze, clay and printmaking on silk-screen and hand-made paper. He majored in Zoology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville...

.

In 2004, Vonnegut participated in the project The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were, for which he created an album cover for Phish
Phish
Phish is an American rock band noted for its musical improvisation, extended jams, and exploration of music across genres. Formed at the University of Vermont in 1983 , the band's four members – Trey Anastasio , Mike Gordon , Jon Fishman , and Page McConnell Phish is an American rock band...

 called Hook, Line and Sinker, which has been included in a traveling exhibition for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a museum located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States. It is dedicated to archiving the history of some of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers and others who have, in some major way,...

.

Politics


Vonnegut was deeply influenced by early Socialist labor leaders, especially Indiana natives Powers Hapgood
Powers Hapgood
Powers Hapgood was an American Trade Union Organizer and Socialist Party leader known for his involvement with the United Mine Workers in the 1920s.-Early years:...

 and Eugene V. Debs
Eugene V. Debs
Eugene Victor Debs was an American union leader, one of the founding members of the International Labor Union and the Industrial Workers of the World , and several times the candidate of the Socialist Party of America for President of the United States...

, 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) and Russian Communist leader Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

 (Leon Trotsky Trout in Galápagos). He was a lifetime member of the American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

 and 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.

Vonnegut frequently addressed moral and political issues but rarely dealt with specific political figures until after his retirement from fiction. Though the downfall of Walter Starbuck, a minor Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 administration bureaucrat who is the narrator and main character in Jailbird
Jailbird
Jailbird is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, originally published in 1979. Its plot concerns a man recently released from a low security prison after having served time for a minor role in the Watergate scandal. The novel uses a standard memoir format, revealing Walter F...

(1979), would not have occurred but for the Watergate scandal
Watergate scandal
The Watergate scandal was a political scandal during the 1970s in the United States resulting from the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement...

, the focus is not on the administration. His collection God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian
God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian
God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, by Kurt Vonnegut, is a collection of short fictional interviews written by Vonnegut and first broadcast on NPR. The title parodies that of Vonnegut's 1965 novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.- Synopsis :...

referenced controversial assisted suicide
Assisted suicide
Assisted suicide is the common term for actions by which an individual helps another person voluntarily bring about his or her own death. "Assistance" may mean providing one with the means to end one's own life, but may extend to other actions. It differs to euthanasia where another person ends...

 proponent Jack Kevorkian
Jack Kevorkian
Jacob "Jack" Kevorkian , commonly known as "Dr. Death", was an American pathologist, euthanasia activist, painter, composer and instrumentalist. He is best known for publicly championing a terminal patient's right to die via physician-assisted suicide; he said he assisted at least 130 patients to...

.

With his columns for In These Times
In These Times
In These Times is a politically progressive monthly magazine of news and opinion published by the Institute for Public Affairs in Chicago...

, he began an attack on the 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
In These Times
In These Times is a politically progressive monthly magazine of news and opinion published by the Institute for Public Affairs in Chicago...

quoted him as saying "The only difference between Hitler and Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 is that Hitler was elected." 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’etat 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.'"
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."

He did not regard the 2004 election with much optimism; speaking of Bush and John Kerry
John Kerry
John Forbes Kerry is the senior United States Senator from Massachusetts, the 10th most senior U.S. Senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2004 presidential election, but lost to former President George W...

, he said that "no matter which one wins, we will have a Skull and Bones
Skull and Bones
Skull and Bones is an undergraduate senior or secret society at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. It is a traditional peer society to Scroll and Key and Wolf's Head, as the three senior class 'landed societies' at Yale....

 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."

In 2005, Vonnegut was interviewed by David Nason for The Australian
The Australian
The Australian is a broadsheet newspaper published in Australia from Monday to Saturday each week since 14 July 1964. The editor in chief is Chris Mitchell, the editor is Clive Mathieson and the 'editor-at-large' is Paul Kelly....

. 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
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori is a line from the Roman lyrical poet Horace's Odes . The line can be roughly translated into English as: "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."-Context:...

" ["it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country"] from Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

's Odes, or possibly to Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC was an English poet and soldier, one of the leading poets of the First World War...

's ironic use of the line in his Dulce Et Decorum Est
Dulce et Decorum Est
Dulce et Decorum est is a poem written by poet Wilfred Owen in 1917, during World War I, and published posthumously in 1920. Owen's poem is known for its horrific imagery and condemnation of war. It was drafted at Craiglockhart in the first half of October 1917 and later revised, probably at...

.) 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."

A 2006 interview with Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

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.' "

Though 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."

