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Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: (vŏn´əgət) 1922–2007, American novelist, b. Indianapolis. After serving in a World War II combat unit, he worked as a police reporter. Marked by wry black humor, Vonnegut's satirical, pessimistic, and morally urgent novels often portray the world as a place of cruelty and indifference and frequently protest the horrors of the 20th cent., as in the best-selling Slaughterhouse-Five (1969; film, 1972), centered on the horrific firebombing of Dresden, which Vonnegut witnessed. His fiction spoke with particular forcefulness to the generation that came of age in the 1960s and 70s. Vonnegut's books frequently include elements of science fiction, featuring fantastic plots and sometimes involving such devices as trips in outer space, time faults, and apocalyptic destruction. Among his other novels are Player Piano (1952), Mother Night (1961; film, 1996), Cat's Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), Breakfast of Champions (1973; film, 1999), Deadeye Dick (1983), Bluebeard (1987), and the novel-memoir Timequake (1997). He also wrote short stories, plays, and essays, e.g., the collections Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (1974), The Man without a Country (2005), and the posthumously published Armageddon in Retrospect (2008).

See his semiautobiographical Fates Worse than Death (1991); W. R. Allen, ed., Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut (1988) and P. J. Reed and M. Leeds, Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays (1996); D. Wakefield, ed., Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (2012); biography by C. J. Shields (2011); studies by P. J. Reed (1972 and 1997), S. Schatt (1976), J. Lundquist (1977), J. Klinkowitz (1982, 2004, and 2009), R. Merrill, ed. (1990), L. Mustazza (1990 and 1994), W. R. Allen (1991), D. E. Morse (1992 and 2003), H. Bloom, ed. (2000), K. A. Boon, ed. (2001), T. F. Marvin (2002), J. Tomedi (2004), and T. F. Davis (2006); M. Leeds, The Vonnegut Encyclopedia (1995).

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Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr

VONNEGUT, Kurt, Jr.

Nationality: American. Born: Indianapolis, Indiana, 11 November 1922. Education: Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, 1936-40; Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1940-42; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1943; University of Chicago, 1945-47. Military Service: Served in the United States Army Infantry, 1942-45: Purple Heart. Family: Married 1) Jane Marie Cox in 1945 (divorced 1979), one son and two daughters, and three adopted sons; 2) the photographer Jill Krementz in 1979, one daughter. Career: Police reporter, Chicago City News Bureau, 1946; worked in public relations for the General Electric Company, Schenectady, New York, 1947-50. Since 1950 freelance writer. After 1965, teacher, Hopefield School, Sandwich, Massachusetts. Visiting lecturer, Writers Workshop, University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1965-67, and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1970-71; visiting professor, City University of New York, 1973-74. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1967; American Academy grant, 1970. M.A.: University of Chicago, 1971; D. Litt.: Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York, 1974. Member: American Academy, 1973. Lives in New York City. Address: c/o Donald C. Farber, Tanner Gilbert Propp and Sterner, 99 Park Avenue, 25th Floor, New York, New York 10016, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Player Piano. New York, Scribner, 1952; London, Macmillan, 1953; as Utopia 14, New York, Bantam, 1954.

The Sirens of Titan. New York, Dell, 1959; London, Gollancz, 1962.

Mother Night. New York, Fawcett, 1962; London, Cape, 1968.

Cat's Cradle. New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Gollancz, 1963.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls Before Swine. New York, Holt Rinehart, and London, Cape, 1965.

Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children's Crusade. New York, Delacorte Press, 1969; London, Cape, 1970.

Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye, Blue Monday. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1973.

Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More! New York, Delacorte Press, andLondon, Cape, 1976.

Jailbird. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1979.

Deadeye Dick. New York, Delacorte Press, 1982; London, Cape, 1983.

Galápagos. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Cape, 1985.

Bluebeard. New York, Delacorte Press, 1987; London, Cape, 1988.

Hocus Pocus; or, What's the Hurry, Son? New York, Putnam, andLondon, Cape, 1990.

Three Complete Novels. New York, Wings Books, 1995.

Timequake. New York, G.P. Putnam's, 1997.

Short Stories

Canary in a Cat House. New York, Fawcett, 1961.

