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.