Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., American author, Died at 84

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Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died on April 11, 2007, at the age of 84, he was an American author.

Born on November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, he was the youngest of three children of Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. and his wife Edith.

His older siblings were Bernard (born 1914) and Alice (born 1917).

Although both of Vonnegut’s parents were fluent German speakers, the ill feeling toward that country during and after World War I caused the Vonneguts to abandon the culture to show their American patriotism.

Thus, they never taught their youngest son German or introduced him to German literature and tradition, leaving him feeling “ignorant and rootless”.

Vonnegut later credited Ida Young, his family’s African-American cook and housekeeper for the first ten years of his life, for raising him and giving him values.

“[She] gave me decent moral instruction and was exceedingly nice to me.

Vonnegut enrolled at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis in 1936.

While there, he played clarinet in the school band and became an editor for the Tuesday edition of the school newspaper, The Shortridge Echo.

Vonnegut said his tenure with the Echo allowed him to write for a large audience—his fellow students—rather than for a teacher, an experience he said was “fun and easy”.

“It just turned out that I could write better than a lot of other people,” Vonnegut observed.

After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago.

He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric.

He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work.

This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire.

This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as “Vonnegutian” in scope.

Despite his success, Kurt Vonnegut wrestled with his own personal demons.

Having struggled with depression on and off for years, he attempted to take his own life in 1984.

Whatever challenges he faced personally, Vonnegut became a literary icon with a devoted following.

He counted writers such as Joseph Heller, another WWII veteran, as his friends.

Kurt Vonnegut chose to spend his later years working on nonfiction.

His last book was A Man Without a Country, a collection of biographical essays.

In it, he expressed his views on politics and art, and shed more light on his own life.

Kurt Vonnegut was an atheist and a humanist, serving as the honorary president of the American Humanist Association.

In an interview for Playboy, he stated that his forebears who came to the United States did not believe in God, and he learned his atheism from his parents.

Like his great-grandfather Clemens, Vonnegut was a freethinker.

Vonnegut went to a Unitarian church several times, but with little consistency.

In his autobiographical work Palm Sunday, Vonnegut says he is a “Christian worshipping agnostic.”

He also talked about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and the Beatitudes, and made these biblical ideologies part of his own doctrine.

Vonnegut laced a number of his speeches with religion-focused rhetoric, and was prone to using such expressions as “God forbid” and “thank God”.

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