Welcome to the Monkey House: A Collection of Short Works. NewYork, Delacorte Press, 1968; London, Cape, 1969.

Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction. New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1999.

Plays

Happy Birthday, Wanda June (as Penelope, produced Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 1960; revised version, as Happy Birthday, Wanda June, produced New York, 1970; London, 1977). New York, Delacorte Press, 1970; London, Cape, 1973.

The Very First Christmas Morning, in Better Homes and Gardens (Des Moines, Iowa), December 1962.

Between Time and Timbuktu; or, Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy (televised 1972; produced New York, 1976). New York, Delacorte Press, 1972; London, Panther, 1975.

Fortitude, in Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons, 1974.

Timesteps (produced Edinburgh, 1979).

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, adaptation of his own novel (produced New York, 1979).

Television Plays:

Auf Wiedersehen, with Valentine Davies, 1958;Between Time and Timbuktu, 1972.

Other

Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons: Opinions. New York, DelacortePress, 1974; London Cape, 1975.

Sun Moon Star. New York, Harper, and London, Hutchinson, 1980.

Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage. New York, DelacortePress, and London, Cape, 1981.

Nothing Is Lost Save Honor: Two Essays. Jackson, Mississippi, Nouveau Press, 1984.

Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, edited by William Rodney Allen. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1988.

Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s. New York, Putnam, 1991.

Like Shaking Hands with God: A Conversation about Writing (withLee Stringer). New York, Seven Stories Press, 1999.

God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian. New York, Seven Stories Press, 2000.

*

Bibliography:

Kurt Vonnegut: A Comprehensive Bibliography by Asa B. Pieratt, Jr., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz, Hamden, Connecticut, Archon, 1987.

Critical Studies:

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., by Peter J. Reed, New York, Warner, 1972; Kurt Vonnegut: Fantasist of Fire and Ice by David H. Goldsmith, Bowling Green, Ohio, Popular Press, 1972; The Vonnegut Statement edited by Jerome Klinkowitz and John Somer, New York, Delacorte Press, 1973, London, Panther, 1975, Vonnegut in America: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Kurt Vonnegut edited by Klinkowitz and Donald L. Lawler, New York, Delacorte Press, 1977, Kurt Vonnegut, London, Methuen, 1982 and Slaughterhouse Five: Reforming the Novel and the World, Boston, Twayne, 1990, both by Klinkowitz; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. by Stanley Schatt, Boston, Twayne, 1976; Kurt Vonnegut by James Lundquist, New York, Ungar, 1977; Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels by Richard Giannone, Port Washington, New York, Kennikat Press, 1977; Kurt Vonnegut: The Gospel from Outer Space by Clark Mayo, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1977; Vonnegut's Duty-Dance with Death: Theme and Structure in Slaughterhouse-Five by Monica Loeb, Ume[ao], Sweden, Ume[ao] Studies in the Humanities, 1979; Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut edited by Robert Merrill, Boston, Hall, 1990; Forever Pursuing Genesis: The Myth of Eden in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut by Leonard Mustazza, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Bucknell University Press, 1990; Understanding Kurt Vonnegut by William Rodney Allen, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1991; Kurt Vonnegut by Donald E. Morse, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1992; Critical Response to Kurt Vonnegut edited by Leonard Mustazza, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1994; Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut by Lawrence R. Broer, Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1994; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Slaughterhouse-Five, edited by Tonnvane Wiswell and M. Fogiel, illustrations by Matteo DeCosmo, Piscataway, New Jersey, Research & Education Association, 1996; The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut by Peter J. Reed, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1997; Chaos Theory and the Interpretation of Literary Texts: The Case of Kurt Vonnegut by Kevin A. Boon, Lewiston, New York, Edwin Mellen Press, 1997; Wholeness Restored: Love of Symmetry as a Shaping Force in the Writings of Henry James, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Butler and Raymond Chandler by Ralf Norrman, Frankfurt am Main and New York, P. Lang, 1998; Kurt Vonnegut, edited by Harold Bloom, Philadelphia, Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.

