Kurt Vonnegut: Letters
  • Kurt Vonnegut: Letters
  • Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

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by Kurt Vonnegut
     
 

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This extraordinary collection of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction. Written over a sixty-year period, these letters, the vast majority of them never before published, are funny, moving, and full of the same uncanny wisdom that has endeared his work to readers worldwide.
 
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Overview

This extraordinary collection of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction. Written over a sixty-year period, these letters, the vast majority of them never before published, are funny, moving, and full of the same uncanny wisdom that has endeared his work to readers worldwide.
 
Included in this comprehensive volume: the letter a twenty-two-year-old Vonnegut wrote home immediately upon being freed from a German POW camp, recounting the ghastly firebombing of Dresden that would be the subject of his masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five; wry dispatches from Vonnegut’s years as a struggling writer slowly finding an audience and then dealing with sudden international fame in middle age; righteously angry letters of protest to local school boards that tried to ban his work; intimate remembrances penned to high school classmates, fellow veterans, friends, and family; and letters of commiseration and encouragement to such contemporaries as Gail Godwin, Günter Grass, and Bernard Malamud.
 
Vonnegut’s unmediated observations on science, art, and commerce prove to be just as inventive as any found in his novels—from a crackpot scheme for manufacturing “atomic” bow ties to a tongue-in-cheek proposal that publishers be allowed to trade authors like baseball players. (“Knopf, for example, might give John Updike’s contract to Simon and Schuster, and receive Joan Didion’s contract in return.”) Taken together, these letters add considerable depth to our understanding of this one-of-a-kind literary icon, in both his public and private lives. Each letter brims with the mordant humor and openhearted humanism upon which he built his legend. And virtually every page contains a quotable nugget that will make its way into the permanent Vonnegut lexicon.
 
• On a job he had as a young man: “Hell is running an elevator throughout eternity in a building with only six floors.”
• To a relative who calls him a “great literary figure”: “I am an American fad—of a slightly higher order than the hula hoop.”
• To his daughter Nanny: “Most letters from a parent contain a parent’s own lost dreams disguised as good advice.”
• To Norman Mailer: “I am cuter than you are.”
 
Sometimes biting and ironical, sometimes achingly sweet, and always alive with the unique point of view that made him the true cultural heir to Mark Twain, these letters comprise the autobiography Kurt Vonnegut never wrote.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Beyond giving pleasure in itself, Vonnegut's correspondence, supplemented by Wakefield's annotation, provides a kind of potted biography…And, of course, [it's] funny…Kurt Vonnegut never regarded himself as a great writer. But he did possess that undervalued gift of charm, of sociability. There are authors we admire or envy, but there are just a few we really, really love, and Vonnegut is one of them.
—Michael Dirda
Publishers Weekly
This miraculous volume of selected letters provides a moving and revelatory portrait of the famed author of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. Organized by decade from the 1940s to the 2000s (Vonnegut died in 2007), the letters chart Vonnegut’s life from his service in WWII to his first steps in the world of publishing, his emergence into literary fame, and beyond. The grain of Vonnegut’s charming and unmistakable voice is palpable, along with his sense of humor that produces unexpected poetry on almost every page. The private and public Vonneguts both shine, as in his magical letters to his many children, or his painful reflections on divorce, war, and growing older. Elsewhere Vonnegut reveals aspects of his writing process and his philosophy of fiction, and marks his ongoing opposition to violence and censorship. Of particular literary interest are his letters to such authors as Norman Mailer, Anne Sexton, Bernard Malamud, and Jose Donoso. Edited by writer and longtime friend Wakefield, the volume begins with a warm retrospective essay, and each section is prefaced with overviews of each decade of Vonnegut’s life, as well as helpful notes to explain his references. Fans will find the collection as spellbinding as Vonnegut’s best novels, and casual readers will discover letters as splendid in their own way as those of Keats. Agent: The Farber Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“Splendidly assembled . . . familiar, funny, cranky . . . chronicling [Vonnegut’s] life in real time.”—Kurt Andersen, The New York Times Book Review
 
“[This collection is] by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and mundane. . . . Vonnegut himself is a near-perfect example of the same flawed, wonderful humanity that he loved and despaired over his entire life.”NPR
 
“Congenial, whimsical and often insightful missives . . . one of [Vonnegut’s] very best.”Newsday
 
Letters’ greatest gift is the gift of all such anthologies: It humanizes an icon. . . . The fallibility and kindness of the real person shine through clearer in his more personal writing, separating the author from the oeuvre in a way that makes both richer.”—The A.V. Club

“There are authors we admire or envy, but there are just a few we really, really love, and Vonnegut is one of them.”The Washington Post

“These letters display all the hallmarks of Vonnegut’s fiction—smart, hilarious and heartbreaking.”The New York Times Book Review

