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.