Kurt Vonnegut was a German-American writer, who is best known for his science fiction novels and satirical views. He is regarded as one of America’s most influential 20th Century author. During his lifetime, he published over a dozen fictional novels, a few autobiographies, and short stories.
He is most popular for his 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. The novel was partially fictional and partly an autobiography, recounting his experience as a prisoner of war; the movie adaptation of the novel was released in 1972. The novel met with both good reviews and commercial success as it became a New York Bestseller.
Who Was Kurt Vonnegut?
Kurt Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922, to Kurt Vonnegut Sr. and Edith Vonnegut. His parents were of German ancestry but were both born in the United States where they met, got married and in turn, gave birth to their own children. Kurt is the youngest child in his family with his older siblings being a brother, Bernard and a sister, Alice.
His father was an architect and a descendant of a very influential family. Kurt’s patriarchal grandfather founded the Vonnegut Hardware Company. It was established in Indiana and majorly deals with the merchandising of DIY materials such as fasteners, building materials, hand tools, power tools, keys, locks, hinges, chains, plumbing supplies, electrical supplies, cleaning products, etc. As an architect, Kurt Sr was responsible for designing the Bell Telephone Company building in Indiana, the Athenæum, and the Fletcher Trust Building, to mention just a few.
Vonnegut’s maternal lineage was also well to do as they were regarded as one of the richest families in Indianapolis. Her family attained such wealth from ownership of breweries. However, soon, all the wealth that the two families knew were no more. They were affected by the Great Depression of 1929 and had the tables turned. This forced Kurt Vonnegut to be sent to a public school – Public School No. 43, which is now known as the James Whitcomb Riley School. According to various sources, this didn’t bother him but bothered his parents as his father became withdrawn, while his mother became depressed and abusive.
For his senior high school education, Kurt attended Shortridge High School, where he began to write for the school’s newspaper. To further his education, he enrolled in at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York after graduating from high school in 1940. He spent three years at that institution studying biochemistry and later dropped out to enlist in the army. In the army, he was with the U.S Air Force and fought in the Battle of Bulge in 1944.
On December 22, 1944, he and 50 other soldiers were captured as prisoners of war in Germany. While a prisoner, he survived the Bombing of Dresden. His survival was as a result of shelter from an underground slaughterhouse.
After the war, he went back to the US and began a family with his high school sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox. With her, he had three children. He also worked as a reporter while pursuing a Masters degree in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. After obtaining his M.A, he moved over to another profession and became a public relations writer in New York. In his words, he was tired of the deception of the profession and decided to go into fiction writing in 1950.
What Was Kurt Vonnegut Known For?
Kurt Vonnegut is best known as an author. In describing his works, it is safe to say he wrote more of fiction; mostly science fiction with a blend of absurdity and black humor. He began writing novels in the early 1950s starting with short stories. His short stories were mostly centered around the future and technology, hence he labeled “a science fiction writer” by his critics.
His debut novel was published in 1952 which was titled Playing Piano. It was also a sci-fi novel and its plot revolved around a mechanized and automated world that was unsuccessfully resisted by a scientist. His second novel The Sirens of Titan (1959) was also a fiction novel that narrated a scenario where the human race was an accident on an alien planet.
He abandoned science fiction for a while when he released the novel Mother Night published in 1961. The novel explored the life of a playwright who was also a spy in the Nazi regime in Germany. He released several other novels in the following years and is best known for the New York Times bestseller, Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade. This novel shot Kurt Vonnegut to further acclaim and recognition.
In total, Vonnegut wrote and published 14 novels, 5 non-fiction, a few plays, and short stories. Posthumously, some of his unpublished works were published by his son and other publishers. They include Look at the Birdie (2009), While Mortals Sleep (2011), We Are What We Pretend to Be (2012) amongst others. He died on April 11, 2007, from a head injury he sustained several days earlier when he fell at his home.
Here Are 5 Key Facts About The Writer
1. Kurt Vonnegut has been married twice
The iconic writer and novelist was married twice; first to Jane Marie Cox, who he knew from his tender age all through to high school. They got married in 1945 after he returned from WWII and had three children together. The couple got divorced in 1971 and eight years later, he got married to Jill Krementz. He was still married to her at the time of his death in 2007.
2. He adopted his sister’s children
Vonnegut had three adopted children. Aside from his biological children from his first wife, he adopted his late sister’s three children after she died of cancer and the kids also lost their father in a train accident which rendered them orphans.
3. Recognitions and Honors
Due to his fecundity and prowess with the pen, he was well recognized in his lifetime. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition, he was honored by the establishment with the dedication of a library to his memory in 2010 at Indianapolis; it is called the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. This library not only promoted his work but culture and education as well.
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4. He was suicidal at some point
It will surprise you to know that this prolific and widely successful author was suicidal. At a time in his life, he fell into depression, and although the cause of that remained unknown, he attempted to take his life in 1984 but failed. He never attempted it again but later died of a head concussion.
5. Vonnegut’s mother committed suicide
In another sad event, Kurt’s mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day. She took an overdose of sleeping pills and was found dead at her husband’s home. His mother’s decision to take her life was due to the family’s dwindling fortunes as a result of the Great Depression – that took away both her husband’s wealth and her own family’s. When she could not get back to her former status after several attempts, she resorted to alcohol and prescription drugs.