“Smart, funny, and very compassionate. Reading this is a must for fans of the author.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Old correspondence from even famous writers can be a bore, but not Vonnegut’s. He was always at his best when adopting an intimate, down-to-earth tone, and the same animating force that made him a brilliant storyteller is evident again and again in these letters. . . . This is a frank and funny book, offering rich insights into Vonnegut’s character and career.”The Dallas Morning News

“This miraculous volume of selected letters provides a moving and revelatory portrait of the famed author of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. . . . Fans will find the collection as spellbinding as Vonnegut’s best novels, and casual readers will discover letters as splendid in their own way as those of Keats.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 “A literary treasure . . . this collection of letters—many of which have never been published—rightly can be viewed as the autobiography Vonnegut never wrote.”The Oklahoman

“[An] intimate, far-ranging monologue by one of the 20th century’s funniest, sharpest, darkest minds . . .  it’s difficult not to marvel at Vonnegut’s depth, warmth and wit. . . . Together, [the letters] give a comprehensive sketch of his personality. They show who he was and who he became.”The Kansas City Star

“[Reveals] Vonnegut’s passions, annoyances, loves, losses, mind and heart . . . The letters stand alone—and stand tall, indeed. . . . Vonnegut’s most human of hearts beats on every page.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Bearing all the canny observations and sardonic witticisms that distinguished his most famous works [the letters reveal] fascinating insights into Vonnegut’s private thoughts and inspirations. . . . This is a volume fans will treasure.”Booklist

“As these remarkable letters reveal, [Vonnegut] mixes hard-edged ideas with the buoyancy of imagination and humor. His best work makes us both gasp and laugh—wishing the fire from the Roman candle would never end.”The Plain Dealer

Letters mirrors some of Vonnegut’s best fiction . . .  wry, witty, and eminently quotable. Perhaps more importantly, his letters reflect a genuineness and humanity that always lived just beneath the surface of Vonnegut’s fiction.”The Financialist

“Wit, aphorism, charm, wisdom and joshery abound here. . . . Vonnegut’s voice was as unique as his art. It is ominpresent here.”Buffalo News

“Everything that’s familiar in [Vonnegut's] fiction is in the letters—he’s funny, caustic, sentimental, profound, melancholy, angry, and always himself.”The Oregonian

“Tirelessly compiling letters and manuscripts from over seven decades of correspondence with his mentors, publishers, and even a school board director who banned his works, Wakefield finally gives the reader a sense of Vonnegut’s life without time travel or aliens to mystify and universalize his emotions. . . . Vonnegut is stripped of any possible self-promotion and his true affection and unselfishness shows. . . . a deep and true portrayal.”The Daily Californian

“At last: the Vonnegut book readers of the late modern master have been waiting for. . . . It’s his voice again, live as ever, clear and unvarnished, with the pop and crackle of a hardwood fire on an Autumn night. . . . For those of us that miss Kurt Vonnegut, it makes this collection a gift. Pick up this book, it’s like having him by your side.”NUVO

Library Journal
Vonnegut's early antiestablishment novels, notably Slaughterhouse Five, were embraced by counterculture youth of the 1960s and '70s as they raged against the debacle of Vietnam and the deceit that was Watergate. Ever popular, Vonnegut's novels, short stories, and essays are still in print and on college reading lists. This selection of his letters to family, friends, editors and publishers, critics, and fellow authors (primarily Gail Godwin, Vance Bourjaily, Nelson Algren) spans the 1940s, when Vonnegut was in his twenties, to his death in 2007. The letters describe his survival, while a POW, of the Allied bombing of Dresden, as well as the fog and fiasco of war. They also reveal a dogged pursuit of his chosen profession and a desperate need for financial security and recognition that rendered him spiteful, self-aggrandizing, sarcastic, sensitive to criticism, and intermittently estranged from family and friends. Vonnegut's longtime friend, novelist Wakefield (Going All the Way) prefaces the letters with interesting contextual biographical and literary information. VERDICT For Vonnegut readers and libraries, this is an essential complement to Charles Shields's recent biography, And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut; A Life.—Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal
Kirkus Reviews
Selected and edited letters by the author of Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five and other enduringly popular novels, letters that reveal Vonnegut's passions, annoyances, loves, losses, mind and heart. Edited and annotated by his friend and fellow Hoosier novelist Wakefield (The Hijacking of Jesus: How the Religious Right Distorts Christianity and Promotes Prejudice and Hate, 2006, etc.), Vonnegut's letters, arranged by decade, reveal his wit and literary style, as well as his demons. Wakefield annotates lightly and introduces each decade with a swift biography and commentary. Mostly, however, the letters stand alone--and stand tall, indeed. A letter from 1945 tells his worried parents about his experiences as a POW in Dresden during the firebombing; the final letter declines an invitation to appear at Cornell. "At 84," wrote Vonnegut, who died in 2007, "I resemble nothing so much as an iguana, hate travel, and have nothing to say. I might as well send a spent Roman candle in my stead." Vonnegut remained close to his many relatives, and readers can chart his personal life here--his first marriage (ended in divorce), his relationships with his children (some were adopted), his second marriage (to photographer Jill Krementz). That marriage was often difficult, and he writes bitterly about finding evidence of her infidelity. His professional growth chart is here, too--his early struggle, his time teaching at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, his rising celebrity and fame and his struggles to write later in his life. The political Vonnegut is much in evidence, as well. There are fiery letters about censorship and book burning and some anti-conservative rhetoric. Wakefield also includes Vonnegut's touching letters to encourage other writers and to deal with an angry daughter. Vonnegut's most human of hearts beats on every page.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345535399
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/30/2012
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
600,796
File size:
5 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“[This collection] is by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and mundane. . . . Vonnegut himself is a near-perfect example of the same flawed, wonderful humanity that he loved and despaired over his entire life.”NPR

