Kurt Vonnegut was the novelist who got me excited about being a writer. Until I read Vonnegut, all of literature I studied in school were from classical writers who were long since dead: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Melville, Dickens, and Hemingway. Then, in my AP English class in high school, we read Slaughterhouse-Five. The book astounded me. Here was serious fiction written in a contemporary genre (science fiction) with contemporary language (including a now overused word that starts with “f”) by an author who was still alive!
I became a huge Vonnegut fan. The first hardcover novel I ever bought for myself was his 1979 novel Jailbird. I would make frequent visits to my college bookstore to build my Vonnegut library: Mother Night, The Sirens of Titan, Welcome to the Monkey House, Breakfast of Champions, and Wampeters, Foma, and Grandfallons.
It wasn’t only Vonnegut’s writing that appealed to me. Vonnegut was an author I could relate to. He seemed like a typical middle-class person like I am, with a family and a job. He wrote about issues I cared about. Since he was a contemporary writer, I could always look forward to him writing something new and addressing what was happening in the world at the time. Other literary greats seemed like musty statues in a marble tiled hall, but Vonnegut brought writing to life. He made a literary career something achievable and worthwhile to me. If Kurt Vonnegut could become a great writer, there was hope for people like me.
Now, Kurt Vonnegut is a part of history, just as Chaucer and Melville. Unfortunately, some of his writing seems to have faded into history too. The horrors of Dresden that he depicted in Slaughterhouse-Five seem as ancient to my children as Chaucer’s pilgrimage to Canterbury. I hope that some other contemporary author could make writing as alive to my children as Kurt Vonnegut did for me, but a great author like him can never be replaced.
God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut. Auf weidersehen?