"I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' [...], and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics mistake the drawer for a urinal"
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11th, 1922 and died on April 11th, 2007 in New York. Author of many best-selling novels, such as Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) and Breakfast of Champions (1971), Vonnegut has been regarded as a “dark comic talent” who “caught the temper of its times and the imagination of a generation”. He is most famous for his works of science fiction, but has also published numerous books of non-fiction, short story collections, and plays.
Vonnegut first got drawn towards the craft of writing by working as a journalist in student-run papers, while studying chemistry at Cornell University. His career was interrupted at the age of 20 when World War II broke out and he was sent to Europe to fight against Germany. During the Battle of the Bulge in 1945 he was captured and taken to Dresden as a prisoner of war, where he accidentally survived the bombing that killed over 25.000 civilians only because he was held captive in an abandoned meat processing plant almost twenty meters underground. The experience as a prisoner in Dresden ultimately resulted in what is considered Vonnegut’s literary masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five.
Vonnegut’s fame as an author arrived late: after returning from the war he started working in the advertising department of General Electric to support his family, while writing short stories on the side. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1952, but he struggled to make a living as a writer until the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five and its adaptation into a film in 1972. Once success came Vonnegut remained prolific, publishing six well-received novels between 1973 and 1987. During this time his public image as a master of humor and satire was overshadowing the author’s personal fight with depression, which led to an attempted suicide in 1984.
In academic environments, Vonnegut has been described as a pioneer of postmodern literature. Robert T. Tally, in his Kurt Vonnegut and the American Novel: A Postmodern Iconography, argues that “Vonnegut’s 14 novels represent literary experiments conducted in order to provide a comprehensive image of the American experience in the postmodern condition of the late twentieth century”. The frequent use of irony, the relationship with reality, faith and technology, the non-linear narratives and the presence of meta-linguistic, meta-fictional devices are examples of some of the elements that have led readers to form a connection between Vonnegut’s work and the postmodernist movement, or perhaps view it as a bridge between modernism and postmodernism.
Vonnegut won numerous awards in his lifetime, was elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973 and held the position of honorary president of the American Humanist Association from 1992 to 2007. The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opened in 2010 in Indianapolis, to promote the author’s work and serve as a non-profit cultural center. Vonnegut died in Manhattan at the age of 84, following a brain injury caused by a fall at his home. So it goes.