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Overview for Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut


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Also Known As: Died: April 11, 2007
Born: November 11, 1922 Cause of Death: brain injuries following a fall
Birth Place: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA Profession: Writer ...


ry or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, a.k.a. â¿¿Christiansâ¿¿ . . ." In 2007, Vonnegut took a supporting role in the indie film "Never Down," but in the spring of that year, he fell in his home, suffering head trauma. Hospitalized for several weeks, he never recovered and died on Apr. 11, 2007, in Manhattan. A posthumous collection of never-published short stories and personal correspondence, Armageddon in Retrospect, was published in 2008. In 2009, A Man Without a Country lent its title to a documentary on the author.

By Matthew Grimmg into his most personal, traumatic experience, Vonnegut at Iowa began a novel about Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier whose wartime trials paralleled the authorâ¿¿s own, including the nightmare of Dresden, yet who amid his trials became "unstuck in time," vaulting back and forth between the various stages of his life and thus living it out of order, shepherded by the Tralfamadorians. Hailed as a masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five hit No. 1 on The New York Timesâ¿¿ bestseller list, the Timesâ¿¿ glowing March 31 review bespeaking Vonnegutâ¿¿s transcendence of genre by calling him "an indescribable writer whose . . . books are like nothing else on earth."

With fame came changes. Harvard University in 1970 hired him to teach creative writing, a job he would follow with a short stint as at City University of New York in 1972 and â¿¿73. The University of Chicago in 1971 belatedly bestowed a masters degree upon him, citing Catâ¿¿s Cradle as an acceptable thesis. Vonnegut also began a relationship with photographer Jill Krementz, becoming estranged from Jane, though the couple would not officially divorce until 1979 (he and Krementz marrying subsequently), and his family dealt with still more travail when their biological son Mark suffered a mental breakdown in 1972. Vonnegutâ¿¿s tragicomic anti-war play "Happy Birthday, Wanda June" was produced as a feature film in 1971, and 1972 saw an ambitious and remarkably faithful adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five by American New Wave director George Roy Hill. Though the film did not strike box-office gold, it did win the Jury Prize at Cannes and would remain the gold standard of feature adaptations of Vonnegutâ¿¿s a-linear storytelling, oft-described as "unfilmable." But success cemented a shift away from the standard linear narrative style of his earlier work and towards more experimental structure, as witnessed in his next book, Breakfast of Champions (1973), the tale of a Midland City, OH, car salesman, Dwayne Hoover, who becomes convinced that the writings of a relatively unknown fatalist sci-fi writer, Kilgore Trout (first introduced in Slaughterhouse-Five), are reality. Though Trout would become a running proxy for Vonnegutâ¿¿s own voice and opinions, the real author also broke the proverbial fourth wall by introducing himself as a character, exposing his own pathos, such as his fear he might commit suicide like his mother.

He dealt with another family death, that of his sister, in the largely figurative and surreal "Slapstick" (1976), which centered around two freakishly tall twins addled when they are separated but brilliant when they are together. The book six years hence would be adapted as "Slapstick of Another Kind" (1982), a Madeleine Kahn and Jerry Lewis vehicle largely bereft of the bookâ¿¿s intelligence and subtleties. He returned to rapier form in 1979 with "Jailbird," a novel narrated by fictional Nixonite brought down in the Watergate scandal, offering up Vonnegutâ¿¿s own take on the repressive ministrations of American reactionaries and corporate culture through the decades. Vonnegut returned to his fictional Midland City in 1983 with Deadeye Dick, a tale of man socially disabled by accidentally killing a woman when he was a child, then the eventual nuclear immolation of the town, and, per usual, the author wove in pre-established characters like Dwayne Hoover and artist Rabo Karabekian. But in 1984, Vonnegutâ¿¿s own demons came to a head. He fulfilled his own prophecy and attempted suicide via the ingestion of alcohol and barbiturates. Recovering and returning to the typewriter, he ventured again into apocalyptic science in the Darwinian themed Galapagos (1985) and, in 1987, made Karabekian the overtly Vonnegut-esque narrator of his next novel, the memoir of a cantankerous septuagenarian protagonist, Bluebeard (1987). He took a film role for the first time in, of all things, "Back to School" (1986), a film starring revived stand-up comic Rodney Dangerfield as a wealthy boor who enrolls in college along with his son and, when he struggles in an American lit class, hires Vonnegut to pen a paper on Vonnegutâ¿¿s writings. The professor derides the work as ignorant of the authorâ¿¿s works. Curiously, the actor who played Dangerfieldâ¿¿s son, Keith Gordon, directed the relatively faithful adaptation of Mother Night ten years later, with Nick Nolte in the lead role and Vonnegut himself doing a brief cameo.

The author would pen another novel, Hocus Pocus (1990), another strange, non-linear tale of a Vietnam veteran and college professor who finds his life turned upside down when his pessimistic nature makes him the target of a wave of neo-McCarthyism led by a reactionary talk radio host â¿¿ but thereafter he would struggle with longform work. In 1991, he collected a series of speeches and essays into a personal memoir, Fates Worse Than Death, laying bare much of his troubled personal life. Also that year, the cable channel Showtime premiered "Monkey House" (1991), an anthology series that adapted from various entries in his 1968 short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House. But Vonnegut would not publish again until 1997, when he cobbled together what he referred to as a "stew," partly novel, partly memoir, in which he again liberally wove his own issues into the narrative, even as it dealt with his longtime proxy Kilgore Trout. Timequake dealt with a chronological anomaly in which Earthâ¿¿s citizens of the year 2001 found themselves transported back in time ten years and had to cope with all the travail in their lives they now knew to be impending â¿¿ a literal iteration of the fatalist determinism that had long underlay his stories. He published his last collection of short stories, Bogambo Snuff Box in 1999, and that year would also see the ill-received release of the movie "Breakfast of Champions" with an estimable cast led by Bruce Willis as Dwayne Hoover and Albert Finney as Trout. But the movie received nearly universal pans and faded quickly from theaters. In early 2000, Vonnegutâ¿¿s longtime habit of smoking unfiltered Pall Malls was suspected as the cause of a minor fire in his Manhattan townhouse, the author hospitalized briefly for smoke inhalation.

Musing in a 2005 collection A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut famously wrote, "I am going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes, for a billion bucks! . . . [F]or many years now, right on the package, Brown and Williamson have promised to kill me. But I am now 82. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats. The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon." Indeed, in the 2000s, in essays for the magazine In These Times and interviews, Vonnegut became an irascible and untempered critic of the Bush administrationâ¿¿s austerity at home and adventurism abroad. In 2003, he told his editor in an In These Times interview, that the U.S. "might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup dâ¿¿etat imaginable. And those now in charge of the federal government are upper-crust C-students who know no histo

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