Salman Rushdie on Slaughterhouse-Five

In a fine essay published by The New Yorker, Salman Rushdie offers his thoughts on Slaughterhouse-Five. Comparisons to Catch-22 and War and Peace are mixed with reflections on Vonnegut’s exploration of free will and the cheerfulness at the core of Vonnegut’s work. The essay is adapted from a speech Rushdie delivered in Indianapolis marking the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication. Read the full essay here:

“What Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five Tells Us Now”

An often-quoted passage from the opening chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five recounts Kurt’s exchange with the filmmaker Harrison Starr.

“You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?”

“No, what do you say, Harrison Starr?”

“I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?'”

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers.

Considering the recent data about climate change, we seem headed an for anti-glacier world. If only we’d figured out how to stop wars instead of glaciers…

Peace.

Kurt Vonnegut Remembered: An Interview with Jim O’Loughlin

Kurt Vonnegut Remembered, recently published by The University of Alabama Press, is a must-read for Vonnegut fans as it traces the author’s life through a series of essays and recollections from those who knew him best.  The list of contributors ranges from well-known media figures like Geraldo Rivera and Michael Moore to Vonnegut family members and fellow soldiers who served with Kurt in World War II.  In these pages you’ll find John Irving, Gail Godwin, Peter Fonda, and John Updike along with familiar names like Jerome Klinkowitz, Donald Farber, and Loree Rackstraw.

At the helm of this treasure trove of Vonnegut history is Jim O’Loughlin, who edited the collection and, in his Introductions to each section, provides context for what follows.  Kurt Vonnegut Remembered leaves readers with a new appreciation for Kurt Vonnegut the author as well as Kurt Vonnegut, human being. 

Purchase your copy here.    

O’Loughlin shared his thoughts with The Daily Vonnegut.       

Q: Kurt Vonnegut Remembered is a gift for any Vonnegut fan, the equivalent of an oral history of Vonnegut’s life.  How did you come to be involved with the project?

A: I like that characterization: “an oral history of Vonnegut’s life,” and I may steal it from you. Two of my former colleagues at the University of Northern Iowa, Laurie Rackstraw and Jerome Klinkowitz, had important personal connections with Vonnegut, and the North American Review (housed at UNI) runs an annual Kurt Vonnegut Speculative Fiction Prize, so this is a part of our institutional heritage and I feel I’m doing my part to maintain it.

Q: What were some of the challenges in tracking down the different reminiscences and recollections included in the book?

A: Much of my prior critical writing has involved older subjects and long deceased authors. However, the majority of the people writing about Vonnegut are still very much alive.  Dead people tend to be easier to work with, but you don’t get as much feedback <insert rimshot>. Actually, writers I corresponded with for this project were extremely generous and happy to see interest in a figure who had influenced them. The problems I faced tended to be technical, such as figuring out who controlled the rights to a particular piece or carrying out permissions fee negotiations in Spanish.

Read the complete interview here: Kurt Vonnegut Remembered: An Interview with Jim O’Loughlin.

The Vonnegut Review – An Interview with Wilson Taylor

Need something to do this summer? Why not tackle the Vonnegut canon? In 2013 Wilson Taylor and Matthew Gannon, two friends and writers with a passion for literature, criticism, and Kurt Vonnegut, launched their Summer of Vonnegut, a critical conversation in which the two writers read and reviewed all fourteen of Vonnegut’s novels. The resulting essays comprise The Vonnegut Review, a website featuring Wilson’s and Gannon’s insightful explorations of Vonnegut’s work. Taylor and Gannon combine their sharp critical eyes and knowledge of literary theory with an appreciation for the essential humanity of Vonnegut’s fiction. Their work is highly recommended, and available at The Vonnegut Review.

Wilson Taylor shared his thoughts with The Daily Vonnegut.

Q: What prompted the idea for the “Vonnegut Summer” in 2013?

A: Vonnegut Summer grew out of a winter of intellectual uncertainty and expectation. Matt (Matthew Gannon) and I were both sort of spinning our wheels academically; we knew we wanted to write and pursue a project together, but we weren’t quite sure where to start. We had graduated from college but had not yet started graduate school. The two of us would often discuss literature, politics, music, and theory, and we pursued this after college through digressive and labyrinthine email threads; we wanted to continue these discussions in a more concrete and structured way. We also both shared a long-standing love for Vonnegut–we were both a bit mesmerized by him, really–and wanted to engage with his literature more deeply and vigorously. We sought to bring our wide reading in literature and cultural theory to bear on a favorite author of our youth. We also felt that, while Vonnegut is culturally beloved, his work doesn’t garner the critical attention it deserves.

Vonnegut Summer was initially Matt’s idea. We both found Vonnegut to be a writer whose entire fourteen-novel body of work was worth of careful, critical exploration, and which is also best read as sort of an organic, multifaceted whole–what Robert Tally imagines as Vonnegut’s serial experimentation with the Great American Novel. We both instinctively grasped the value of a single-author survey, and Vonnegut–whose novels are delightfully and deeply human; their lightness belies their richness–had always been close to our hearts. Our stated goal was to “reinvigorate critical readings of Vonnegut for the twenty-first century” and to read Vonnegut as “unstuck in time,” as an indispensable writer who speaks to and for our contemporary moment. So we then decided to divide his fourteen novels in half, slapped together a website, and Vonnegut Summer was born.

For the full interview, follow the link below:

Wilson Taylor – The Vonnegut Review

Happy Birthday, Slaughterhouse-Five

It’s been fifty years since Delacorte Press first published Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, on March 31, 1969. The novel’s popularity and influence continue to this day, and though Vonnegut, in the book’s long introduction, described it as “a failure, and it had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt,” Slaughterhouse-Five remains Vonnegut’s ultimate achievement, a unique blending of time, tragedy, and trauma with the tropes of science fiction and the steady beats of black comedy. As Todd F. Davis writes in Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade: Or, How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism: “Slaughterhouse-Five, born out of one man’s honest and human response to the carnage of our brutality, out of his rage against the sickness of war, endures as a paragon of post-modern morality.”

In celebration of the novel’s 50th anniversary, Literary Hub recently featured the best 50 covers from around the word. A personal favorite is the giraffe from the Dutch edition published in 1970. Thanks to Literary Hub’s Emily Temple for tracking down the covers.

The 50 Best Slaughterhouse-Five Covers From Around The World

The New York Times published a reflection by Kevin Powers in which Powers describes the novel as “wisdom literature.”

The Moral Clarity of Slaughterhouse-Five

The Guardian newspaper continues its Slaughterhouse-Five Reading Group with an exploration of how Vonnegut blurs time to increase the power of reality.

The Guardian Reading Group: Slaughterhouse-Five

A new book by David O. Dowling, A Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (Yale University Press), includes a chapter on Vonnegut’s tenure teaching in the workshop. It was during this time that Vonnegut worked on Slaughterhouse-Five, and Dowling explores how Vonnegut’s inclusion in this elite environment, after so many years as a “genre hack,” influenced the writing of his future classic. The New York Times featured a recent review.

