Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In Memorium Kurt Vonnegut

All of us at the Writers Institute mourn the loss of one of America's great treasures, Kurt Vonnegut, who died April 11 from injuries suffered after a fall. Kurt was New York State Author from 2001-2003 and is remembered with great fondness. Our sympathies go out to his family.

Those who attended his inauguration as State Author and witnessed his lecture, "On How to Write a Short Story" saw something they will remember all their lives. He presented his lecture with great good humor and immense good will. He drew story lines on a chalkboard that a number of audience members later tried to buy. I, Director of the Institute, recall leaning over to George Plimpton who had acted as Master of Ceremonies for the event and saying, "this must have been what it was like to see Mark Twain."

Kurt Vonnegut had many ties to New York State, and in particular to Albany and its University at which his brother Bernard taught for many years (and who came up with many of the scientific ideas that supported Kurt's own imagination about things like Ice Nine). Kurt Vonnegut also had many ties to Schenectady, where he had worked as a Public Relations writer for General Electric.

Indeed, upon accepting the Edith Wharton Citation of Merit for Fiction Writing that established him as State Author, Vonnegut said:

"It is a most agreeable honor, with my 78th birthday only a few days away, that New York State should declare so publicly that I, although born in Indianapolis, am one of its own. And it is a fact that most of my published works have been created within its borders, beginning with columns I wrote for The Cornell Daily Sun, in Ithaca, where I was a member of the class of 1944. Yes, and after my service in World War Two I went to work as a publicity man for General Electric in Schenectady, and was also a volunteer fireman in the nearby village of Alplaus. GE was the inspiration for my first novel, Player Piano, and Alplaus for my fifth, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. . . .I have in fact followed in the footsteps of two other native Indiana writers Booth Tarkington and Theodore Dreiser, in coming to New York for the dynamic companionship of the nearly countless world-class artists working here."

Kurt Vonnegut was one of a kind, and he left the earth a richer place for his sojourn here. We will miss him deeply and will honor his memory.

-- DWF

photo credit of Vonnegut at chalkboard: Judy Axenson