Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

The following was taken right off the AP wire.  Vonnegut was one of the greatest American writers of the last century.  I’m currently in the midst of one of his short-stories collections.  His work and his life are an inspiration to all who strive to leave their mark by telling a story.  Here’s hoping his family uncovers some “lost” and previously unpublished work so that he can continue to have new success and be a voice for the sane in this insane world.  His words will surely live-on for decades to come.

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Associated Press – NEW YORK – In books such as “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle,” and “Hocus Pocus,” Kurt Vonnegut mixed the bitter and funny with a touch of the profound.

Vonnegut, regarded by many critics as a key influence in shaping 20th-century American literature, died Wednesday at 84. He had suffered brain injuries after a recent fall at his Manhattan home, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz.

In a statement, Norman Mailer hailed Vonnegut as “a marvelous writer with a style that remained undeniably and imperturbably his own. … I would salute him — our own Mark Twain.

 

“He was sort of like nobody else,” said another fellow author, Gore Vidal. “Kurt was never dull.”

Vonnegut’s works — more than a dozen novels plus short stories, essays and plays — contained elements of social commentary, science fiction and autobiography.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim (“Slaughterhouse-Five”) and Eliot Rosewater (“God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater”) as transparent vehicles for his points of view.

Vonnegut lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he felt were dehumanizing people.

“He was a man who combined a wicked sense of humor and sort of steady moral compass, who was always sort of looking at the big picture of the things that were most important,” said Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, a liberal magazine based in Chicago that featured Vonnegut articles.

Like “Catch-22,” by Vonnegut’s friend Joseph Heller, “Slaughterhouse-Five” was a World War II novel embraced by opponents of the Vietnam War, linking a so-called “good war” to the unpopular conflict of the 1960s and ’70s.

Victim of, advocate against censorship
Some of Vonnegut’s books were banned and burned for alleged obscenity. He took on censorship as an active member of the PEN writers’ aid group and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The American Humanist Association, which promotes individual freedom, rational thought and scientific skepticism, made him its honorary president.

Vonnegut said the villains in his books were never individuals, but culture, society and history, which he said were making a mess of the planet.

“I like to say that the 51st state is the state of denial,” he told The Associated Press in 2005. “It’s as though a huge comet were heading for us and nobody wants to talk about it. We’re just about to run out of petroleum and there’s nothing to replace it.”

Despite his commercial success, Vonnegut battled depression throughout his life, and in 1984, he attempted suicide with pills and alcohol, joking later about how he botched the job.

“I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations,” Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

Vonnegut was born on Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, and studied chemistry at Cornell University before joining the Army. His mother killed herself just before he left for Germany during World War II, where he was quickly taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. He was being held in Dresden when Allied bombs firebombed the German city.

“The firebombing of Dresden explains absolutely nothing about why I write what I write and am what I am,” Vonnegut wrote in “Fates Worse Than Death,” his 1991 autobiography of sorts.

But he spent 23 years struggling to write about the ordeal, which he survived by huddling with other POW’s inside an underground meat locker labeled slaughterhouse-five.

An iconoclast
The novel that emerged, in which Pvt. Pilgrim is transported from Dresden by time-traveling aliens, was published at the height of the Vietnam War, and solidified his reputation as an iconoclast.

After World War II, he reported for Chicago’s City News Bureau, then did public relations for General Electric, a job he loathed. He wrote his first novel, “Player Piano,” in 1951, followed by “The Sirens of Titan,” “Canary in a Cat House” and “Mother Night,” making ends meet by selling Saabs on Cape Cod.

Critics ignored him at first, then denigrated his deliberately bizarre stories and disjointed plots as haphazardly written science fiction. But his novels became cult classics, especially “Cat’s Cradle” in 1963, in which scientists create “ice-nine,” a crystal that turns water solid and destroys the Earth.

He retired from novel writing in his later years, but continued to publish short articles. He had a best-seller in 2005 with “A Man Without a Country,” a collection of his nonfiction, including jabs at the Bush administration (“upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography”) and the uncertain future of the planet.

He called the book’s success “a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life.”

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Kurt Vonnegut works:

— “Player Piano,” 1951

— “The Sirens of Titan,” 1959

— “Canary in a Cat House,” 1961 (short works)

— “Mother Night,” 1961

— “Cat’s Cradle,” 1963

— “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” 1965

— “Welcome to the Monkey House,” 1968 (short works)

— “Slaughterhouse-Five,” 1969

— “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” 1971 (play)

— “Between Time and Timbuktu,” 1972 (TV script)

— “Breakfast of Champions,” 1973

— “Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons,” 1974 (opinions)

— “Slapstick,” 1976

— “Jailbird,” 1979

— “Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage,” 1981 (essays)

— “Deadeye Dick,” 1982

— “Galapagos,” 1985

— “Bluebeard,” 1987

— “Hocus Pocus,” 1990

— “Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s,” 1991 (essays)

— “Timequake,” 1997

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Kurt Vonnegut Quotes:

I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

“If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.”

“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before… He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”

“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

“Humor is an almost physiological response to fear.”

“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.”

“Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.”

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

“All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

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3 comments on “Novelist Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84

  1. Yes, Kurt Vonnegut was an amazing writer; his work touched the lives of millions and he will not be forgotten.

  2. Thanks, David, for this in-depth post on Vonnegut.

  3. BeckyC says:

    For more on Kurt Vonnegut’s battle with depression, visit http://www.healthcentral.com/depression/kurt-vonnegut.html.
    Leaders from the mental health community pay tribute to Vonnegut, and discuss the profound social impact of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing and the significance of public figures opening up about depression.

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