Inside Creative Writing’s Premier Talent Factory

Finally, an engaging and effective blend of music and Vonnegut’s own reading from Slaughterhouse-Five: “Tock Tick.”

Reading Slaughterhouse-Five in Prison

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of Slaughterhouse-Five continues with news of two recent group readings of Vonnegut’s classic novel. 

First, from the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (KVML), an interview with Chris LaFave, curator of KVML, and Debra Des Vignes, founder of the Indiana Prison Writers Workshop.

The Indiana Prison Writers Workshop Meet “Kurt Vonnegut”

Anyone looking to read Slaughterhouse-Five as a public experience should check out The Guardian’s reading group, which has chosen Vonnegut’s classic as its March selection.

The Guardian Reads Kurt Vonnegut

Lastly, a few words from Vonnegut scholar supreme Jerome Klinkowitz, from his 2009 book Kurt Vonnegut’s America (The University of South Carolina Press.)

“Slaughterhouse-Five, published in March 1969, was not only a best seller, but established its author as a celebrity spokesman for key issues of the day. This shows how the book had to wait for the right times to come along before the writer could expect acceptance. An anti-war novel would not have done so well much earlier–not until the Tet Offensive of 1968 showed Americans how badly the war in Vietnam was going. A novel about an atrocity such as the firebombing of Dresden would not have been received as open-mindedly had not the recent revelations of U.S. atrocities in the Vietnam War, such as the My Lai massacre and the indiscriminate use of napalm, alerted readers to the fact that our side was not always above such things…Not before had the country as a whole questioned its basic ideals, its sense of reality. Because Kurt Vonnegut’s new novel raised these issues, it was the perfect book for the times …”

For more, here’s Vonnegut from 2004, from a lecture at Case Western Reserve University.

Vonnegut’s Paradox: Slaughterhouse-Five and the demoralized protagonist

In Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut (1989, University of Alabama Press), Lawrence R. Broer writes: “A striking paradox of Slaughterhouse-Five is that it presents us with Vonnegut’s most completely demoralized protagonist while making what is to this point the most affirmative statement of Vonnegut’s career.” Broer describes Billy Pilgrim as Vonnegut’s “scapegoat,” a character who carries Vonnegut’s heaviest burdens of trauma and despair, but whose sacrifice “makes possible Vonnegut’s own rebirth.” According to Broer, Vonnegut distances himself from Billy with references such as “I was there” and “that was me,” informing the reader of Vonnegut’s own presence within scenes featuring Billy.

Broer’s chapter on Vonnegut’s classic explores how the author pushes against the perceived fatalism of Billy and the Tralfamadorians. “Those who confuse Vonnegut with Billy Pilgrim or mistake the author as a defeatist … miss the predominantly affirmative thrust of Slaughterhouse-Five and Vonnegut’s career as a whole.”

Broer writes, “If settling into his womb-like Tralfamadorian environment, closing his eyes to any unpleasantness in the world, Billy Pilgrim becomes more than ever the playthings of those enormous forces at work on him throughout his life, Kurt Vonnegut may have saved his own sanity through the therapeutic processes of art, climaxed by an act of symbolic amputation: the severing of the Billy Pilgrim within himself, poisoned with existential gangrene. That this is as much Kurt Vonnegut’s baptism by fire as it is the story of Billy’s madness may be the overriding truth of Slaughterhouse-Five.”

For more from Lawrence R. Broer, visit The Daily Vonnegut archives for this interview, in which Professor explorers the connections between Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway.

Vonnegut and Hemingway – An Interview with Lawrence R. Broer

Finally, here’s a clip from a 1997 seminar featuring Vonnegut, William Styron, and others on the topic bureaucracy and war.

Slaughterhouse-Five – 50th Anniversary

In 2019 The Daily Vonnegut will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, “a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from.  Peace.”

Over the next twelve months we’ll take a look at what different writers, critics, and scholars have had to say about the merits and impact of Vonnegut’s classic.  For starters, here’s an excerpt from the 1969 New York Times review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, published March 31, 1969:

Kurt Vonnegut knows all the tricks of the writing game. So he has not even tried to describe the bombing. Instead he has written around it in a highly imaginative, often funny, nearly psychedelic story. The story is sandwiched between an autobiographical introduction and epilogue.

Lehmann-Haupt described the novel as “very tough and very funny; it is sad and delightful, and it works.”  The full review is available here:

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade

For more, here’s a 2012 lecture by Michael Krasny, host of public radio’s KQED Forum, “Slaughterhouse-Five and Its Relevance to Our Time.”

Among other topics, Krasny addresses four ways to look at a work of literature along with Vonnegut’s reputation as a science fiction writer and how the novel’s sci-fi elements influenced its reception.

Gentle People Sharing a Common Bowl – Happy Holidays from The Daily Vonnegut

Though Kurt Vonnegut identified as a secular humanist, he often described himself as a “Christ-loving atheist,” and readers can find a wealth of reflections on Christ and Christianity within Vonnegut’s work.  Among The Daily Vonnegut’s favorites:

From Fates Worse Than Death:

“The first story of mine that got into trouble with the sincerely Christian far right was about time travelers who went back to Bible times and discovered that Jesus Christ was five feet, two inches tall.  I think I liked Jesus more than the story’s naysayers did, since I was asserting that I didn’t care how tall or short He was.”

From God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian:

“My great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut wrote, for example, ‘If what Jesus said was good, what can it matter whether he was God or not?'”

Also from God Bless  You, Dr. Kevorkian:

“I myself have written, ‘If it weren’t for the message of mercy and pity in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, I wouldn’t want to be a human being.  I would just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

And from the Playboy Interview, found in Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut:

“I admire Christianity more than anything–Christianity as symbolized by gentle people sharing a common bowl.”

For more, read Vonnegut’s friend Dan Wakefield’s essay from Image Journal, “Kurt Vonnegut, Christ-Loving Atheist.”

For trivia fans, the correct response to our last question was D.  Mary Kathleen O’Looney was the mysterious Mrs. Jack Graham in Jailbird.

Finally, here’s 1 1983 interview in which Vonnegut discusses his life and career.

Happy holidays from The Daily Vonnegut.

Vonnegut Trivia, A Century of Reading, and 86,000 copies of Slaughterhouse-Five

We begin this post with a trivia question from Kurt Vonnegut’s Jailbird, published in 1979.

Q:  In Jailbird, Walter F. Starbuck discovers that which of his former lovers is the notorious Mrs. Jack Graham, majority stockholder in the RAMJAC Corporation?

a) Sarah Wyatt

b) Alexandria McCone

c) Diana Moon Glampers

d) Mary Kathleen O’Looney

Check out our next post for the correct answer. .

