Monday, April 14, 2008

Remembering Kurt Vonnegut

April 11th marked the first anniversary of the death of Kurt Vonnegut. His death marked the end of something significant in American culture and maybe in our collective consciousness.

Vonnegut was a literary and cultural icon and when he died, television, newspapers, magazines and the internet carried tributes for days.

Bill Henderson was a student of Vonnegut’s at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Bill is a novelist, screenwriter, coach, editor, musician and teacher and he blogs at TrueVoice. I found out that he’d been a student of Vonnegut’s through a post he did about the publishing business. I found this especially funny:

“I remember years ago, in college, complaining to my teacher, Kurt Vonnegut, that I had no connections, so how the hell was I ever going to get published?

Ironically, I didn't consider Vonnegut a connection; his apotheosis and transformation into an icon of popular literary fiction hadn't happened yet.

"The thing is," he said, pausing before adding a second "is" (Vonnegut was the first person I ever heard do that) " that if your story's good enough, you won't need connections."

I was dumbfounded. How could he say that? Didn't I know full well, at age 22, how the world really worked? Contacts were everything.”

There were a lot of interviews and movie cameos in Vonnegut’s later years that seemed to have morphed him into a caricature of himself. Bill has written a wonderful reminiscence about the Kurt Vonnegut that he knew. If you were a Vonnegut admirer, I hope you'll check it out.

The embedded video recalls a Vonnegut that is most like the one Bill remembers.

Bill's piece reveals the Vonnegut that I’d like to remember.


Charles Gramlich said...

A great retrospective on an important writer.

Carleen Brice said...

How funny to think of such an icon as just another prof. But, of course, at one time he was. I sometimes wonder which of my blog friends will one day be huge names and I'll be able to say, I knew her/him when.

Btw, good luck on your critique! And good for you for joining!

Larramie said...

Lisa, one year...already! Scary how quickly everything moves forward and can pass us by. That's why I congratulate you -- along with Carleen -- on joining the critique group to climb onward and upward. Enjoy!

Lana Gramlich said...

Great post. I can't believe it's been a year already!

Shauna Roberts said...

A huge gap in my background—I've never read Kurt Vonnegut. I should rectify that when my to-be-read pile becomes a little less colossal.

Lisa said...

Charles, It wasn't until I re-read his life story on wiki that I recalled what a turbulent life he'd had and it was clear that those experiences informed his entire body of work. He was one of a kind.

Larramie, It seems like this just happened. Where does the time go? And thank you.

Lana, I thought Bill's post was fantastic. It's that whole virtual sense that I sort of almost know someone from online who knew him :)

Shauna, It's funny because I've read three or four of his books and he really was a science fiction/satirical/magical realism/? kind of writer. I think some of his books would really appeal to you.

Lisa said...

Carleen, I've been thinking about your comment and then completely neglected to say what I was thinking. Yes, it is odd when you think of an icon as just a regular person. Perhaps you'll be the one on Oprah and we'll be running around telling all our friends, "I knew her when she was The Pajama Gardener!". :)

Thanks for the well wishes on the new critique group. Since they're all veterans of our beloved Lighthouse Writers' Workshop, I am pretty confident that this will be a good group. I've had very good luck with the Lighthouse peeps.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Oh, how I adore Vonnegut. He will be missed. Have you read Galapagos? I gorged myself on his novels during my first years in college. And Cat's Cradle is still one of my top-ten favourite books! Yes, I do have a top-ten list, didn't you know?

"The thing is is". I can't believe someone else also picked up on that. I've wondered why people say that and came the conclusion (just yesterday, in fact!) that it must be the influence of the phrase "what it is, is...". What do you think?

Lisa said...

Orchid Hunter, As a matter of fact, I have a copy of GALAPAGOS. I haven't read nearly all of his work, but I always loved the blend of magical realism, satire and tragedy that he managed to weave into nearly everything. As a matter of fact, THE RAW SHARK TEXTS made me think of Vonnegut when I was reading it.

I don't have any theories about the "the thing is, is" except that now you've reminded me of probably the most famous use of the double is in recent years: "it depends on what your definition of is is"

You'll have to share your top ten list! Do you have a post on it at your site?

Billy said...

Of all modern novelists, I have admired and enjoyed Vonnegut the most. I love his lose prose style and dark humor. He was a self-confessed modern-day Mark Twain. He influenced my writing quite a bit insasmuch as I realized I could relax when I write and use a more conversational prose style. I've read all of his novels, and of his later work, HOCUS POCUS is one of the best.

The Electric Orchid Hunter said...

Nope, sorry. I do have lists with my favourite opening lines, first editions, and my favourite pop-science books, though. I had an Amazon listmania list once, which did list my favourite novels. It should still be out there, I guess.

Patti said...

indeed. if it's good enough.

there is the jewel...

Lisa said...


I saw that on your web site and then Bill Henderson (whose book, I KILLED HEMINGWAY I also loved and I think you would too) did his reminiscence. Like you, I'm also a fan of Tom Robbins and Richard Brautigan. The other book yours made me think of was THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. I have not read HOCUS POCUS, but I'll have to try to read it now.

Orchid Hunter,

These posts are great!!! I really love the favorite opening lines -- I may have to post on that myself and link back to yours -- you've got some great books there. On the first editions -- my "best" one is a signed first edition of Vonnegut's BAGOMBO SNUFFBOX. And for more serendipity -- I kid you not, before I read your comments I ordered THE GOD DELUSION, by Richard Dawkins -- I had previously read RIVER OUT OF EDEN, his contribution to a scientific series -- then I saw you had two books on your pop-science list by him. I'm glad I've chosen a popular science writer you find credible.


The jewel...

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf