Love as Always, Kurt: Vonnegut as I Knew Him


A loving, intimate memoir from a lifelong friend of Kurt Vonnegut, including photos and never-before-published correspondence

When Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. ducked into his classroom at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in September of 1965, his jokes drew only weak laughter and a few rolled eyes. But workshop student Loree Rackstraw was quietly impressed by this “great bear of a man” and his down-to-earth sensibilities about writing.

That fall, an ...

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A loving, intimate memoir from a lifelong friend of Kurt Vonnegut, including photos and never-before-published correspondence

When Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. ducked into his classroom at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in September of 1965, his jokes drew only weak laughter and a few rolled eyes. But workshop student Loree Rackstraw was quietly impressed by this “great bear of a man” and his down-to-earth sensibilities about writing.

That fall, an impossible romance began between the then-unknown author and his student—a brief affair that matured into a joyful, lifelong friendship. Rackstraw distills four decades of memories and Vonnegut’s letters to her into an affectionate memoir that crackles with the creative energy of one of America’s most beloved writers.

Rackstraw’s unique perspective on Vonnegut’s life and how it shaped his famous works portrays a deeply humane man who looked for the humor and absurdity in life in order to survive. And then there are Vonnegut’s own letters: Whether energetic about new projects or frustrated with the “game” of writing and selling “a gazoolian copies,” Vonnegut writes with the playful imagination and generous, accessible brilliance that have always been his trademarks.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
New York Post “Page Six”, 11/14/08
“Vonnegut's private correspondence with a student he bedded in the mid-'60s is about to be bared for the first time.”

Kirkus, 2/1/09
“Rackstraw’s account offers enough interesting material on Vonnegut and his work to please his many fans.”

Robert Weide, director of Kurt Vonnegut: American Made and screenwriter of Mother Night

“If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to log some serious face time with one of the world’s great writers, Rackstraw’s memoir brings it home in a way that only the closest of confidantes could. It’s intimate without being exploitive, touching but not sentimentalized. I daresay Vonnegut himself would have loved it for its honesty, humor, and insight.”

Jerome Klinkowitz, author of The Vonnegut Effect and Kurt Vonnegut’s America

“Kurt Vonnegut says he considered Loree Rackstraw his wampeter. That was his pet name for ‘an object which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve.’ Thanks to her importance in his life, Loree can present a memoir that captures the essence of both his writing and his character. Kurt was always fascinated by how certain people worked together for a common purpose that might not be immediately apparent. He called this mastery a karass. Kurt and Loree shared one, the secret of which is revealed here.”

Robley Wilson, author of The World Still Melting

“The English language has no proper name for the affection Loree shared with Kurt, a connection that was neither love nor passion nor friendship nor admiration, but all of the above. This is a fond and beautiful book.”

Entertainment Weekly
, 3/20/09

“When Love as Always, Kurt is at its best, the ‘love’ in Rackstraw's title seems to refer not just to Vonnegut's love for her, but his love for all of us.”

Curled Up with a Good Book

“[Rackstraw’s] insider descriptions of the great author are at times delightful and always insightful.”

Wall Street Journal
, 3/16/09

“Rackstraw’s Vonnegut-focused memoir…gives us a chance to track Vonnegut’s private life and public persona and, inevitably, to revisit his literary reputation.”

, May/June 2009

“As only one who knew him well could, Rackstraw conjures a robust portrait of this paradoxical legend, drawing on their voluminous correspondence to provide singular insights that both contradict and celebrate his iconic status…Rackstraw’s forte is finding that satisfying balance of objectivity and subjectivity that memoirists must bring to their work…Artfully blending her confidante’s understanding of Vonnegut’s kaleidoscopic personality with an academician’s assessment of his timeless and universal themes, Rackstraw manages to offer both a dignified testimonial to a literary master and a loving tribute to a lifelong friend.”

Chronicle of Higher Education
, 3/20/09

“A memoir that honors the man and his works.”