The website Literary Hub recently published its “Century of Reading,” highlighting ten significant literary works from each decade starting with the 1910’s.  Slaughterhouse-Five is included among the ten major books published in the 1960’s.  Literary Hub‘s Emily Temple describes the novel as “a touchstone for young readers” and a “cult classic.”  While it’s always good to see Vonnegut’s work acknowledged for its lasting influence, its classification as an important work for “young readers” continues to frustrate, as if one must be young to appreciate Vonnegut’s masterful blend of history, science fiction, satire, and humanism.  Readers of any age can enjoy Vonnegut–it’s never too late to read Vonnegut for the first time.   The “Century of Reading” series, which is great fun and well worth reading, is available on the LitHub website.

A Century of Reading – The 1960’s

In a giving mood for the holidays?  The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is looking to distribute 86,000 copies of Slaughterhouse-Five next year to Indiana high school students in celebration of the novel’s 50th anniversary.  A $5 donation will provide one student with a copy of the novel.  Contributions can be made here.

Peace.

 

Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut

On November 11, 1922, a peephole opened quite suddenly in Indianapolis.  Light and sound poured in, and the wisp of undifferentiated nothingness we now know as Kurt Vonnegut came into the world.  Happy Birthday, Kurt!

Wheelhouse Theater Company continues its lively revival of Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June at New York’s The Duke on 42nd Street.  Tickets are still available through November 29.  Purchase them here.

For more on Wanda June, check out the following from The New York Times.

“Kurt Vonnegut’s Vietnam-Era Play Lands with a Gasp.”

For those who missed it, here’s The Daily Vonnegut‘s interview with Wheelhouse founding members Jeffrey Wise and Matt Harrington.

“Wheelhouse Theater Company presents Happy Birthday, Wanda June – An Interview with Jeffrey Wise and Matt Harrington.”

Thinking about celebrating Kurt’s birthday with a tattoo?  There’s no shortage of Vonnegut-inspired tattoos on display online.  Here’s one featuring a classic Vonnegut quote.

Tattoo 2

Finally, a quote from Kurt’s Aunt Irma, from Charles J. Shields’s Vonnegut biography, And So It Goes.  Aunt Irma (Kurt Sr.’s sister), describing baby Kurt:

“A beautiful boy with curly hair–an exceptionally beautiful child, really.”

Wheelhouse Theater Company presents Happy Birthday, Wanda June – An Interview with Jeffrey Wise and Matt Harrington

In December 1970, Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his friend, fellow novelist Jose Donoso, “…The adventure of having a play produced was harrowing…But I had to begin my theatrical career with something—and now I have in fact begun. I’ve written six novels. Now I want to write six plays.” (Kurt Vonnegut Letters, Delacorte Press, 2012 p. 165.)

Vonnegut’s adventure was the New York debut of Happy Birthday, Wanda June, the only full-length play Vonnegut published in his career. Hard to find in print, and rarely performed, Wanda June is among Vonnegut’s lesser known works, but that may change with the upcoming production by New York’s Wheelhouse Theater Company at The Duke on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Tickets are now available for this limited run beginning October 18th through November 29th.  Purchase tickets here.

Wanda June

Jeffrey Wise and Matt Harrington, Founding Members of the Company, shared their thoughts on the play in a recent interview with The Daily Vonnegut. In the current production Matt plays the role of Dr. Norbert Woodley while Jeff is the play’s Director.

Q: What inspired you to stage “Happy Birthday, Wanda June?” It’s not among Vonnegut’s most well-known works?

Matt: Yeah, it’s definitely not among his known works, and the most common response I get when I talk about it with people is “Wait, Vonnegut wrote a play?” I had seen a production that some friends of mine from college did about twelve years ago now, and it stuck with me. We were trying to put out heads together and think about our next production, and it kind of floated back into my mind. I found a copy of it, and I remembered that it was compelling; I remembered that it was funny and provocative, but then when I started reading it I thought, “Oh shit, this is so much more relevant and topical and compelling for a contemporary audience than I even remembered it being.

Read the full interview:

Jeffrey Wise and Matt Harrington – Wheelhouse Theater Company presents Happy Birthday, Wanda June.

Cat’s Cradle, Common Decency, and The Return of Wanda June

Yes, The Daily Vonnegut became unstuck in time for a bit, but is back this week with another question.

Q: In Cat’s Cradle, what is the name of the book that the narrator is writing about what famous people were doing the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima?

a) Ka-Boom!

b) Canary in a Coal Mine

c) The Day The World Ended

d) A Pillar of Salt

Check back next week for the answer, or better yet, pick up Cat’s Cradle and find the answer on page 1.

As part of its Lonesome No More initiative exploring the issue of mental health, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library published a blog post featuring comments by Kurt’s son, Dr. Mark Vonnegut, who addresses the topic of his famous father’s suicide attempt.  Follow the link for the full post:

Common Decency in Friendships with Mark Vonnegut and Madeline Zielinski

The Wheelhouse Theater Company is presenting a revival of Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June from October 18 through November 29 at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York.  Tickets are now on sale.  For more, visit the Wheelhouse Theater website:

Happy Birthday, Wanda June

For more, here’s a 1998 appearance by Vonnegut and writer Lee Stringer, who collaborated on 1999’s Like Shaking Hands with God.

Back To School

It’s back to school time, and what better way to begin the new school year than with this classic Vonnegut cameo from Back to School.

The answer to our last trivia question was A – Cheers, which Vonnegut referred to as television’s one comic masterpiece.

The Daily Vonnegut returns next week with more trivia.

Vonnegut trivia, 13 Fascinating Facts, and Vonnegut’s advice to high school students

This week’s trivia question is about Vonnegut and television.

Q: In 1991, while promoting the Showtime series Welcome to the Monkey House,  Kurt Vonnegut praised which popular sitcom, calling it television’s one comic masterpiece?

a) Cheers

b) Seinfeld

c) M*A*S*H

d) The Dick Van Dyke Show

Check back next week for the answer, or you can find it sooner at “Thirteen Fascinating Facts About Kurt Vonnegut.”

Thirteen Fascinating Facts About Kurt Vonnegut   

The correct response to last week’s question was B – In Slaughterhouse-Five, Edgar Derby is reading The Red Badge of Courage.

In the following clip, a teacher reads a letter of advise to high school students written by Kurt toward the end of his life.  His advice: make your soul grow.

Vonnegut trivia, a tribute to Jane, and Kurt’s warning about the future

This week’s question is from Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five.

Q: What book does Edgar Derby start reading in the infirmary while watching over Billy Pilgrim?

a) A Farewell to Arms

b) The Red Badge of Courage

c) Johnny Got His Gun

d) The Brothers Karamazov     

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to our previous question was A – Steven Paul directed the film adaptation of Slapstick.   

Kurt often wrote of his first wife Jane with great respect and affection.  In the following piece by Ginger Strand in The New Yorker,  the author explores how Jane helped Kurt develop as a writer.