Religion


Vonnegut was descended from a family of German freethinkers, who were skeptical of "conventional religious beliefs." His great-grandfather Clemens Vonnegut had authored a freethought
Freethought
Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

 book titled 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.

Vonnegut described himself variously as a skeptic
Religious skepticism
Religious skepticism is a type of skepticism relating to religion, but should not be confused with atheism. Religious skeptics question religious authority and are not necessarily anti-religious but are those skeptical of a specific or all religious beliefs or practices. Some are deists, believing...

, freethinker
Freethought
Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, or other dogmas...

, humanist
Humanism
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, world view or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. In philosophy and social science, humanism is a perspective which affirms some notion of human nature, and is contrasted with anti-humanism....

, Unitarian Universalist
Unitarian Universalism
Unitarian Universalism is a religion characterized by support for a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual's theology is a...

, agnostic
Agnosticism
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable....

, and atheist
Atheism
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...

. He disbelieved in the supernatural, considered religious doctrine to be "so much arbitrary, clearly invented balderdash
Balderdash
Balderdash is a board game of bluffing and trivia created by Laura Robinson and Paul Toyne. It is based on a classic parlor game called Dictionary.-Gameplay:The game begins by all players rolling a die, with the high roll chosen to be the first "dasher"...

," and believed people were motivated by loneliness to join religions.

Vonnegut considered humanism to be a modern-day form of freethought, 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
Council for Secular Humanism
The Council for Secular Humanism is a secular humanist organization headquartered in Amherst, New York. In 1980 CODESH issued A Secular Humanist Declaration, an argument for and statement of belief in Democratic Secular Humanism...

 International Academy of Humanism. In 1992, the American Humanist Association
American Humanist Association
The American Humanist Association is an educational organization in the United States that advances Humanism. "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that...

 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
Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000...

, and serving until his own death in 2007. 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."

Vonnegut was at one time a member of a Unitarian congregation. Palm Sunday reproduces a sermon he delivered to the First Parish Unitarian Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concerning William Ellery Channing
William Ellery Channing
Dr. William Ellery Channing was the foremost Unitarian preacher in the United States in the early nineteenth century and, along with Andrews Norton, one of Unitarianism's leading theologians. He was known for his articulate and impassioned sermons and public speeches, and as a prominent thinker...

, 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. 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. Vonnegut's parents were married by a Unitarian minister, and his son had at one time aspired to become a Unitarian minister.

Vonnegut's views on religion were unconventional and nuanced. While rejecting the divinity of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

, he was nevertheless an ardent admirer, and believed that Jesus's Beatitudes
Beatitudes
In Christianity, the Beatitudes are a set of teachings by Jesus that appear in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means happy, fortunate, or blissful....

 informed his own humanist outlook. While he often identified himself as an agnostic or atheist, he also frequently spoke of God. Despite describing freethought, humanism and agnosticism as his "ancestral religion," and despite being a Unitarian, he also spoke of himself as being irreligious
Irreligion
Irreligion is defined as an absence of religion or an indifference towards religion. Sometimes it may also be defined more narrowly as hostility towards religion. When characterized as hostility to religion, it includes antitheism, anticlericalism and antireligion. When characterized as...

. A press release by the American Humanist Association
American Humanist Association
The American Humanist Association is an educational organization in the United States that advances Humanism. "Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that...

 described him as "completely secular."

Self-assessment


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
Flannery O'Connor
Mary Flannery O'Connor was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, O'Connor wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries...

 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 (though it advised using Elements of Style for more indepth advice).

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:
  • Player Piano
    Player Piano
    Player Piano, author Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, was published in 1952. It is a dystopia of automation and capitalism, describing the dereliction they cause in the quality of life. The...

    : B
  • The Sirens of Titan
    The Sirens of Titan
    The Sirens of Titan is a Hugo Award-nominated novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., first published in 1959. His second novel, it involves issues of free will, omniscience, and the overall purpose of human history...

    : A
  • Mother Night
    Mother Night
    Mother Night is a novel by American author Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1961. The title of the book is taken from Goethe's Faust....

    : A
  • Cat's Cradle
    Cat's Cradle
    Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way...

    : A-plus
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
    God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
    God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine, is a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., published in 1965. The plot focuses on Eliot Rosewater, the primary trustee of the philanthropic Rosewater Foundation, whom one of the family lawyers, Norman Mushari, is attempting to have declared...

    : A
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
    Slaughterhouse-Five
    Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

    : A-plus
  • Welcome to the Monkey House
    Welcome to the Monkey House
    Welcome to the Monkey House is an assortment of short stories written by Kurt Vonnegut, first published in August 1968. The stories range from war-time epics to futuristic thrillers, given with satire and Vonnegut's unique edge...

