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.