Julia Whitehead – #Thanks to Kurt

Ever wish you could sit down and have a conversation with your favorite author? While a face to face talk with Kurt Vonnegut is no longer possible, the Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indiana has launched a project encouraging readers to share their thoughts and feelings in a Letter to Kurt. The Thanks to Kurt project, part of the Library’s website, helps readers share their thoughts and appreciation for Vonnegut’s life and work. In the interview below, Julia Whitehead, the Library’s Executive Director, explains more about the project.

Q: For those unfamiliar with it, please describe the #Thanks to Kurt project?

A: This blog on our website (but a project that we share with the very cool organization, Indy Hub) provides a venue for people to say whatever they want to say specifically to Kurt Vonnegut. Those of us who love the guy, wish we could tell him. There’s something about the creative process that deepens that connection and the process of creating does something for the mind and for the soul. Kurt would like that.

We don’t edit. We don’t censor. We just put it out there. And people really like the concept. Now we just need for them to start submitting.

Q: How did the idea for the project come about?

A: The idea for this project was the brainchild of a very talented young Indianapolis woman named Jenny Walton. As soon as Jenny shared her idea with me, she told her own story about being in Lithuania and turning to Vonnegut’s work for comfort. Everyone has his or her own Vonnegut story… how they came to recognizing the brilliance of Kurt, or the friendship of Kurt, or the kindness of Kurt, the sadness and loneliness of Kurt, or the black humor of Kurt. Each and every one of those stories matters to me. It’s like the writer of that story is sharing a special secret with me, a secret that I understand and appreciate. And I’m sure Jenny feels even more closely tied to this as it was her “baby” so to speak. Without the brilliant Jenny Walton of Indy Hub, we’d have no Thanks to Kurt blog.

You can find Jenny’s story at Jenny’s Story

Q: Several of the letters address Kurt’s role in helping people deal with difficult or challenging times in their personal lives. Why do you think Vonnegut’s work reaches people on such an intimate level?

A: Thankfully, Kurt included himself in his work. He didn’t always do this but when he did, people who already liked him began to love him. Knowing that he was an unsuccessful car dealer himself makes Breakfast of Champions that much more entertaining. I imagine Kurt keeping a sense of humor about things… laughing at the absurdity of it all. Kurt maintained a sense of humor throughout his life, which is pretty remarkable when you begin learning about even just a few of the incredibly horrible events of his life, from his mother’s suicide to his experience as a prisoner of war during the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. Kurt sharing this with us, the readers, helps us to cope with the events in our own lives. I think he was a romantic at heart so when you learn of divorce and other problems in his relationships, it’s easy to think of him as someone who understands. And he actually told his readers he understands. In Timequake, he wrote, “Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

And who can feel alone when you read Kurt’s work? Isn’t he right there laughing about body humor and crying about a sorrowful time right there with us? This is why we have to preserve these stories… so that they don’t get lost in all the words out there in the world. These are not just words but something more. There is soul here. There is an understanding that life is a struggle but the joyful times and the friendships and even just one really good book can lift the spirit. Kurt offers something very special that is hard to explain. He’s beyond a writer. It is the very reason we started the Vonnegut Library… to provide all of us with a place to share our thoughts and ideas and also a place to show our appreciation of Kurt. People who get it, really get it. They love us. And we love them right back.

Q: How does someone submit a letter?

A: After you write your letter (you are doing that tonight, right?), you can send it to us snail mail at the following address:

Thanks to Kurt

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

The Emelie Bldg.

340 N. Senate Ave.

Indianapolis, IN 46204

One day we received one in the mail from Lewis Black, another day we received about a dozen of them from students in Colorado (they will be online soon). We love them all!

If you’d like to send it electronically, please send it to ThanksToKurt@vonnegutlibrary.org. Jenny Walton sees them all.

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The Daily Vonnegut crew will be posting our own “Thanks to Kurt” in the next few days. We encourage our readers to do the same. Check out the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library at the following link:

Vonnegut Library