* * *

During the 1960s Kurt Vonnegut emerged as one of the most influential and provocative writers of fiction in America. His writing, indeed, constitutes an unremitting protest against horrors of the 20th centurythe disastrous wars, the deterioration of the environment, and the dehumanization of the individual in a society dominated by science and technology. Such protest is by no means new in literature. The peculiar force of Vonnegut's voice may be traced to its complete contemporaneity. Fantasy (usually of the science variety), black humor, a keen sense of the absurd are the ingredients of his novels and stories.

Vonnegut has described himself as "a total pessimist." And indeed his writing offers little except wry laughter to counteract despair. This is certainly true of his first novel, Player Piano. The time of the story is the not-too-distant future and the place is an industrial city, Ilium, New York, which serves as the setting for much of Vonnegut's fiction and which resembles Schenectady, New York, where Vonnegut once worked in public relations. In the novel not only the local industry but industries throughout the nation have been completely mechanized. Machines supplant human workers because machines make fewer errors. All national policy is determined by huge computers located in Mammoth Cave. A small elite of scientists are in charge of all production. The masses, who are provided with all material necessities and comforts, including an impressive array of gadgetry, serve in either military or work battalions. Acutely aware of their dehumanization and worthlessness except as consumers of the huge output of the machines, the common people revolt under the leadership of a preacher and several renegade scientists. Though the revolt in Ilium, at least, is successful and many of the objectionable machines are destroyed, Vonnegut denies his readers any sense of satisfaction. He records that the rebels destroyed not only obnoxious machinery but also useful and necessary technological devices such as sewage disposal plants. Also, they soon began to tinker with the unneeded machines with a view to making them operative again. In the face of such inveterate stupidity the leaders suicidally surrender to the government forces.

An obvious question arises: Why should Vonnegut or his readers concern themselves with the dehumanization of apparent morons?What, indeed, is there to be dehumanized? An answer is not readily forthcoming, but perhaps Vonnegut believes that there is some value in trying to save humanity from its own stupidity. In each novel there is at least one person who is aware of human folly, and thus is living proof that intellectual blindness is not universal. More frequently than not, these discerning individuals are reformers, as in Player Piano, who make self-sacrificing efforts to improve the lot of their fellow beings. Thus The Sirens of Titan, which in plot is a rather conventional example of science fiction with an interplanetary setting, has as its reformer a man who, having been rendered immortal, omniscient, and virtually omnipotent by entrapment in a "chrono-synclasticinfundibulum," sets about uniting all nations of the world in bonds of brotherhood by staging an abortive attack against the earth by Martians. The latter are earthlings abducted to Mars and converted to automatons by the insertion in their skulls of radio antennae through which orders are transmitted from a central directorate. These unfortunates are thus subjected to ruthless dehumanization and exploitation, but for a worthwhile end. The scheme is successful; the earth becomes united after the defeat of the Martians and the unity is cemented by the establishment of a new religionthe Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. The happy outcome is somewhat clouded, however, by the revelation that all human history has been determined by the trivial needs of the inhabitants of the planet Tralfamadore in one of the more remote galaxies.

Cat's Cradle and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls Before Swine also focus upon the efforts of altruistic individuals to alleviate misery. Cat's Cradle presents an entirely new religion, Bokonism, (named for its founder, Bokonon), much of the doctrine of which is written in Calypso verse. According to Bokonism religion should be an opiate; its function is to deceive and, by deceiving, make people happy. It teaches that God directs human destinies and that humankind is sacred, and it promotes an ethic of love, which believers manifest by pressing the soles of their feet against those of fellow believers. Bokonism was founded and flourished on a Caribbean island oppressed by a Duvalier-type dictator. It flourished because it was outlawed, for, according to Cat's Cradle at least, a religion functions most vigorously when opposed to the existing social order. There can be no doubt that Bokonism brings relief to the wretched islanders, the final horror of whose existence is that of being congealed, along with the rest of the world, by ice-nine, a discovery of an Ilium scientist. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Goodbye, Blue Monday recounts the efforts of an enormously wealthy man to alleviate human misery through the more or less random disbursement of the Rosewater Foundation's almost limitless funds.

