Vonnegut, Kurt 1922-2007 (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

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Vonnegut, Kurt 1922-2007 (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)


See index for CA sketch: Born November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, IN; died of complications from brain injuries sustained after a fall, April 11, 2007, in New York, NY. Author. Known for such novels as Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye Blue Monday, Vonnegut became popular in the 1960s and 1970s for writing novels that asked the big questions about society, religion, and the meaning of existence. He attended Cornell University and Carnegie-Mellon before America entered World War II. Enlisting in the Army, he served in Europe in the Infantry, including at the Battle of the Bulge. His unit was almost completely slaughtered, and after the battle he was captured by the Germans. Sent to a prisoner of war camp near Dresden, he was in an underground meat locker when the Allies bombed the city. The annihilation of thousands of citizens and the destruction of one of Germany's most beautiful cities would leave a lasting impression on him that would later enter into his fiction writing. After the war, he attended the University of Chicago for two years, but did not earn a degree (the university later granted him one, allowing him to use Cat's Cradle as his thesis). Instead, he found a job as a police reporter in Chicago and then worked in public relations for General Electric for three years. In 1950, he embarked on a freelance writing career. His first novel, Player Piano, was released in 1952. This was followed by The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), and Cat's Cradle (1963). Though this fourth novel sold a mere five hundred copies initially, it is now considered a classic that is often taught in high school courses, sometimes categorized as science fiction or fantasy. Vonnegut was not really aiming at genre fiction so much as he was fond of exploring ideas with his customary black humor and no-holds-barred experimentation. Cat's Cradle, for instance, sees the world destroyed because of a scientific discovery, while Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), still his best-known work, has its hero leaping from time to time within the span of his own life. Vonnegut freely inserted aliens, new religions, and off-the-wall scientific concepts into his books, and his philosophical ponderings made him especially popular with the youth counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. Later novels by Vonnegut include Galapagos (1985), Hocus Pocus (1990), and Timequake (1997). Unfortunately, the author was plagued by bouts of depression, especially after the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five, and he tried to commit suicide in 1984. Vowing off novels after its publication, he tried playwriting. Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970), a reworking of the earlier Penelope (1960), saw little success in its Off-Broadway production, however. Also the author of essays, he won an Emmy in 1985 for Displaced Person, and his nonfiction title A Man without a Country (2005) was a best-selling work. Amazingly, though, he won no major literary awards. He was presented a Bronze Medallion from Guild Hall in 1986 and named New York's State Author by the New York State Writers' Institute in 2001.



Chicago Tribune, April 12, 2007, Section 1, pp. 1, 6.

Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2007, pp. A1, 9-10.

New York Times, April 13, 2007, p. A18; April 14, 2007, p. A2.

Times (London, England), April 13, 2007, p. 66.

Washington Post, April 13, 2007, p. B7.