Kurt Vonnegut Biography & Facts
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (; November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, he published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five nonfiction works, with further collections being published after his death.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Vonnegut attended Cornell University but withdrew in January 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. As part of his training, he studied mechanical engineering at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee. He was then deployed to Europe to fight in World War II and was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was interned in Dresden, where he survived the Allied bombing of the city in a meat locker of the slaughterhouse where he was imprisoned. After the war, he married Jane Marie Cox, with whom he had three children. He adopted his nephews after his sister died of cancer and her husband was killed in a train accident. He and his wife both attended the University of Chicago, while he worked as a night reporter for the City News Bureau.
Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. The novel was reviewed positively but was not commercially successful at the time. In the nearly 20 years that followed, he published several novels that were well regarded, two of which (The Sirens of Titan  and Cat's Cradle ) were nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel. He published a short story collection titled Welcome to the Monkey House in 1968. His breakthrough was his commercially and critically successful sixth novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). The book's anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, Slaughterhouse-Five went to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, thrusting Vonnegut into fame. He was invited to give speeches, lectures, and commencement addresses around the country, and received many awards and honors.
Later in his career, Vonnegut published several autobiographical essays and short-story collections, such as Fates Worse Than Death (1991) and A Man Without a Country (2005). After his death, he was hailed as one of the most important contemporary writers and a dark humor commentator on American society. His son Mark published a compilation of his unpublished works, titled Armageddon in Retrospect, in 2008. In 2017, Seven Stories Press published Complete Stories, a collection of Vonnegut's short fiction, including five previously unpublished stories. Complete Stories was collected and introduced by Vonnegut friends and scholars Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield. Numerous scholarly works have examined Vonnegut's writing and humor.
Family and early life
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis on November 11, 1922, the youngest of three children of Kurt Vonnegut Sr. and his wife Edith (née Lieber). His older siblings were Bernard (born 1914) and Alice (born 1917). He had descended from German immigrants who settled in the United States in the mid-19th century; his paternal great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, settled in Indianapolis and founded the Vonnegut Hardware Company. His father and grandfather Bernard were architects; the architecture firm under Kurt Sr. designed such buildings as Das Deutsche Haus (now called "The Athenæum"), the Indiana headquarters of the Bell Telephone Company, and the Fletcher Trust Building. Vonnegut's mother was born into Indianapolis high society, as her family, the Liebers, were among the wealthiest in the city with their fortune deriving from ownership of a successful brewery.Both of Vonnegut's parents were fluent German speakers, but the ill feeling toward Germany during and after World War I caused them to abandon German culture in order to show their American patriotism. Thus, they did not teach Vonnegut to speak German or introduce him to German literature and traditions, leaving him feeling "ignorant and rootless". Vonnegut later credited Ida Young, his family's African-American cook and housekeeper during the first decade of his life, for raising him and giving him values; he said that she "gave [him] decent moral instruction and was exceedingly nice to [him]," and "was as great an influence on [him] as anybody". He described her as "humane and wise" and added that "the compassionate, forgiving aspects of [his] beliefs" came from her.The financial security and social prosperity that the Vonneguts had once enjoyed were destroyed in a matter of years. The Liebers' brewery was closed in 1921 after the advent of prohibition. When the Great Depression hit, few people could afford to build, causing clients at Kurt Sr.'s architectural firm to become scarce. Vonnegut's brother and sister had finished their primary and secondary educations in private schools, but Vonnegut was placed in a public school called Public School No. 43 (now the James Whitcomb Riley School). He was bothered by the Great Depression, and both his parents were affected deeply by their economic misfortune. His father withdrew from normal life and became what Vonnegut called a "dreamy artist". His mother became depressed, withdrawn, bitter, and abusive. She labored to regain the family's wealth and status, and Vonnegut said that she expressed hatred for her husband that was "as corrosive as hydrochloric acid". She unsuccessfully tried to sell short stories she had written to Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines.
High school and Cornell
Vonnegut enrolled at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis in 1936. While there, he played clarinet in the school band and became a co-editor (along with Madelyn Pugh) for the Tuesday edition of the school newspaper, The Shortridge Echo. Vonnegut said his tenure with the Echo allowed him to write for a large audience—his fellow students—rather than for a teacher, an experience he said was "fun and easy". "It just turned out that I could write better than a lot of other people," Vonnegut observed. "Each person has something he can do easily and can't imagine why everybody else has so much trouble doing it."After graduating from Shortridge in 1940, Vonnegut enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He wanted to study the humanities or become an architect like his father, but his father and brother Bernard, an atmospheric scientist, urged him to study a "useful" discipline. As a result, Vonnegut majored in biochemistry, but he had little proficiency in the area and was indifferent towards his studies. As his father had been a member at MIT, Vonnegut was entitled to join the Delta Upsilon fraternity, and did. He overcame stiff competition for a place at the university's independent newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun, first serving as a staff writer, then as an editor. By the end of his first year, he was writing a column titled "Innocents Abroad" which reused jokes from other publicat.... Discover the Kurt Vonnegut popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Kurt Vonnegut books.