    : B-minus
  • Happy Birthday, Wanda June
    Happy Birthday, Wanda June
    Happy Birthday, Wanda June is a play by Kurt Vonnegut, and a 1971 film adaptation, directed by Mark Robson.-Plot:The opening of this play is "This is a simple-minded play about men who enjoy killing, and those who don't."...

    : D
  • Breakfast of Champions
    Breakfast of Champions
    Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday is a 1973 novel by the American author Kurt Vonnegut. Set in the fictional town of Midland City, it is the story of "two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." One of these men, Dwayne Hoover, is a normal-looking but...

    : C
  • Slapstick: D
  • Jailbird
    Jailbird
    Jailbird is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, originally published in 1979. Its plot concerns a man recently released from a low security prison after having served time for a minor role in the Watergate scandal. The novel uses a standard memoir format, revealing Walter F...

    : A
  • Palm Sunday
    Palm Sunday (book)
    Palm Sunday is a 1981 collection of short stories, speeches, essays, letters, and other previously unpublished works by author Kurt Vonnegut Jr.-Content:...

    : C

Appearances

  • Vonnegut played himself in a cameo
    Cameo appearance
    A cameo role or cameo appearance is a brief appearance of a known person in a work of the performing arts, such as plays, films, video games and television...

     in 1986's Back to School, in which he is hired by Rodney Dangerfield
    Rodney Dangerfield
    Rodney Dangerfield , was an American comedian, and actor, known for the catchphrases "I don't get no respect!," "No respect, no respect at all... that's the story of my life" or "I get no respect, I tell ya" and his monologues on that theme...

    's Thornton Melon to write a paper on the topic of the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Recognizing the work as 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
    Mother Night (film)
    Mother Night is a 1996 film based on Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 book of the same name.Nick Nolte stars as Howard W. Campbell, Jr., an American who moves with his family to Germany after World War I and goes on to become a successful German language playwright...

    and Breakfast of Champions
    Breakfast of Champions (film)
    Breakfast of Champions is a 1999 American comedy film adapted and directed by Alan Rudolph from the novel of the same name by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.-Plot:...

    . Mother Night was directed by Keith Gordon
    Keith Gordon
    Keith Gordon is an American actor and film director.-Life and career:Gordon was born in New York City, the son of Barbara, an actress, and Mark Gordon, an actor and stage director. He grew up in an atheist Jewish family and was inspired to become an actor at the age of twelve, after seeing James...

    , who starred as Dangerfield's son in Back to School.
  • Vonnegut appeared as part of the Enron
    Enron
    Enron Corporation was an American energy, commodities, and services company based in Houston, Texas. Before its bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, Enron employed approximately 22,000 staff and was one of the world's leading electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies, with...

     "Why" advertising campaign.
  • He made a guest appearance on the 2002 DVD released by 1 Giant Leap
    1 Giant Leap
    1 Giant Leap is a concept band and media project consisting of the two principal artists, Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman.-Information:...

    , leading the producers of the film to say, "Probably the most unbelievable result in our whole production was getting Kurt Vonnegut to agree to an interview". In the film, Vonnegut states, "Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference".
  • Vonnegut narrates and wrote the narrative of two oratorios with composer Dave Soldier
    Dave Soldier
    Dave Soldier is an American composer and performer residing in New York.- Musical works :Some of his work is based on unusual collaborations. In the Thai Elephant Orchestra he built giant musical instruments on which he trained a group of elephants to improvise...

     recorded by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra
    Manhattan Chamber Orchestra
    The Manhattan Chamber Orchestra is a chamber orchestra based in Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States.The orchestra was founded in 1987 by its artistic director and conductor, Richard Auldon Clark. It performs music of all genres with a special focus on contemporary music by American...

    , A Soldier's Story based on the execution of Private Eddie Slovik
    Eddie Slovik
    Edward Donald Slovik was a private in the United States Army during World War II and the only American soldier to be court-martialled and executed for desertion since the American Civil War....

     and Ice-9 Ballads, adapted from Cat's Cradle
    Cat's Cradle
    Cat's Cradle is the fourth novel by American writer Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1963. It explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way...

