Kurt Vonnegut, born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922, was a satirical essayist and novelist, perhaps one of the most influential American writers of the last century.
Combining elements of satire, science fiction, and dry humor to craft works of pointed social commentary, his most famous works include Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, and Cat’s Cradle.
Vonnegut studied engineering at Cornell University and Carnegie Mellon University before being sent by the army to Europe in 1944, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Taken as a German prisoner of war and living through the Allied bombing of Dresden, he returned from the war and married his high school sweetheart, with whom he had three children.
Vonnegut’s career trajectory included stints as a journalist, teacher, and PR writer before publishing his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. Two more novels followed before writing his acclaimed Cat’s Cradle in 1963.
His experiences both as a soldier and a prisoner of war figured in his literary works; Slaughterhouse-Five draws deeply on his time in the meat locker as a POW in Dresden. This work became Vonnegut’s first best-seller, propelling him to literary fame.
Vonnegut’s dry, satirical, humanist perspective was unique for his time. His groundbreaking Breakfast of Champions, published in 1973, was critically acclaimed and led to his status as a cultural icon.
In his later years, Vonnegut turned from fiction novels to essays of a biographical nature. His last book, A Man Without a Country, was a collection of essays discussing his personal and political views.
Vonnegut suffered from bouts of depression during his life, even attempting suicide in 1984. He died at home in 2007 as a result of head injuries suffered in a fall. He was 84 years old.
Kurt Vonnegut’s 17 Quotes on Writing
“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center”
“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”
“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”
“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
“Do you realize that all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being? Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?”
“As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”
“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”
“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.”
“Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.”
“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
“Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”
“Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action.”
“Be a sadist. No matter sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
“Everything is nothing, with a twist.”
“And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”
“Only in books do we learn what’s really going on.”
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