San Diego Union-Tribune
, 3/22/09

“An affectionate memoir.”

Library Journal
, 4/15/09

“Rackstraw appreciably enhances Vonnegut’s renown with her own interpretation of the events of Vonnegut’s life and with excerpts of his letters spanning four decades…Rackstraw reveals many insights into Vonnegut—his marriages, friendships, sense of the comic and the ridiculous, and melancholy, which later developed into severe depression…Rackstraw’s compelling portrait is recommended."

Daily Iowan
, 4/9/09

“A biography of Vonnegut’s life and a more intimate portrait of a man most readers only know through his semiautobiographical fiction.”

“It's interesting to see the struggles of a literary giant through the eyes of a close friend.”

, 4/27/09

“Rackstraw does not come across as a mercenary, fame-grubbing type.”

, Spring 2009

“When Kurt Vonnegut said, ‘write to please just one person’ there’s a good chance he meant longtime friend and love interest Loree Rackstraw.”

Cedar Rapids Gazette
, 4/12/09

“A major event for Vonnegut lovers…Reveal[s] some interesting details.”

Minneapolis City Pages
, 4/16/09

“Reads like a who’s-who of the male, American literary canon of the second half of the 20th century…Aside from the glittering glimpses into the private lives of these literary giants, her memoir…is a study in both relationships that seem to defy easy categorization (like Rackstraw and Vonnegut’s) and the role of the artist in modern society…Rackstraw gives us a rich and complicated Vonnegut.”

Shepherd Express
, 4/20/09

“The "tell-all" aspects…are handled with a dignity and old-fashioned discretion.”

The Onion (A.V. Club)
, 4/23/09

“Kurt Vonnegut’s well-worn image seems impossible to deflate, and thankfully, longtime friend and professor emeritus Loree Rackstraw doesn’t do anything to tarnish the man’s reputation with her new memoir…The excerpts from Vonnegut’s correspondence are entertaining…Her honesty in detailing Vonnegut’s waning years give the book…weight.”

Brooklyn Rail, 5/09
“[Rackstraw] helps us feel, in a time of seemingly world-wide insanity, the loss of one of the 20th century’s most critical and compassionate voices…Offer[s] another space where fans can get a few degrees closer to the cherished American icon she loved.”

Augusta Spirit Metro, 4/29/09
“A touching and poignant account…Gripping in its detail…A lovely piece of history for fans of Vonnegut and those interested in the creation of written art.”

Waterbury Republican-American (CT), 5/3/09
“A highly personal memoir.”

Boston Globe, 5/17/09
“Riveting…Absorbing…Rackstraw, to her credit, refuses to traffic in juicy details…[She] does a fine job of suggesting Vonnegut's intellectual vitality, the breadth of his moral concerns, and the insecurities that plagued him…Love as Always is perhaps most fascinating for what it suggests about the tumult of the artist's life.”

Indianapolis Star, 6/14/09
“Hardcore Vonnegut fans who have read everything about the man and are thirsting for more might find a snippet of interest here.”

Iowa City Press Citizen, 7/11/09
“There is nothing conventional about Love as Always, Kurt…A thoughtful rumination on Vonnegut as a literary and cultural phenomenon.”

Iowa City Press Citizen, 7/13/09
“[Rackstraw’s] memoir includes photos and never-before-published correspondence that provide insight into the experiences and forces that shaped Vonnegut's writing, portraying him as a deeply humane person who sought humor and absurdity in order to survive.”

Magill Book Review, October 2009
“[A] leisurely told memoir…Worth having, both for reminding readers of a significant literary and, for many, personal, loss, and to whet appetites for the full-scale biography that is sure to come.”

Reference and Research Book News, November 2009
“Vonnegut's letters to Rackstraw, many never before published, reveal details about his creative process and his values.”