“How Jane Vonnegut Made Kurt Vonnegut a Writer.”   

For more from Ginger Strand, read her interview with The Daily Vonnegut here:

The Brothers Vonnegut – An Interview with Ginger Strand

Finally, here’s a 1987 appearance in which Kurt wonders what might happen to society when “the excrement hits the air conditioning.”

Vonnegut 2020?

After a brief hiatus, The Daily Vonnegut will return this Sunday with new trivia and some Vonnegut video.  Until then, here’s a quote from Vonnegut friend (and former student), novelist John Irving, from a 1986 interview in The Paris Review.

“I tell you, Kurt Vonnegut would be a better president than any president we’ve had since I’ve been voting.”

Hi Ho!

 

Vonnegut Trivia and The Vonnegut Encyclopedia

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: In the original production of Kurt Vonnegut’s play Happy Birthday, Wanda June, the young actor Steven Paul played the part of Paul Ryan.  What is Steven Paul’s other connection to the work of Kurt Vonnegut?

a) He directed the film adaptation of Slapstick

b) He had a supporting role in the film version of Mother Night

c) He played Harold Ryan in a future production of Wanda June

d) He did the narration for the audio book of Slaughterhouse-Five

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was D – Walter Starbuck met his wife Ruth at a post-WW2 refugee camp.

For serious Vonnegut fans, there is no better resource than Marc Leeds’ The Vonnegut Encyclopedia, a revised edition of which was published by Delacorte Press in 2016.  For more on the Encyclopedia, here’s a recent review from the Irish Journal of American Studies.

The Vonnegut Encyclopedia

You can also read Leeds’ interview with The Daily Vonnegut.

Marc Leeds – The Vonnegut Encyclopedia  

Finally, here’s a clip of a 2018 appearance in which Marc discusses Kurt Vonnegut and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.   

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of July 8, 2018

This week’s question is from Jailbird, first published in 1979.

Q: Where did Walter Starbuck meet Ruth, his first wife?

a) At a Harvard sorority party

b) In Federal Prison

c) At a staff meeting for the Nixon White House

d) At a refugee camp in post-WW2 Europe

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was B – Player Piano is set in Ilium, New York.

For more, here’s a recording of Kurt Vonnegut, from 1969, reading his story “Go Back to Your Precious Wife and Son.”

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of July 1, 2018

For this week’s question, we visit Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut’s first published novel.

Q:  Which city is the main location for Player Piano?

a) Midland City, Ohio

b) Ilium, New York

c) San Marcos, Florida

d) Rosewater, Indiana

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to our last questions was B – Kurt Vonnegut Sr.’s occupation was architect.

For more, here’s a 1989 appearance by Kurt on The Dick Cavett Show.  Vonnegut discusses his recent travels to Mozambique.

Tilting the Axis: Kurt Vonnegut and the Environment – An Interview with Christina Jarvis

Even casual fans of Kurt Vonnegut’s work recognize him as a writer engaged with the issues of his time. Vonnegut’s range of interests was vast: the waste and futility of war, the dangers of excessive automation, the conflict between scientific progress and human welfare, gun violence, inequality, rampant pollution and the degradation of our beautiful planet Earth. While the latter is sometimes overlooked as an influence, environmental concerns are prominent in much of Vonnegut’s work. It’s an area of Vonnegut studies ripe for further study, and Christina Jarvis is up for the challenge. In her upcoming book, Jarvis, a professor at SUNY Fredonia, explores Vonnegut’s work through an environmentalist lens.

Professor Jarvis shared her thoughts with The Daily Vonnegut.

Q: What inspired you to write about the environmental aspects of Vonnegut’s work, or as you describe it, his “lessons in planetary thinking?”  

A: It’s hard to trace the project’s inspiration back to a singular moment, but one key event that stands out was coming across Vonnegut’s comments in a March 1969 New York Times interview about a working draft of Breakfast of Champions in which he had the Great Lakes disappear under Clorox bottles and excrement. This small detail resonated with me because I’d been leading Lake Erie beach cleanups for years, and plastics pollution is such a huge global environmental problem. While everyone knows from the opening lines of Breakfast of Champions that the novel addresses a host of environmental issues, I became intrigued by the idea that Vonnegut had intended to explore other topics. Anyway, the more I dug into Vonnegut’s manuscripts and my secondary research, I kept finding new examples of Vonnegut’s planetary citizenship—examples that went well beyond his late-career incessant warnings about climate change and unchecked fossil fuel consumption. We all know about Vonnegut’s important anti-war speeches and unflagging dedication to pacifist, humanist, and social justice ideas, but many people don’t know that Kurt spoke at the first Earth Day, participated in key anti-nuclear demonstrations, was an avid gardener and birder, etc. I suppose that popular images of him as a chain-smoking, apocalyptic prophet of doom probably don’t conjure up the label “environmentalist.” Key Vonnegut scholars, such as Peter Reed, Loree Rackstraw, Jerome Klinkowitz, Eric Sumner, Marc Leeds, Said Mentak, and Todd Davis, have long noted Kurt’s environmental commitments; however, there’s so much more to the story. That’s where my book project comes in.

Q: While Slaughterhouse-Five and Vonnegut’s experiences as a POW in Dresden take center stage in most appraisals of Vonnegut’s work, you propose some different ways to “tilt the axis” of his career and gain some new perspectives. Tell us about it.

A: I know it might seem blasphemous to some fans that I’m decentering Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s masterpiece, break-through novel, and most significant contribution to American war/anti-war literature. However, I think Slaughterhouse-Five’s canonical and cultural position often shifts attention away from other important threads and specific texts in the Vonnegut canon. In some ways Slaughterhouse-Five is becoming the Vonnegutian equivalent of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Aside from “Harrison Bergeron” or perhaps Cat’s Cradle, it’s the one text students are reading in school (which is kind of funny given the novel’s long history of being censored). Ultimately, though, very few of the students who take my Vonnegut classes or seminars would select Slaughterhouse-Five as their favorite or as Vonnegut’s most important work.

By tilting the axis of Vonnegut’s career to focus instead on his environmental commitments and engagements with sustainability, I hope to offer some new ways of thinking about specific works and the Vonnegut canon as a whole.

Read the full interview here.

Philip Roth, Father’s Day, and Weekly Trivia – June 17, 2018

The Daily Vonnegut mourns the recent passing of the great American novelist Philip Roth.  Vonnegut’s Jailbird and Roth’s The Ghost Writer were both Main Selections of the Book of the Month Club in September 1979–a marvelous month to be a reader.

This week’s question is about Kurt Vonnegut Sr.

Q: What was Kurt Vonnegut Senior’s occupation?

a) Doctor

b) Architect

c) Hardware store owner

d) Pharmacist

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was D – The Sirens of Titan was Vonnegut’s second published novel.

