Sunday, March 8, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. - Biography

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)

ü      Kurt Vonnegut was an American writer and artist, famous for his combination of science fiction and dark humour.

ü      Vonnegut was a pacifist and supporter of the ACLU, and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association. He refused to pay taxes throughout the Vietnam War.

ü      His most famous books are Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions.

ü      Vonnegut taught English at Harvard and City College in New York.

ü      In 2011 his home town of Indianapolis opened the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. They also painted a large mural for him on Mass. Avenue.

ü      In 1999 an asteroid was named after him.

Personal Life:

Kurt was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. His parents were German-American. His father and grandfather were both architects, who graduated from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Kurt had a brother and sister. He and his brother both studied chemistry in university.

Kurt enlisted in the army during WWII, during which time his mother committed suicide with sleeping pills. He worked first as a scientist and engineer, but was transferred to combat, and was captured during the Battle of the Bulge. He was taken to a prison camp in Dresden, and made prison leader because he spoke some German. Kurt and some other POW's survived the bombing of Dresden because they'd been locked up in the basement meat locker of Schlachthof Fünf. Afterwards, he and the other POW's had to dig up all the dead German civilians and burn them with flame throwers, while survivors threw rocks at him. He was later liberated by the Russians, and won many military awards. This experience became the basis for many of his books, including. Slaughterhouse-Five, considered one of the best novels of the 20th century.

Following the war, Kurt married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Cox, and went to the University of Chicago to study anthropology, although he admitted he was a poor student. He worked in a variety of jobs, as a journalist, a technical writer for General Electric, and a volunteer fire fighter. He tried and failed to write a news article for Sports Illustrated, about a runaway horse. After sitting in front of his type writer all morning, he typed, "The horse jumped over the fucking fence," and quit. In 1957 he moved to Cape Cod.

Kurt's first novel, Cat's Cradle, published in 1963, was also his anthropology thesis, eventually earning him a master of arts in 1971. It became a best seller and encouraged him to keep going. He and Jane separated in 1970, and Kurt began living with photographer Jill Krementz. Kurt raised seven children. He and Jane had three. He adopted his sister's three children, after she died of cancer, and their father died in a train wreck. Later, he and Jill adopted a girl. He named his son after Mark Twain. Their daughter Lily is producer of a terrible animation series on Youtube called The Most Popular Girls In School. Kurt died after falling down a flight of stairs and hitting his head, age 84.

Kurt was critical of George Bush, saying, "The only difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected." When others complained that his words were hurting the morale of soldiers, Kurt responded, "By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."

Kurt once explained the difference between writing and drawing. "In a picture there may be 10 or 12 significant details. On a printed page there are 2,500 . . . If you make a mistake on a picture it's satisfying to wad it up and toss it out. When you have to do that with a written page, it's a more depressing failure."

Kurt also wrote the following rules for composing a short story, admitting that great writers often break them:

1.      Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2.      Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3.      Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4.      Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5.      Start as close to the end as possible.

6.      Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7.      Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8.      Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

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