Bloomsbury Review, December 2009
“In Loree Rackstraw’s Love As Always, Kurt, we see a more personal side of Vonnegut…This memoir summarizes their correspondence, extensively quoted, with running commentary from a sensitive, close-at-hand observer. A sprinkling of photographs adds to the predominantly upbeat but overall balanced appraisal.”

Library Journal

Rackstraw (emerita, Univ. of Northern Iowa) appreciably enhances Vonnegut's renown with her own interpretation of the events of Vonnegut's life and with excerpts of his letters spanning four decades. They first met in 1966 at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a graduate student, and he a novice instructor of fiction writing with no literary fame. After a brief romantic encounter, the pair became lifelong friends. Rackstraw reveals many insights into Vonnegut-his marriages, friendships, sense of the comic and the ridiculous, and melancholy, which later developed into severe depression. Most of these characteristics found their way into his books, as he used satire, irony, and paradox, ultimately pinpointing how life is often absurd. Vonnegut loved music and conversation but was easily bored with the mundane. He was capable of outrage at injustice, arrogance, and stupidity, as demonstrated in his books and his popular lectures. Rackstraw's compelling portrait is recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Robert Kelly

Kirkus Reviews
Adorning her text with enough exclamation points to resemble an exuberant teen's diary, the author recounts her long relationship with the noted American novelist. It began in September 1965 when Rackstraw, a single mother, was enrolled in the married Vonnegut's fiction class at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Coy about the extent of their intimacy, she remarks only that they "broke a couple of taboos that first year." She remembers a bird singing when he first embraced her in a bucolic Iowa grove. She tells some Workshop stories: Parties at Andre Dubus's place were "great"; Nelson Algren was cruel to one of her classmates; Richard Yates had issues. Rackstraw eventually married again, and she became friends with Vonnegut's first wife, Jane, and their children. The author, however, remains cool throughout to Jill Krementz, the writer's second wife, and recalls times when Vonnegut planned to divorce her. Rackstraw acknowledges her friend's emotional, depressive side-he took negative criticism poorly and became gloomy at weak sales or rejections-but also highlights how hard he worked to write prose that seemed effortless. His later novels in particular, she notes, went through multiple false starts. The memoir reveals some questionable ethics on its author's part as well: She wrote very favorable reviews of some Vonnegut novels for the North American Review, and readers may wonder if she told her editors the extent of her intimacy with him. Rackstraw follows Vonnegut's career chronologically, reporting what he published, where he spoke (how the crowds loved him!) and what he wrote and said to her-all in terms most flattering to both parties. She quotes few letters in their entirety but does notneglect, for instance, to quote Vonnegut's occasional encomiums to her intelligence and achievements. Though tendentious, Rackstraw's account offers enough interesting material on Vonnegut and his work to please his many fans.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306818035
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 3/9/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Loree Rackstraw is Professor Emeritus at the University of Northern Iowa. A former fiction editor of The North American Review, Rackstraw holds degrees from Grinnell College and the University of Iowa. She lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 A Writers' "Gang" in Iowa, 1965-1966: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater 1

2 Fame at Last 1966-1972: Welcome to the Monkey House, Slaughterhouse-Five, Happy Birthday, Wanda June 25

3 Monkey Gland Transplant, 1972-1977: Breakfast of Champions, Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, Slapstick 43

4 New Lightness of Being, 1978-1982: Jailbird Palm Sunday, Deadeye Dick 71

5 Celebration, Crash, and a Comeback, 1982-1984 97

6 Darwin Revisited, 1985-1986: Galapagos, Requiem, International P.E.N. 115

7 Renewal Out of Chaos, 1987-1989: Bluebeard 131

8 Life as a Yo-Yo. 1989-1992: Hocus Pocus 153

9 Triumph of a "Celestial Calamity," 1993-1999: Timequake 175

10 Northampton Transfer, 1999-2000: Bagombo SnuffBox 203

11 War Yet Again, 2001-2004 225

12 Poetry as Survival, 2004-2007: A Man Without a Country 245

Afterword 263

Index 265

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