In celebration of Father’s Day, here’s a video of Mark Vonnegut discussing his father’s life and work.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of June 10, 2018

While traveling in Scotland last week, I encountered two Vonnegut fans who noticed my Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library baseball cap and shared their appreciation for Vonnegut’s work.  Kurt’s appeal is truly global.

This week’s question tests our readers chronological knowledge.

Q: Which of the following titles was Vonnegut’s second published novel?

a) Player Piano

b) Canary in a Coal Mine

c) Mother Night

D) The Sirens of Titan

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to our previous question was B – Vonnegut taught at the University of Iowa during the 1960’s.

For more, check out this 1983 interview.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of May 27, 2018

Sadly, Loree Rackstraw, a long time friend of Kurt Vonnegut, has passed away.  Rackstraw’s 2009 memoir, Love, As Always, Kurt, is an engaging recollection of her time as one of Vonnegut’s writing students as well as her ongoing friendship with Kurt after graduation.  A professor at the University of Northern Iowa as well as a former editor of The North American Review, Rackstraw also wrote several academic articles about Vonnegut’s work.  For more, see this recent piece from The Courier.

This week’s question is about Vonnegut’s teaching career:

Q: At which university did Kurt Vonnegut teach creative writing during the mid-1960’s?

a) Bennington

b) The University of Iowa

c) The University of Northern Iowa

d) Grinnell College

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was B – “Now It’s The Women’s Turn” was the name of the painting revealed to Circe Berman at the end of Bluebeard.

For more, here’s a 1998 clip of Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer discussing writing and creativity.

 

Vonnegut on Guns

With another school shooting in the news last week, it’s worth revisiting some of Kurt Vonengut’s writing about guns.  In Fates Worst than Death, Vonnegut writes:

  “When Charlton Heston (a movie actor who once played Jesus with shaved armpits) tells me in TV commercials about all the good work the National Rifle Association (to which Father and I both belonged when I was a kid) is doing, and how glad I should be that civilians can and do keep military weapons in their homes or vehicles or places of work, I feel exactly as though he were praising the germs of some loathsome disease, since guns in civilian hands, whether accidentally or on purpose, kill so many of us day after day.”        Fates Worse Than Death, pages 80-81

His strongest statement on guns can be found in Deadeye Dick, in which Rudy Waltz earns his nickname by firing a rifle out the window of his home, accidentally killing a pregnant woman.  In response, George Metzger, the woman’s husband, makes the following statement:

     “My wife has been killed by a machine which should never have come into the hands of any human being.  It is called a firearm.  It makes the blackest of all human wishes come true at once, at a distance: that something die.  There is evil for you.  We cannot get rid of mankind’s fleetingly wicked wishes.  We can get rid of the machines that make them come true.  I give you a holy word: DISARM.”   Deadeye Dick, page 87

Finally, from Fates Worse Than Death, page 81:

“I used to be very good with guns, was maybe the best shot in my company when I was a PFC.  But I wouldn’t have one of the motherfuckers in my house for anything.”

Peace.

 

  

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of May 20, 2018

This week’s question is from Bluebeard, published in 1987.

Q: What is the name of the painting in the potato barn revealed to Circe Berman at the end of the novel?

a) Windsor Blue Number Seventeen

b) Now It’s The Women’s Turn

c) The Unforeseen Wilderness

d) Bluebeard

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was A – Kurt’s mother tried to earn money writing fiction during the Great Depression.

For more, here’s a 1999 episode of Bookworm, hosted by Michael Silverblatt.  Recorded after the release of Bogambo Snuff Box, Vonnegut discusses his early short fiction.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of May 13, 2018

For Mother’s Day, here’s a question about Edith Sophia Lieber Vonnegut, Kurt’s mother.

Q: During the Great Depression, Kurt’s mother Edith tried to earn money through which creative endeavor?

a) Fiction writing

b) Landscape Painting

c) Portrait Painting

d) Playing cello in the Indianapolis orchestra

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to our last question is A – The Holiday Inn is the setting for a pivotal scene in Breakfast of Champions.

Here’s a rare of clip of Kurt discussing his artwork in an October 2000 interview with Donald Friedman.

Readers interested in Vonnegut’s art should pick up a copy of Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, which featured contributions from Vonnegut scholar Peter Reed and Kurt’s daughter, Nanette.

Kurt Vonnegut Drawings

 

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of April 29, 2018

This week’s question is from Breakfast of Champions, published in 1973.

Q: A pivotal scene in Breakfast of Champions is set in the lounge of which famous hotel chain?

a) Holiday Inn

b) Howard Johnson

c) Best Western

d) The Hilton

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to our question from two weeks ago was D- Bruce Willis played Dwayne Hoover in the film adaptation of Breakfast of Champions.

For more, here’s a 2006 interview with Kurt Vonnegut on the public radio program Bookworm, hosted by the great Michael Silverblatt.

 

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of April 15, 2018

This week’s question is from the world of film:

Q: In the 1999 film version of Breakfast of Champions, which actor plays Dwayne Hoover?

a) Nick Nolte

b) Albert Finney

c) Jerry Lewis

d) Bruce Willis

Check back next week for the answer (or watch the video clip below).  The correct response to last week’s question was B – Helga Noth was Howard W. Campbell’s wife.

If you’ve never seen the film version of Breakfast of Champions, it is available in full, for free, on YouTube.   Be warned: in an interview included with the audiobook of the novel, Vonnegut and his longtime friend Donald Farber described the movie as “painful to watch.”

Here’s a clip of the trailer.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of April 8, 2018

This week’s question is from Mother Night, published in 1961, the novel Vonnegut famously deemed “the only story of mine whose moral I know …We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be …”

Q: What was the name of Howard W. Campbell’s German wife?

a) Eva Noth

b) Helga Noth

c) Resi Noth

d) Wanda Noth

Check back next week for the correct answer.

For more, here’s a 1997 interview featuring writers Bruce Jay Friedman, Dan Wakefield, and Kurt Vonnegut with host Charlie Rose discussing film adaptations of their work.

 

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of March 25, 2018

On this Palm Sunday, our question of the week comes from Vonnegut’s 1981 “autobiographical collage,” Palm Sunday.

Q: Palm Sunday includes Vonnegut’s update, in script format, of which classic work of literature?

a) Moby Dick

b) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

c) Romeo and Juliet

d) A Christmas Carol   

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was D – Winston Niles Rumfoord’s dog’s name was Kazak.

For more, here’s a clip of actor Benedict Cumberbatch reading a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to the headmaster of a school who had burned copies of  Vonnegut’s books.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of March 18, 2018

This week’s question is from The Sirens of Titan, first published in 1959.

What is the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord’s dog?

a) Duke

b) Malachi

c) Beatrice

d) Kazak

Here’s a clue: A dog by the same name also appears in Breakfast of Champions and Galapagos.

The answer to last week’s question was A – Wanda June was hit by an ice cream truck.

