He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the campus newspaper. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.
After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.
His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, a book which would make him a millionaire.
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2 Drawing career
5 External links
This background influenced his first novel, the dystopian science fiction novel Player Piano (1952), in which human workers have been largely replaced by machines. He continued to write SF short stories before his second novel, The Sirens of Titan was published in 1959. Through the 1960s the form of his work changed, from the orthodox science fiction of Cat's Cradle (which in 1971 got him his master's degree) to the acclaimed, autobiographical Slaughterhouse-Five, given a more experimental non-linear structure by using time travel as a plot device.
These structural experiments were continued in Breakfast of Champions (1973), which included the many rough illustrations, lengthy non-sequiturs and an appearance by the author himself as a Deus ex Machina. Many hostile reviewers found the book formless, but it became one of his best sellers, and was later filmed.
Although many of his later novels involved science fiction themes, they were widely read and reviewed outside the field, not least due to their antiauthoritarianism, which matched the prevailing mood of the United States in the 1960s. For example, his seminal short story Harrison Bergeron graphically demonstrates how even the noble sentiment of egalitarianism, when combined with too much authority, becomes horrific repression. A case could be made for Vonnegut's form of political satire through extrapolation and exaggeration requiring a science fiction theme, simply as a milieu for proposing alternative systems, while remaining essentially political satire nonetheless. In this sense Vonnegut's work is no more or less science fiction than is Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
In much of his work Vonnegut's own voice is apparent, often filtered through his proxy, science fiction author Kilgore Trout, characterized by wild leaps of imagination and a deep cynicism tempered by humanism. In 1974 Venus on the Half-shell, a book by Philip José Farmer in the style of Vonnegut and attributed to Kilgore Trout, was published. This action caused a falling out of the two friends and considerable confusion amongst readers.
His work as a graphic artist got its start in the illustrations he did for Slaughterhouse-Five and, more particularly, in Breakfast of Champions, which included numerous felt-tip illustration of sphincters and other, less indelicate images. As he lost interest in writing, his focused shifted to his artwork, particularly silk-screened prints, pursued in collaboration with Joe Petro III in the 1990s. More recently, Vonnegut participated in the project The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were, where he created an album cover for Phish called Hook, Line and Sinker, which has been included in a traveling exhibition for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There was an incorrect urban legend widely circulated on the Internet that Kurt Vonnegut gave a commencement address at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1997 in which he advised students to wear sunscreen - the main theme and title of a quite odd pop song by Baz Luhrmann. In fact, the commencement speaker at MIT in 1997 was Kofi Annan and the putative Vonnegut speech was an article published in the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997 by columnist Mary Schmich.
Short story collections