Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.science-fiction writer
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana
An iconoclast often compared to Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut found ways to wring humor out of the apparent meaninglessness and absurdity of human existence. His novels, frequently set in alternate worlds, are a blend of science fiction, social commentary and personal philosophy; many have become countercultural classics.
Vonnegutâs most famous work, âSlaughterhouse Fiveâ (1969), was based on his experiences during World War II. Leaving Cornell to join the Army, he was sent to Germany, where he was soon captured and held prisoner in Dresden. When the Allies unleashed their firebombs on the city in 1945, Vonnegut was safe in an underground meat locker, making vitamins with other prisoners. This surreal experience was relived by Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of âSlaughterhouse Fiveâ.
Back from the war, his writing career got off to a slow start. He took on a series of jobs, (including police reporter, GE public relations worker, Saab car salesman, and special needs teacher) and began publishing short stories and novels. His first novel, âPlayer Pianoâ (1951), and the two that followed were largely ignored or dismissed as bizarre by the critics. But with the publication of âCatâs Cradleâ in 1963, his distinctive style and satirical commentary attracted many fans and he soon became a cult hero. The book, eventually a bestseller, established Vonnegut as a literary figure the critics could no longer ignore.
His other major works of fiction include âBreakfast of Championsâ (1973), and âGod Bless You Mr. Rosewaterâ (1965). He also wrote short stories, plays, and nonfiction, including the recent bestseller âA Man Without a Countryâ (2005), a work that includes commentary on the Bush administration.
Vonnegut was married twice, the second time to photographer Jill Krementz, who remained his wife until he died. He had three children with his first wife, and adopted a child with his second. He also adopted his sisterâs three children after she and her husband died.
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