If you missed the recent interview with Professor Kevin Brown on minor characters’ narratives in Slaughterhouse-House Five, you can read it here:

Harmful Untruths – An Interview with Kevin Brown

For more, check out this strange clip featuring Vonnegut,  his wife Jill Krementz, and author Gore Vidal.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of March 11, 2018

This week’s question visits the theater:

In Kurt Vonnegut’s play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June, we meet Wanda June in the hereafter.  How was Wanda June killed?

a) Hit by an ice cream truck

b) Struck by a random bullet fired out a window

c) Killed during the bombing of Dresden

d) Poisoned by swallowing Drano

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was B– Edgar Derby, in Slaughterhouse-Five, was executed for stealing a teapot in the ruins of Dresden.

Here’s a clip from the film version of Happy Birthday, Wanda June.  Vonnegut himself disliked the film.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of March 4, 2018

This week’s question is from Slaughterhouse-Five:

Which character was executed for stealing a teapot in the ruins of Dresden?

a) Paul Lazzaro

b) Edgar Derby

c) Joe Crone

d) Bernard B. O’Hare

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’ s question was B- Homelessness, the topic for which Lee Stringer was known.  A conversation between Stringer and Vonnegut is featured in the book  Like Shaking Hands with God, published in 1999 by Seven Stories Press.

For more on Slaughterhouse-Five and the significance of its minor characters, see the recent interview with Dr. Kevin Brown of Lee University.

Harmful Untruths – An Interview with Kevin Brown

Finally, here’s a  lecture by Charles Shields, author of the 2012 Vonnegut biography And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life

Harmful Untruths – An Interview with Kevin Brown

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s most enduring phrases is foma, harmless untruths that can make life easier. Yet Vonnegut also explored the opposite—harmful untruths, lies people believe which create havoc for individuals and society. Professor Kevin Brown, in an essay titled “No All Untruths are Harmless: Minor Characters’ Narratives in Slaughterhouse-Five,” examined how Vonnegut brought these harmful untruths to life in his classic novel.  Brown presented the essay to the Kurt Vonnegut Society at the American Literature Association conference in 2017.

Brown shared his thoughts with The Daily Vonnegut.

Q: There are two dominant critical interpretations of Billy Pilgrim’s creation of Tralfamadore in Slaughterhouse-Five. One sees it as a coping mechanism, the other as a means of escape. Which interpretation do you argue in your essay?  

A: I argue that Billy’s creation of Tralfamadore is a means of escape, that he is unable to cope with what he saw in Dresden and the emptiness of his life otherwise. I can understand how other critics view Tralfamadore as a creative and productive reaction for Billy, I just don’t see enough evidence in the novel that Billy ever copes with what he has experienced. His acceptance of the Tralfamadorian philosophy of fatalism (or quietism, as some say) seems to go against everything else Vonnegut seems to be doing in this novel and in his other works.

For the complete interview, click below:

Harmful Untruths – An Interview with Kevin Brown

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 25, 2018

Here’s this week’s question:

In 1999, Seven Stories Press published Like Shaking Hands with God, a conversation about writing between Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer.

What subject was Lee Stringer known for writing about?

a) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

b) Homelessness

c) Civil Disobedience

c) Military intervention in Central America

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question was C – Vonnegut’s essay “Teaching the Unteachable” was about learning to write well.

Here’s a 1999 clip from a commencement address delivered to Agnes Scott College in Georgia.  The text from the speech appeared in 2014 in If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, a collection of graduation speeches published by Seven Stories Press.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 18, 2018

Here’s another question from Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons:

In the essay “Teaching the Unteachable,” what subject does Vonnegut consider unteachable?

a) How to be happy

b) How to be a good spouse

c) How to write well

d) How to survive being a POW

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was A- The 1972 Republican Convention, which Vonnegut described as “Disneyland under martial law.”

Need help navigating the ups and downs of online life?  Jaya Saxena, on Electric Lit, offers “What Kurt Vonnegut Can Teach Us About Coping With the Internet.”

Thanks to Jim O’Loughlin for the sending the link to Electric Lit.  Check out this interview with Jim about new fiction inspired by Vonnegut’s work.

Jim O’Loughlin – The World of Kurt Vonnegut

O’Loughlin’s Vonnegut-inspired story, “I Need a Miracle,” is available here.

Finally, for more Vonnegut, here’s a 2005 appearance on CSPAN-2’s Book TV.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 11, 2018

Here’s another question from Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons:

In the essay “In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself,” first published in Harper’s Magazine, Vonnegut described which event as “Disneyland under martial law?”

a) The 1972 Republican Convention

b)  The 1968 Democratic Convention

c) The 1974 Super Bowl

d) The film set for the movie of Slaughterhouse-Five

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question was A – The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the subject of the essay, “Yes, We Have No Nirvanas.”

The essay “In a Manner That Must Shame God Himself” was referenced this week by Eric Ortiz in a column for the website Truthdig.com. Ortiz describes Vonnegut as a “master or irony.”  The essay is available here:    A County without a Heart

In the following clip, from an interview with Charlie Rose, Vonnegut discusses the film version of Mother Night.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of February 4, 2018

This week’s question is from Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons:

In the essay “Yes, We have No Nirvanas,” originally published in Esquire, Vonnegut writes about which real-life figure?

a) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

b) Timothy Leary

c) Wavy Gravy

d) Madame Blavatsky

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was B- Jailbird, which begins:   “Yes–Kilgore Trout is back again.  He could not make it on the outside.  That is no disgrace.  A lot of good people can’t make it on the outside.”

For more on Vonnegut, here’s a short interview from 1979 featuring Vonnegut, his daughter Edith, and TV Personality Gene Shalit.  Among the topics discussed is the off-Broadway musical adaptation of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Three Minutes with Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of January 28, 2018

Here’s another opening line from the work of Kurt Vonnegut:

Q: Which Vonnegut novel begins: “Yes–Kilgore Trout is back again.  He could not make it on the outside.  That is no disgrace.  A lot of good people can’t make it on the outside.”

a) Breakfast of Champions

b) Jailbird

c) Bluebeard

d) Timequake

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question is A- The Sirens of Titan, which begins, “Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.” 

For more on Vonnegut, here’s a review from The Times Literary Supplement on the recently published Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories.

So It Went

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of January 21, 2018

For this week’s question, here’s another opening line from a Vonnegut novel.

Q: Which novel begins with the sentence: ‘Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.”   

a) The Sirens of Titan

b) Cat’s Cradle

C) Hocus Pocus

D) Timequake

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to the January 7th question was B–Breakfast of Champions ends with the single word, “Etc.”

For more Vonnegut, here’s a 1989 interview featuring Kurt Vonnegut on The Dick Cavett Show.  Vonnegut discusses the then-current humanitarian crisis in Mozambique.

 

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of January 7, 2018

For this week’s question, we look at the ending line of a classic Vonnegut novel.