Two other novels, Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children's Crysade, both of which focus on World War II, contain no such reformers or philanthropists. In these the protagonists are never really in a position to be altruistic, even though they wish to be. In Mother Night Howard W. Campbell, Jr., serves schizophrenically as the Nazis' chief English-language radio propagandist at the same time that he is one of the allies' most effective spies. Years after the war he finds himself in an Israeli prison awaiting trial along with Adolf Eichmann. Here he commits suicide, even though a bizarre turn of events has ensured his acquittal. He realizes that one who has played his dual roles has betrayed beyond recovery his own humanitya realization achieved by few Vonnegut characters in analogous situations.

Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children's Crusade, perhaps Vonnegut's most impressive novel, presents two characters who can see beneath the surface to the tragic realities of human history but make no attempt to bring about a change. These are the author himself, who is a frequent commentator, and the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim. The central event is the fire-bombing of Dresdena catastrophe that Vonnegut had witnessed as a prisoner of war. Billy Pilgrim's liberating insights are the outgrowth of his being freed from the prison of time and, as a result, seeing the past, present and future as one and coexistent. One consequent realization is that death is an illusion. Though his periods of release from time occur on earth, their significance is explained to him by inhabitants of the distant planet Tralfamadore, to which he is transported on a Tralfamadorian spaceship. Though Billy finds no way to improve the tragically absurd condition of humanity, he does arrive at an understanding of it and a resultant deepening of compassion.

Four novels after Slaughterhouse-Five Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye, Blue Monday, Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More!, Jailbird, and Deadeye Dick continue to satirize human folly in its contemporary manifestations, still relying on fantasy, black humor, and the absurd as tools of satire. Yet their tone differs from that of the earlier fiction. The seriousness of theme and, above all, the compassion implicit in such books as Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five are all but absent. Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More!, indeed, would be appropriate as a title for any of the four. Fun and wit and laughs aplenty are not lacking, but thought is in short supply. The clown has shoved aside the thinker. But in the novel following these four, Galápagos, Vonnegut achieves a more subtle and more effective irony. For an epigraph he quotes from Anne Frank's Diary: "In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart." Though Vonnegut, or the narrator, declares that he agrees with this statement, the characters and events in the novel provide overwhelming evidence that most people are evil at heart. According to the novel, human beings have used their "big brains"evolution's prized giftto destroy themselves and the world they live in. But when, by a fantastic series of events that only Vonnegut could dream up, the human species is reduced to only ten individuals marooned on the Galápagos Islands, a reverse process of evolution sets in, the "big brains" disappear, and after a million years the human species is transformed into a gentle, seal-like mammal which actually is "good at heart."

In Galápagos there is a haunting quality that is not sustained in two later novelsBluebeard and Hocus Pocus; or, What's the Hurry, Son? The protagonist in Bluebeard is an artist, one of the founders of the abstract expressionist school of painting but later a fanatical representationalist. His great opus, which he keeps locked in a potato barn on Long Island, is an eight-by-sixty-four foot depiction of a World War II scene, presenting each object and every one of innumerable men and women in the minutest detail. Most of the satire, which is gentler than in most of Vonnegut's work, is directed against artists and writers, though peripherally other matters such as war and genocide are dealt with. Hocus Pocus; or, What's the Hurray, Son? roams over a wider field of ills: the deterioration of American education, the "buying of America" by the Japanese, the Vietnam war, the prison system, and racism.

The narrator of Hocus Pocus remarks: "All I ever wanted to overthrow was ignorance and self-serving fantasies." Later he asserts: "The truth can be very funny in an awful way, especially as it relates to greed and hypocrisy." These two statements admirably sum up Vonnegut's intention and tone in most of his fiction. To achieve his purposes (and perhaps to carry along readers with short attention spans) he employs a technique, especially in his later novels, of breaking his narratives into brief sections of no more than a paragraph, in which he recounts an anecdote that more often than not ends with a punch line. The effect somewhat resembles the performance of a stage or television comedian, though with Vonnegut there is an underlying seriousness.

Timequake was Vonnegut's first novel after a seven-year silenceand, as he revealed publicly, it was to mark the end of his career. Actually, "novel" is a bit of a strong word to apply to what is really a collection of observations, or sketches for a novel, that Vonnegut's sci-fi writer alter-ego Kilgore Trout would have written if he'd gotten around to it. The premise is that "a sudden glitch in the space-time continuum" has forced everyone to repeat the period from 1991 to 2001 without being able to change a thing.