“There are authors we admire or envy, but there are just a few we really, really love, and Vonnegut is one of them.”Washington Post

“You will find yourself laughing. . . .You also will find abundant evidence of its author's grace and generosity toward others. . . . Congenial, whimsical and often insightful missives . . . one of [Vonnegut’s] very best.”Newsday

Letters’ greatest gift is the gift of all such anthologies: It humanizes an icon. . . . the fallibility and kindness of the real person shine through clearer in his more personal writing, separating the author from the oeuvre in a way that makes both richer.”The Onion

“Smart, funny, and very compassionate. Reading this is a must for fans of the author.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Old correspondence from even famous writers can be a bore, but not Vonnegut’s. He was always at his best when adopting an intimate, down-to-earth tone, and the same animating force that made him a brilliant storyteller is evident again and again in these letters. . . . This is a frank and funny book, offering rich insights into Vonnegut’s character and career.”The Dallas Morning News

“Splendidly assembled and edited by Dan Wakefield . . . [Vonnegut’s] familiar, funny, cranky, acute voice . . . is chronicling his life in real time.”—Kurt Andersen, The New York Times Book Review

“This miraculous volume of selected letters provides a moving and revelatory portrait of the famed author of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. . . . Fans will find the collection as spellbinding as Vonnegut’s best novels, and casual readers will discover letters as splendid in their own way as those of Keats.”Publishers Weekly

 “A literary treasure . . . this collection of letters—many of which have never been published—rightly can be viewed as the autobiography Vonnegut never wrote.”The Oklahoman

“[An] intimate, far-ranging monologue by one of the 20th century’s funniest, sharpest, darkest minds . . .  it’s difficult not to marvel at Vonnegut’s depth, warmth and wit. . . . Together, [the letters] give a comprehensive sketch of his personality. They show who he was and who he became.”Kansas City Star

“[Reveals] Vonnegut’s passions, annoyances, loves, losses, mind and heart . . . The letters stand alone—and stand tall, indeed. . . . Vonnegut’s most human of hearts beats on every page.”Kirkus Reviews 

“Bearing all the canny observations and sardonic witticisms that distinguished his most famous works [the letters reveal] fascinating insights into Vonnegut’s private thoughts and inspirations. . . . This is a volume fans will treasure.”Booklist

“As these remarkable letters reveal, [Vonnegut] mixes hard-edged ideas with the buoyancy of imagination and humor. His best work makes us both gasp and laugh—wishing the fire from the Roman candle would never end.”Cleveland Plain Dealer

Letters mirrors some of Vonnegut’s best fiction . . .  wry, witty, and eminently quotable. Perhaps more importantly, his letters reflect a genuineness and humanity that always lived just beneath the surface of Vonnegut’s fiction.”The Financialist

“Wit, aphorism, charm, wisdom and joshery abound here. . . . Vonnegut’s voice was as unique as his art. It is ominpresent here.”Buffalo News

“Everything that’s familiar in [Vonnegut's] fiction is in the letters—he’s funny, caustic, sentimental, profound, melancholy, angry, and always himself.”The Oregonian

“Tirelessly compiling letters and manuscripts from over seven decades of correspondence with his mentors, publishers, and even a school board director who banned his works, Wakefield finally gives the reader a sense of Vonnegut’s life without time travel or aliens to mystify and universalize his emotions. . . . Vonnegut is stripped of any possible self-promotion and his true affection and unselfishness shows. . . . a deep and true portrayal.”The Daily Californian

“At last: the Vonnegut book readers of the late modern master have been waiting for. . . . It’s his voice again, live as ever, clear and unvarnished, with the pop and crackle of a hardwood fire on an Autumn night. . . . For those of us that miss Kurt Vonnegut, it makes this collection a gift. Pick up this book, it’s like having him by your side.”NUVO

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