Known for his dark humor and comic comments/criticism about the society in which he lived, Kurt Vonnegut was one of America’s leading contemporary writers. He is best known for the critically acclaimed sci-fi/anti-war novel “Slaughterhouse-Five” (1969), in which he published 14 novels in a career spanning more than 50 years. Read on to learn more about the life and career of the American writer.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922, the son of his parents Edith (née Lieber) and Kurt Vonnegut Sr. His mother came from a wealthy Indianapolis family who made their fortune owning a successful brewery, while his father was an influential architect who designed some of the most famous buildings in Indiana. He is of German descent and has two older siblings; Bernard and Alice.
After the advent of prohibition and the Great Depression, the Vonnegut family lost the financial security they once enjoyed. As a result, they could no longer send their last child to a private school as Kurt’s older siblings had attended. Instead, he was enrolled at a public school called Public School No. 43. For his high school education, he attended Shortridge High School, where he co-edited the Tuesday edition of the school newspaper The Shortridge Echo and also played clarinet in the school band.
After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in 1940, where he majored in biochemistry. Kurt served as a regular writer and then as editor of the university’s independent newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun. In 1942 Kurt Vonnegut was put on academic probation due to his poor grades. He decided to leave the army the following year and enlisted in the army. As part of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), he received instruction in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology and the University of Tennessee. He was later sent to Europe in 1944 as a 106th Infantry Division scout, where he spent about a year before returning to the United States.
Upon his return in 1945, Kurt Vonnegut moved to Chicago, enrolled at the University of Chicago to study anthropology and found work as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago. He later took a job as a publicist for General Electric (GE). While at GE, he began writing and decided to become a full-time writer after selling two pieces to Collier’s Magazine.
What is he known for?
Kurt Vonnegut has made a name for himself as a writer. He began by writing various short stories for magazines such as Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan. His first book, “Player Piano”, was published in 1952. While he was still writing short stories for money, his first novel followed with ‘The Sirens of the Titan’ (1959), ‘Mother’s Night’ (1961), ‘Cat Cradle’ (1963) and ‘God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater’ (1965).
While he had become popular in literary circles, Vonnegut had not yet grasped his great breakthrough. This finally came in 1969 when he wrote Slaughterhouse-Five, a science-fiction-soaked anti-war novel that shot him straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and catapulted him to instant fame.
How did he die?
Kurt Vonnegut died in the late hours of April 11, 2007, in Manhattan, New York. His death was announced to the public by his wife Jill, who revealed that the cause of his death was the result of brain injuries he sustained in a fall a few weeks ago in his New York brownstone house. He was 84 years old when he died.
More interesting facts about Kurt Vonnegut
1. Kurt Vonnegut was married twice. On 1 September 1945, he married his girlfriend Jane Marie Cox from high school. The couple had three children, Mark, Edith, and Nanette, and also raised Vonnegut’s sister’s three young sons, James, Steven, and Kurt, after the death of her and her husband.
2 In a 1999 article in The New York Times, Vonnegut wrote that he had thought about quitting writing in the mid-1960s. He realized that he could only continue writing after an admirer of his work offered him a teaching position at the University of Iowa’s Writing Workshop.
3 In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2006, Kurt Vonnegut, who was 83 years old at the time but had a great sense of humor, stated that he was planning to sue the tobacco company Brown & Williamson for false advertising. The writer jokingly called the company “lying bastards” because they had not kept their promise to kill him as stated on the cigarette packet, even though he had been smoking since his early teens.
4. in honor of his achievements, the Kurt Vonnegut Society was founded in 2008, while the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis opened two years later in November 2010.