Q: Which novel ends with the abbreviation for “et cetera?”

a) Mother Night

b) Breakfast of Champions

C) Bluebeard

d) Hocus Pocus   

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question was D – Deadeye Dick, which begins with the sentence:   To the as-yet unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: watch out for life. 

Fore more Vonnegut, here’s the classic cameo from Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School.  The actor playing Dangerfield’s son, Keith  Gordon, would later direct the 1996 adaptation of Mother Night.

Vonnegut scholar Lawrence Broer on the evolution of Kilgore Trout

In a 2017 interview with The Daily Vonnegut, Professor Lawrence Broer discussed his 2011 book Vonnegut & Hemingway – Writers at War.  In the following excerpt, not included in last year’s interview, Broer discusses the evolution of Vonnegut’s most famous character, Kilgore Trout:

Q: How does the role of Vonnegut’s most famous character, Kilgore Trout, evolve from the early work to Trout’s final appearance in Timequake? 

A: Clearly Trout is Vonnegut’s most complex and intriguing fictional persona. His early appearance in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is to me ambiguous, neither wholly positive nor negative. On the one hand Trout’s condemnation of corporate greed and cruelty is vintage Vonnegut. Serving as advisor to Eliot’s father in preparation for Eliot’s sanity hearing, Trout argues the importance of valuing people without wealth or influence, eschewing the nonsensical notion that people are poor for the lack of trying. He praises Eliot’s devotion to volunteer firemen for the exemplary unselfishness that Eliot wants to emulate. On the other hand Trout gets a fifty thousand dollar consultant fee, and I find his speech about Eliot’s concept of “uncritical love” rhetorically pompous in contrast to Eliot’s personal and immediate suffering.

Vonnegut’s more ambitious plans for Trout as his own more bitter and cynical Trout-self become clear in Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions where Trout is described as that “unhappy failure” who represents all the artists who searched for truth and beauty without finding “doodly-squat!” We learn in Breakfast that Trout’s idea of the purpose of human life and, presumably, of his own artistic mission has been to be the eyes and ears and conscience of God, but that years of neglect and a growing sense of a life not worth living have made him temperamentally unfit for the task. He no longer harbors ideas about how things should be on earth, pouring his pessimism into books so demoralizing they drive readers like Dwayne Hoover crazy. Trout’s science fiction novel Now It Can Be Told convinces Dwayne people are nothing more than machines incapable of thinking, feeling, or making choices, so as machines he might as well treat them as inhumanely as he pleases. He subsequently embarks on a rampage that sends eleven people to the hospital.

What I had not sufficiently noticed before you got me re-reading was that the books by Trout that Eliot Rosewater introduces Billy Pilgrim to in Slaughterhouse-Five are all similarly cynical and despairing. Billy doesn’t just become Trout’s biggest fan, novels interwoven throughout Slaughterhouse-Five like Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension and The Gospel from Outer Space, about time travel and visitors from outer space shaped like Tralfamadorians (“by the way”) appear to inspire Billy’s lunatic fantasy of Tralfamadore where he comes to believe there is no such thing as free will and therefore no ability to influence his own life. It’s understanding this, I think, that when Billy’ asks his daughter who she would like to kill, she responds, “That wrier Kilgore Trout.”

While Trout appears cynical and even mean spirited in Slaughterhouse-Five, his appearance in Galapagos is outright sinister. Presaged in Breakfast of Champions, where we’re told Trout’s pessimism “destroyed his three marriages, and drove Leo, his son, away from home,” the life hating Trout of Galapagos encourages his son to kill himself, calling Leo’s curiosity about life foolish. When Leo says he wants more time to complete his research into the human mind and heart and into dehumanizing mechanistic structures, Trout tells him he is nothing better than a machine himself, that the more he learns about people, the more disgusted he will become. Yet in Timequake, Trout undergoes the most startling character transformation in Vonnegut’s work. While the novel opens with a list of the living dead, which once would have included “the cracked Messiah” Trout as Vonnegut calls him in Slaughterhouse-Five, and the author himself, it is the spirit of Jesus Christ and the Sermon on the Mount that comes to the fore, Trout as artist-shaman, offering a prayer for mercy and respect: “For Christ’s sake, let’s help more of our frightened people get through this thing, whatever it is.”

Vonnegut’s long suffering, most volatile literary figure finds himself the sole person not only to understand the destructive nature of “timequakes”—a psychic phenomenon that causes people to relive past experiences on “auto-pilot,” will-less and destined to make the same mistakes over again—but to oppose it in dramatic fashion by harnessing the power of language to battle timequake will-lessness and despair. He explains to those afflicted with will-lessness, “You were sick, but now you’re well and there’s work to do.” We read that poisoned with “Post Time Quake” apathy, Hemingway and Vonnegut’s mother may have killed themselves, “but not Kilgore Trout.” Vonnegut declares, “His “indestructible self-respect is what I loved most about Kilgore Trout.”

Trout is taken to the writer’s retreat at Xanadu where he is given the Ernest Hemingway suite, in which he lives out his final days as a healer battling the effect of PTA—post timequake inertia. Notably it is on Hemingway’s bed that Trout at first continues writing stories that threaten to infect his readers with his own disillusionment causing them to believe they can no more feel or reason than grandfather clocks. It’s Trout’s role as an irresponsible author that explains Vonnegut’s view of Hemingway as a writer like himself who has harmed readers with his own pessimistic belief that human beings are no better than robots in a meaningless world, fostering apathy that in turn fosters aggression. We recall for instance Jake Barnes’ cynicism as the close of The Sun Also Rises, Frederic Henry’s feelings of futility at the end of A Farewell to Arms, and Howard Campbell’s despairing realization in Mother Night that his Nazi broadcasts have given “shape and direction” to his listeners, turning them into homicidal monsters. Vonnegut sees how natural it would be for people to behave abominably after reading about people such a Frederic Henry or Dwayne Hoover in books. But with a nod to Rabo Karabekian’s awareness-making art in Bluebeard, Trout’s literary metamorphosis re-directs him to write stories combing traditional humanism with the openness and philosophical pluralism of Pablo Picasso’s paintings in the Museum of Modern Art. He expresses his contempt for “cruel inventions,” “irresistible forces in nature” and fictions with absolute moral codes, closed scripts that privilege masculine authority and contain romantic plots such as Vonnegut decries in A Farewell To Arms. If Vonnegut and Trout are still susceptible to the potentially fatal pull of PTA it is their hopeful voice inspired by their faith in the inviolability of human awareness the prevails in Timequake. 

Evoking the image of Trout in Slaughterhouse-Five as a “cracked Messiah, “and Trout’s existence as a fragment of Vonnegut’s own dived psyche, Vonnegut makes good on his promise in Breakfast of Champions to make Trout whole. “I have broken your mind to pieces,” he tells Trout. “I want to make it whole. I want you to feel a wholeness and inner harmony such as I have never allowed you to feel before.”

