The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays

The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays

The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays

The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays

Synopsis

Since 1950, when his short stories first appeared, Kurt Vonnegut has published almost 50 short stories, 13 novels, two plays, and a teleplay. He has remained one of the most important chroniclers of American life. Yet he occupies an ambiguous place in American letters. Following three interviews with Vonnegut, the 14 essays in this collection seek to chronicle his career as it moves through changing times. The essays either focus on Vonnegut's later work or are retrospectives reevaluating aspects of his literary career. Some are on individual works, particularly later novels, but most consider the ways Vonnegut pursues a theme or technique.

Excerpt

This book has its origins in a Quad City Arts program in 1989 which featured Kurt Vonnegut as its "Super Author in Residence." The Arts Council of those four cities (Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois) annually promotes a week-long festival celebrating an artist who is featured in appearances and honored in other supporting events. One of the events that accompanied a number of appearances by Vonnegut himself was a panel presentation by a group of six academics, five of them professors of English and one a painter and art instructor. Their papers were duplicated and hurriedly presented together in a single paper-covered, spiral-bound collection that looked enough like a book to plant a seed. Why not make a book?

The bond between the members of that group and a couple of other Vonnegut devotees of long standing, Asa Pieratt, a Vonnegut bibliographer and collector, and Bob Weide, who was filming a documentary on the author, grew strong during several days of following Vonnegut from one appearance to another, sharing his company when his commitments permitted, and swapping Vonnegut trivia and countless jokes. The man himself was our bond. He arrived after a harrowing, weather-delayed journey, exhausted and bleak. The pessimism of his mood at that time showed in some of his talks. But as always he drew overflow audiences, and he warmed to them and drew energy from them. In his later performances his audiences were enthralled, and he thrived on the rapport. With us he was charming, patient, loving, and enormously funny.

Naturally, the seven original papers remained far short of a book, especially of the kind that we now sought to make--not just another critical commentary but a tribute to an admired friend. The two of us who set about creating the book wanted one that seemed appropriate to Vonnegut's own fiction and his social role. That meant a collection that would be at once available to a general readership and critically sound for the academic audience, a collection, in fact, that like his own fiction diminishes the distinction between the culturally elite and the popular. To this end we sought contributions from both the older generation of critics who . . .

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