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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  

A participant of World War Two, Vonnegut's tragic, yet humorous view of life was shaped by his experiences. He used science fiction to comment on the absurdities of modern life. His most famous novel is "Slaughterhouse-Five."
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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)

 

Brief Biography

With the publication of "Slaughterhouse-Five" in 1969, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. became, as some suggest, a hero to those opposed to war  ( especially the Vietnam War).  In writing the novel, Vonnegut recalled his time as a German prisoner of war.  Confined in an underground slaughterhouse meat locker with other Americans while the city of Dresden was being fired bombed, he was forced to remove burnt bodies from the smoldering ruins of the city after the bombings, all the while being pelted with rocks by the enraged survivors.  The experience was seared in his memory.  Other experiences shaped his view of life: the suicide of his mother on Mother's Day in 1944 while he was on leave, the death of his sister in 1957, two days after the tragic death of her husband in a train accident.  Vonnegut survived these sad events, even adopting three of his sister's children eventhough he and his wife had three children of their own.  His cynicism about life did not apply to the care of his family and relatives (although he divorced his wife).

Vonnegut was born in 1922 in Indianapolis, IN.   Both of his parents suffered through the Great Depression.  His father was an architect who saw his practice disappear as the depression drove people out of work.  His mother tried to earn some money by writing short stories, but was not successful.  Sadly, she committed suicide in 1944.   At his father's urging, Vonnegut enrolled in Cornell University as a biochemistry major.  A poor student, he left Cornell in 1942 and joined the U.S. army.  He was sent to Europe and served in the infantry.  He was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was  sent to a POW camp in Dresden.  He and other POWs worked in a factory during the day and were confined in a basement meat locker at night.  The confinement proved to be a blessing as it protected him and his fellow Americans  from the terrible fires when the  Allies firebombed Dresen in the winter of 1945.  He and others were forced to remove many dead civilians and carry the bodies to funeral pyres.  It was a experience Vonnegut would never forget.  He was freed after the Russians took the city.  When he returned to the United States he married his high school sweetheart and went back to school   His M.A. thesis was rejected by the University of Chicago.  Not one to let setbacks depress him,  he worked as a news writer and police reporter. In 1947, Vonnegut moved to Schenectady New York where he worked as a publicist for General Electric.  He began to write short fiction and was successful.  In 1951 he published his first novel, "Player Piano."  The late 50's and 60's were productive and eventful years for Vonnegut.  He published  "The Sirens of Titan,", "Cat's Cradle," "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" and "Slaughterhouse-Five".   In 1970, he separated from his wife.  He published "Breakfast of Champions" in 1973.  Other novels appeared despite his claim that he was running out of steam.   Despite his success ( or maybe because of it), Vonnegut attempted suicide in 1984.   He worked his way out of whatever was troubling him and granted interviews, and expressed his views in articles and essays.   He was critical of the government and worked for the cause of peace.  His acerbic wit offended many but delighted even more people.   He died as a result of a fall in New York City.  He was 85 years old.

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