Thursday, April 12, 2007


***NB*** This article is taken from today's PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY, and was not written by myself.

Kurt Vonnegut, whose books including Slaughterhouse-Five, Hocus Pocus and Cat's Cradle, made him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, died yesterday. He was 84.

His wife Jill Krementz told the AP that he had suffered brain injuries after a recent fall in his Manhattan home.

Though he was most well-known for books written in the 60s and 70s, Vonnegut continued publishing until the final months of his life. His self-proclaimed last novel was Timequake (1997) His last book, a collection of pieces written for the magazine In These Times, called A Man Without a Country, came out in paperback this Jaunuary.

Fellow novelist and longtime friend David Markson (author of Wittgenstein's Mistress, among other books) told PW, "Kurt wrote for everybody. He was the first really important writer in the lives of so many literary people--they fell in love with him when they were 14 and 16. You didn't fall in love with Norman Mailer or even Herman Melville at that age. Over the years, it was heartwarming to know he was there all the time. This is a real blow."

Angela's Ashes and Teacher Man author Frank McCourt talked to PW about teaching Vonnegut's books: "Yes, I did discuss his books with the kids—especially Slaughterhouse Five and, especially, during the VietNam war. There was always great material in all his books. Then I came across a marvelous commencement speech he had given somewhere when he talked about some kids who’d been arrested for ‘high jinks.’ He told his graduating audience to go forth and engage in high jinks. I don't care what the critics say—he was always a good shot in the arm for anyone trying to write anything. He was to prose what Billy Collins is to poetry. You read these two and you say, Oh, I could do that. Then you try it and you tear your hair out."

Author Pete Hammill (his next book, North River is due out from Little, Brown in June) also has fond memories of Vonnegut and a sense of his profound cultural impact: "I knew him from the Village and I knew him from his work and I liked him very much. He was a very funny guy in a wry, ironical way—which is the kind I like. We had odd conversations because he loved comic strips and so did I. So we would talk about comic strips and how they made some guys into writers. And his politics, of course, were basically the politics that a lot of us shared in the ’60s and ’70s. You know, there was a combination of the war in Vietnam, something going drastically wrong with the society, and something going very right with it, with this younger generation. Of course he could talk about those things with the authority of having been bombed in Dresden. He had a sense of what a war really was like, not as some abstraction. He had been there, so his passion about the futility of war was genuine. So that gave him a certain authority during the ’60s that in a way continued for the rest of his life. No accident that at age 82 he had a bestseller, as a literary guy who didn’t apologize for being literary. And without any calculation he ended up still being a voice worth listening to in the time of another American war for our country."

The New York Times published a thorough biographical story today, as did NPR.

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