    .
  • Vonnegut recorded a number of first-person voice-overs for Ken Burns's documentary The Civil War and included one of a young soldier reflecting on a visit with a prostitute.
  • Vonnegut appears briefly in the 2005 dramatic documentary The American Ruling Class
    The American Ruling Class
    The American Ruling Class is a dramatic documentary film written by Lewis H. Lapham and directed by John Kirby that "explores our country’s most taboo topic: class, power and privilege in our nominally democratic republic." It seeks to answer the question, "Does America have a ruling class?" Its...

    playing himself.
  • Vonnegut appears 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

  • In August 2006, Kurt Vonnegut was interviewed on the national, weekly public radio program, The Infinite Mind
    The Infinite Mind
    -The Infinite Mind public radio series:The Infinite Mind was a one-hour, national, weekly public radio series that aired from 1998 to 2008. It was independently produced and distributed by the Peabody Award-winning Lichtenstein Creative Media. The program was hosted by Dr...

    , 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, and it was the author's last face-to-face sit-down interview. The host was The Infinite Mind's John Hockenberry
    John Hockenberry
    John Charles Hockenberry is an American journalist and author. A four-time Emmy Award winner and three-time Peabody Award winner, Hockenberry has worked in media since 1980....

    , 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 acres (64,749.8 m²) virtual broadcast center created by producer Bill Lichtenstein and Lichtenstein Creative Media which produces The Infinite Mind.
  • In 2007 Vonnegut is featured in the film Never Down as Robert and appears in several scenes.

Tributes

  • The 2009 Hollywood adaptation of Vonnegut's story "Harrison Bergeron
    Harrison Bergeron
    "Harrison Bergeron" is a satirical, dystopian science fiction short story written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and first published in October 1961. Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the story was re-published in the author's collection Welcome to the Monkey House in...

    ", a film entitled 2081
    2081 (film)
    2081 is a 2009 science fiction short film, which premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 29, 2009. It is directed and written by Chandler Tuttle...

    is dedicated "To Kurt Vonnegut, Jr."
  • At the annual Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
    Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library
    The Indianapolis Public Library is the public library system that serves the citizens of Marion County, Indiana, United States and its largest city, Indianapolis...

     McFadden Memorial Lecture at Butler University
    Butler University
    Butler University is a private university located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Founded in 1855 and named after founder Ovid Butler, the university offers 60 degree programs to 4,400 students through six colleges: business, communication, education, liberal Arts and sciences, pharmacy and health...

     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."
  • Filmmaker Michael Moore
    Michael Moore
    Michael Francis Moore is an American filmmaker, author, social critic and activist. He is the director and producer of Fahrenheit 9/11, which is the highest-grossing documentary of all time. His films Bowling for Columbine and Sicko also place in the top ten highest-grossing documentaries...

     included Vonnegut in the dedications for his 2007 film Sicko
    Sicko
    Sicko is a 2007 documentary film by American filmmaker Michael Moore. The film investigates health care in the United States, focusing on its health insurance and the pharmaceutical industry. The movie compares the for-profit, non-universal U.S...

    ; at the end of the film, the words "Thank You Kurt Vonnegut for Everything" appear on the screen.
  • The satirical newspaper The Onion
    The Onion
    The Onion is an American news satire organization. It is an entertainment newspaper and a website featuring satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news, in addition to a non-satirical entertainment section known as The A.V. Club...

    contained a tribute to Vonnegut soon after he died, with a reference to his work Slaughterhouse-Five
    Slaughterhouse-Five
    Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

    stating that he shouldn't be referred to as dead "without checking Dresden for his younger self first."
  • On November 11, 2007, Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, reintroduced Kurt's Mile High Malt to celebrate the late author's birthday. The beer was originally created by Vonnegut's grandfather, Albert Lieber, of the Indianapolis Brewery, using coffee as the secret ingredient. Kurt's Mile High Malt was first brewed in 1996 thanks to Wynkoop Founder and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper
    John Hickenlooper
    John Wright Hickenlooper is an American politician and current Governor of Colorado. A Democrat, he was previously the Mayor of Denver, Colorado from 2003 to 2011.-Early life, education and career:...

    , a friend of Vonnegut's. At Vonnegut's request, coffee was added to the Mile High Malt, making it a close recreation of his grandfather's original.
  • When Vonnegut died, members of the Alplaus Volunteer Fire Department in New York lowered the American flag to half mast, 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.
  • In August 2011, the metalcore band Bury Your Dead
    Bury Your Dead
    Bury Your Dead is an American metalcore band from Boston, Massachusetts, United States, formed in 2001. To date they have had eight releases; one EP: Bury Your Dead, one live DVD: Alive, and six studio albums: You Had Me at Hello, Cover Your Tracks, Beauty and the Breakdown, Bury Your Dead, It's...

     released their sixth studio album, Mosh N' Roll. All of the songs on the album are named after Kurt Vonnegut's works.

Further reading

  • Shields, Charles. (2011). And So It Goes:Kurt Vonnegut: A Life. Henry Holt. ISBN 0805086935.

External links