On 30 January 2000, fire struck Vonnegut's New York brown-stone; he suffered smoke inhalation, but survived.

Perry D. Westbrook,

updated by Judson Knight

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Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr

Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr (1922– ) US novelist. He often draws on the conventions of fantasy to satirize the horrors of the 20th century. Vonnegut's novels, which experiment with time and narrative structure, include Player Piano (1952), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), and Hocus Pocus (1991). His short stories were collected in Welcome to the Monkey House (1968). Other works include Three Complete Novels (1995).

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Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr.

VONNEGUT, Kurt, Jr.

(b. 11 November 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana), novelist and essayist whose offbeat characters and dark comedy echoed the disillusionment of a generation sullied by war, corporate greed, and government corruption, and who rose to prominence with the publication of Slaughterhouse-five (1969), a novel about the U.S. bombing of Dresden, Germany, during World War II.

Vonnegut, the third child of Kurt Vonnegut, an architect, and Edith Lieber, a homemaker, began writing at Short-ridge High School (1936–1940), working as a columnist and editor for the Shortridge Daily Register. His journalistic interests continued at Cornell University (1940–1942) in Ithaca, New York, where he managed and wrote for the Cornell Sun while majoring in biochemistry. At Cornell, Vonnegut felt "marginal [and] somehow slightly off-balance all the time," a feeling he credits with making him a writer, and which led to his literary style that emerged in the 1960s. He did not graduate from Cornell.

Vonnegut served in the U.S. Army (infantry) during World War II and received the Purple Heart. Several events occurred during 1944 and 1945 that further shaped Vonnegut's writing and the direction of his life. In May 1944 his mother committed suicide. In December 1944 he was captured by the Nazis during the Battle of the Bulge and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Dresden, Germany, where, on 13 February 1945 he survived the infamous fire-bombing of the city by Allied forces. The city was decimated in the attack—more than 50,000 civilians were killed—and Vonnegut's captors forced him to remove corpses from the resulting rubble. In May 1945 he was freed by Russian soldiers. Three months later, on 6 August, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, resulting in the deaths of more than 200,000 people. Much of Vonnegut's disillusionment with humanity and human systems—government, business, religion, science—is traceable to these early experiences. Vonnegut said of the Hiroshima bombing, "I was a great believer in truth, scientific truth, and then … truth was dropped on Hiroshima.… I was hid eously disappointed."

After the end of the war, Vonnegut married Jane Marie Cox on 1 September 1945, enrolled at the University of Chicago, and began working toward a master's degree in anthropology. He continued to write, taking a job as a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau. When his master's thesis was rejected by the university, Vonnegut took a job as a publicist for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York, to support his wife and two children, a son born in 1947 and a daughter born in 1949. He also began writing short stories. Vonnegut's first published story, "Report on the Barnhouse Effect," appeared in the 11 February 1950 edition of Colliers magazine; he vowed to quit his job at General Electric when he sold four or five more stories.

Writing turned out to be a lucrative enterprise, and Vonnegut soon moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, to write full time. He published more than fifty short stories between 1950 and 1966. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1952. The book, a postmodern version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), was dismissed by critics who categorized it as science fiction. It was reprinted in 1954, the year his second daughter was born, with the title Utopia 14. Between 1954 and 1956 Vonnegut worked a number of jobs to support his growing family while struggling to establish himself as a writer. He was employed at an automobile dealership and an advertising agency and also taught English. Meanwhile, he faced the death of more family members: his father died in 1957, and in 1958 his beloved sister died of cancer within twenty-four hours of her husband's death in a train accident. Vonnegut adopted three of their children.

After the publication of The Sirens of Titan in 1959, Vonnegut began to garner a cult following of hip, young readers in search of alternative literary works and writers. Baby boomers, who were center stage during the 1960s, found that Vonnegut's writings mirrored their own search for self apart from war, racism, sexism, capitalist greed, and corrupt politics. Vonnegut's prose, like his audience, was playfully irreverent, critical of corporate and political monoliths, fresh, innovative, funny, and intimately focused on the individual.