For more, read the entire 2017 interview with Broer:

Vonnegut and Hemingway – An Interview with Lawrence Broer

Vonnegut Trivia – January 1, 2018

Happy New Year from The Daily Vonnegut.  Thanks to all of those who visited the site in 2017.  We kick off this year’s trivia with the opening line from a Vonnegut novel.

Which novel begins with the following sentence: To the as-yet unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: watch out for life. 

a) Slapstick

b) Jailbird

c) Bluebeard

d) Deadeye Dick  

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question is B – God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, which begins with the sentence:  “A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.”

For more, visit our Vonnegut Video of the Month.

Vonnegut Trivia: Week of December 24, 2017

Happy Holidays from The Daily Vonnegut.  Thanks to everyone who has visited the site in 2017.  Here’s this week’s question:

Which Vonnegut novel begins with the following sentence:  “A sum of money is a leading character in this tale about people, just as a sum of honey might properly be a leading character in a tale about bees.”

a) The Sirens of Titan

b) God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

c) Bluebeard

d) Hocus Pocus

Check back next week for the correct response.   The answer to last week’s question was A – The Beatles. Vonnegut described the Fab Four as artists who made people “appreciate being alive at least a little bit.”

Interested in staying in a house built by Kurt’s grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut Jr.?  The summer rates are fit for a Rosewater, but the house features a view of Lake Maxinkuckee.  For more, visit www.Vonneguthouse.com.

 

Vonnegut Trivia: Week of December 17, 2017

This week’s question is from Timequake, Vonnegut’s last novel, published in 1997.

At the beginning of Timequake, Vonnegut writes that “a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.”  Who does Vonnegut identify as an artist(s) who pulled it off?

a) The Beatles

b) Laurel and Hardy

c) Bob and Ray

d) Benny Goodman

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question was C.  San Lorenzo is the small island nation on which much of Cat’s Cradle is set.

Still not done with your holiday shopping for the Vonnegut fan in your life?  Visit Vonnegut.com for gift ideas.

www.Vonnegut.com

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of December 10, 2017

This week’s question is from Cat’s Cradle, first published in 1963.

What is the name of the small island nation on which much of the novel is set?

a) San Marcos

b) St. Sebastian

c) San Lorenzo

d) San Simeon

Check back next week for the correct response.  The answer to last week’s question was Utopia-14, the alternative title under which Player Piano was once published.

In Vonnegut news, Variety has reported that a series based on Slaughterhouse-Five is now in development.  For more, read here.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of December 3, 2017

For this week’s question we visit Kurt Vonnegut’s debut novel, Player Piano.

Q:  Player Piano was also published under a different title.  What was it?

a) Utopia-14

b) The Revenge of the Machines

c) Illium 2000

d) Machine Head

We’ll be back next week with the correct response.  The answer to our last question is B.  In Hocus Pocus, Jack Patton invented an electric chair for rats.

Visitors or residents of Indianapolis are certain to have noticed the 38-feet painting of Vonnegut on the side of a building.  Now, Indianapolis is featuring a “Tiny Vonnegut” exhibit.  For more, see the article below at the Indy Star.

Tiny Vonnegut

 

 

 

 

The Many Vonneguts – An Interview with Zachary Perdieu

In 2016, Zachary Perdieu, co-Vice President of the Kurt Vonnegut Society, delivered a paper at the American Literature Association’s annual conference titled “’That was I. That was me.’ The Many Vonneguts and Their Relationship with Fiction.” In the following interview, Perdieu shares his thoughts on “the many Vonneguts” and how Vonnegut’s fiction may have predicted his own death.

Q: Vonnegut is well-known for inserting himself into his fiction, perhaps most prominently in Breakfast of Champions. In your research you found evidence of this approach in a much earlier work, Cat’s Cradle. What did you find?

A: In Jerome Klinkowitz’s book Vonnegut In Fact (1998), Klinkowitz explains that Vonnegut attempted to insert his surname, at the very least, into the narrative of Cat’s Cradle (1963). Funnily enough, Vonnegut had already blatantly placed a “Kurt Vonnegut” character in Mother Night that came out two years before Cat’s Cradle, but this character was presented as the editor of Howard W. Campbell Jr.’s memoir manuscript. This manuscript was fictional, of course, so the “editor” character Vonnegut presented was also a fictional projection of the author, himself. Apparently, this particular presentation of a Vonnegut-character was accepted by editors, but the idea of the author’s last name entering Cat’s Cradle two years later was viewed as literary malpractice, as Klinkowitz goes on to write, “Editors talked Vonnegut out of the idea as being too radical” when Vonnegut made this attempt in Cat’s Cradle because it would be seen as “violating the aesthetic distance that critics assume must exist between reality and the fictive” (111).

So Vonnegut was “present” as an editor-character in Mother Night in 1961, and then showed up again in 1969 in Chapter 1 of Slaughterhouse-Five and a few other places in the book. As you mentioned, Vonnegut as an author/character shows up most prominently in Breakfast of Champions in 1973, where the character is interacting and manipulating with the fictional universe around him. Simply put, in the book immediately preceding Cat’s Cradle and the two that followed in publication order, representations of Vonnegut as a character are all over the place. Despite this, his editors had censored this stylistic inclination out of Cat’s Cradle.

I was at Indiana University’s Lilly Library doing research in the Vonnegut archive for my master’s thesis, and on my final day I decided to look for evidence of Klinkowitz’s claim that Vonnegut had attempted to place himself in the work in an early draft of Cat’s Cradle that was present in the archive.

Read the entire interview here.

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of November 5, 2017

This week’s question will delve into Bokononism as we feature Vonnegut vocabulary.

Q:   What is a granfalloon?

a) harmless lies

b) a uniform worn by a Bokononist minister

c) a proud and meaningless association of human beings

d) a Bokononist marriage ceremony

Check back next week for the answer.  The correct response to last week’s question was #1 – Colliers was the first magazine to publish Vonnegut’s fiction.  “Report on the Barnhouse Effect” appeared in the magazine in 1950.

For more on the recently published Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories, check out The New York Times review by Jess Walter.

“How Kurt Vonnegut Found His Voice”

 

Vonnegut Trivia – Week of October 29, 2017

After a two-week hiatus, we’re back with more trivia.  This week’s question focuses on Vonnegut’s short fiction–all of which is now available in Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories, published last month by Seven Stories Press.

Q: “Report on the Barnhouse Effect” was Vonnegut’s first published story.  In which magazine did it appear?

  1. Colliers
  2. Saturday Evening Post
  3. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
  4. Esquire

Check in next week for the correct answer.  The answer to our last question was #2 – The Foster Portfolio.

For more on Vonnegut and his influence, see our recent essay by Zachary Perdieu, “What I Pretended to Be.”

“What I Pretended to Be” by Zachary Perdieu