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Biography: Kurt Vonnegut



“Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”

Kurt Vonnegut was one of the twentieth century’s greatest war and satire writers, revered by millions of readers everywhere.

Biography

Kurt Vonnegut Junior was born on the 11th of November 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to fourth generation German American parents. The depression hit his family very hard and unlike his two elder brothers, he attended Shortridge public high school. It was there he gained his first writing experience, editing the daily high school newspaper.

From 1940 to 1942 Vonnegut attended Cornell University where he studied biochemistry and was heavily involved with the student newspaper. In 1943, Vonnegut enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to study mechanical engineering at the Carnegle Institute of Technology and the University of Tennessee.

In 1944, Vonnegut served in Europe as part of the war effort. This was a particularly traumatic year for Vonnegut as his mother committed suicide on May 14th, which was Mother’s day. Vonnegut was captured in December of 1944 after spending several days separated from his battalion behind enemy lines. He was sent to Dresden, where he witnessed the firebombing of the city in February 1945.

Vonnegut was rescued by the Russians in May 1945, and returned to the USA. He married his high school sweetheart in September of that year, and also began graduate studies in anthropology at the University of Chicago. While studying, he worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. His thesis in anthropology was rejected, and he moved to New York to work for General Electric in their public relations department. In 1947, his son Mark was born, followed by his daughter Edith in 1949.

In 1950, Vonnegut and family moved to Cape Cod. He wrote his first novel, had another daughter (Nanette, 1954), and undertook a variety of employments. These included teaching English, working in advertising, and opening the first Saab dealership in the U.S., which was a failure.

In 1957, Kurt Vonnegut Senior died. The following year, Vonnegut’s sister died of cancer and her husband died in a train wreck within two days of each other. Vonnegut and his wife adopted their three children. While Vonnegut was steadily publishing books, his reputation was that of a science fiction writer, and it wasn’t until a couple of years after the publication of Cat’s Cradle, while Vonnegut was offered a residency at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop in 1965, that the critics noticed him and began to take him seriously. In 1966 and 1967, all his novels were reprinted and he began to develop a cult following.

In 1967, Vonnegut travelled to Dresden on a Guggenheim Fellowship to research what would become one of his most famous books, Slaughterhouse Five. This was published to great acclaim in 1969, and drew attention to his earlier works. Vonnegut went on to teach Creative Writing at Harvard University in 1970. In 1971, he was finally awarded his master’s degree from the University of Chicago (for Cat’s Cradle. He moved to New York city, separating from his wife.

In 1972, his son Mark suffered a schizophrenic breakdown. During the next couple of years, he had various honours bestowed upon him; such as university appointments and honorary doctorates. He remarried in 1979. In 1980, he had an exhibition of his art pieces. During this time, and probably well before, Vonnegut struggled with depression. In 1984 he attempted suicide. While this failed, he continued to write up until 1997, divorcing his second wife in 1991.

Kurt Vonnegut died on the 11th of April 2007 in New York, the result of brain injuries caused by a fall some weeks prior.

Bibliography

Fiction

Novels

  • Player Piano (1952)
  • The Sirens of Titan (1959)
  • Mother Night (1961)
  • Cat’s Cradle (1963)
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls Before Swine (1965)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death (1969)
  • Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye Blue Monday! (1973)
  • Slapstick; or, Lonesome No More! (1976)
  • Jailbird (1979)
  • Deadeye Dick (1982)
  • Galápagos: A Novel (1985)
  • Bluebeard The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916-1988) (1987)
  • Hocus Pocus (1990)
  • Timequake (1997)

Short stories and essays

  • Canary in a Cathouse (1961)—short stories
  • Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)—short stories
  • Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (opinions) (1974)—essays, assorted works
  • Palm Sunday (1981)—short stories, essays, assorted works
  • Nothing is Lost Save Honor (1984)—essays
  • Fates Worse than Death: an Autobiographical Collage (1990)—essays, assorted works
  • Bagombo Snuff Box (1999)—short stories
  • God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999)—fictional interviews
  • A Man Without a Country (2005)—essays

Plays

  • Penelope (1960)—revised as Happy Birthday, Wanda June in 1970
  • Requiem (1987)—music by Edgar David Grana
  • Make Up Your Mind (1993)
  • L’Histoire du Soldat (1993)—an adaptation

Genre

Kurt Vonnegut was originally classified as a science fiction author; however, he also wrote within the satire, short stories, and essays genres. His writing classes as contemporary literature and many of his works are considered to be excellent examples of post-modern literature.

References

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