Vonnegut's early novels addressed issues similar to those reshaping U.S. culture in the 1960s. While America's youth rebelled against tradition and struggled to make sense of their lives and their world, Vonnegut published Mother Night (1962), a story of war-crime tribunals and fascism that questions our ability to distinguish good from evil; Cat's Cradle (1963), a story of worldwide apocalypse that critiques the indifference of science and the arbitrariness of religion; and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), a story of inherited wealth that exposes the absurdity of materialism and the inhumanity of greed. In particular, the publication of Cat's Cradle extended Vonnegut's appeal and helped to establish him as a major figure in American literature and the avuncular voice of a disillusioned generation.

By 1965 Vonnegut's reputation as a writer had grown enough for him to land a resident teaching position with the acclaimed writer's workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. In 1967 he stopped teaching at Iowa and returned to Germany on a Guggenheim Fellowship to research a new book, Slaughterhouse-five. Published in 1969, the novel fuses a true accounting of Vonnegut's experiences in Dresden with the fantastic tale of a man who is kidnapped by aliens and becomes "unstuck in time." This story outlining the senselessness and unavoidability of war captivated popular audiences and gained critical attention, conflating the categories of literature and popular fiction. Laudatory reviews in the New York Times Book Review and other influential periodicals cemented Vonnegut's reputation as an important American author. According to Jerome Klinkowitz, an English professor and noted authority on Vonnegut's work, Slaughterhouse-five so "perfectly caught America's transformative mood that its story and structure became best-selling metaphors for the new age." Ironically, Vonnegut at first thought the book was a failure, but in light of its warm reception he amended his opinion.

After the publication of Slaughterhouse-five, Vonnegut briefly taught creative writing at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he worked on Happy Birthday, Wanda June, a play based on Penelope, which he had written around 1960. Happy Birthday, Wanda June debuted on Broadway in March 1971, the same year the University of Chicago accepted Cat's Cradle as Vonnegut's long overdue thesis and awarded him a master's degree in anthropology. In 1972 Slaughterhouse-five was made into a popular movie, and Vonnegut's reputation grew. In 1973 he published Breakfast of Champions, his second most popular work, and became the distinguished professor of English prose at the City University of New York. He published two more novels and a collection of essays during the remainder of the 1970s, but none achieved the success and critical attention of his previous works. In 1979 Vonnegut divorced his first wife; he married the photographer Jill Krementz on 24 November 1979, and the couple adopted a daughter. In 1982 Vonnegut published Deadeye Dick. In 1984, suffering from severe depression, he attempted suicide with alcohol and sleeping pills.

Vonnegut's next three novels, Galápagos (1985), Blue-beard (1987), and Hocus Pocus (1990), recapture the insight of his work during the 1960s, but with an added maturity. During the 1980s and 1990s Vonnegut was frequently asked to comment on events in popular culture. As a spokesperson for the children of the 1960s, Vonnegut opposed government appropriation of the rights of the individual and was adamantly against nuclear proliferation. After Slaughterhouse-five was banned by a number of school libraries—and even burned at a school in Drake, North Dakota—Vonnegut became an unassuming voice for the First Amendment rights of individual expression, calling such acts of censorship "ignorant, dumb, superstitious … [and] cowardly."

Despite the dark and serious subject matter of his work, Vonnegut, like the audience that embraced him, never sacrificed his sense of humor. Although his works confront irresolvable issues about war, wealth, politics, bureaucracy, death, insanity, and identity in their search for humanity and basic decency, they are always witty and often hilarious. In the 1960s Vonnegut's literary technique challenged traditional forms and paralleled similar movements in art and music. Like the art of Andy Warhol and the music of the Beatles, his novels threw into question notions of high and low art. Vonnegut eventually became, in the fashion of Mark Twain, a gentleman of American letters, one whose perception of the human condition awes us in its concision and whose message for a disillusioned generation is simply to "respect one another." His writings repeatedly return to the same request: to behave with common courtesy, act humanely, and be kind to one another.

No book-length biographies of Vonnegut exist, but several of his works are autobiographical, such as Wampeters, Foma, andGranfalloons (1974), Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage (1981), and Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s (1991). Information about Vonnegut is also in Jerome Klinkowitz, The American 1960s: Imaginative Acts in a Decade of Change (1980), and William R. Allen, Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut (1988).

Kevin Alexander Boon

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