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Farewell Vonnegut

By Jess D'Amico in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 12, 2007 7:46PM

April%2012%20Vonnegut.jpgKurt Vonnegut Jr. passed away last night in New York from brain damage due to a fall several weeks earlier.

We never knew him, with the exception of Tankboy, who met him once, but we loved him like that teacher in high school, the only one you ever cared to finish your homework for or make an effort. His grammar was not English teacher perfect, and his paragraphs were curt, sometimes one sentence. He was, in short, a high school and college student’s dream. He broke the rules and came out shining, his work all the better for its reality. The immediacy of being written in the moment.

We remember the first time we ever read Slaughterhouse-five, and experiencing a writer who so captured our love of comics and fantasy, and mixed them with our appreciation of serious literary wit and gravity.

Vonnegut spent several of his formative years in Chicago, where he received his masters in anthropology from University of Chicago with Cat’s Cradle, a book considered one of the best of the 20th century.

Born in 1922 in Indianapolis, Ind., Vonnegut worked on the nation’s first daily high school newspaper, Shortridge High School's The Daily Echo. He attended Butler, Cornell and Carnegie Mellon before enrolling in the army in 1943 during WWII. He was one of only seven American POW survivors of the Dresden camp in the aftermath of the Dresden bombings, where they were kept in a meat locker known as slaughterhouse-five.

Even though Vonnegut was considered a black satirist (The New York Times once called him "the laughing prophet of doom"), he truly believed in humanism. As the title character in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater said:

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — "God damn it, you’ve got to be kind."

Vonnegut's mother committed suicide on Mother's Day, 1944, and Vonnegut himself attempted suicide in 1984. He complained several times that he should lodge a complaint against the Pall Mall cigarette company because he’d been smoking since 14 and had yet to die of lung cancer. He also told Rolling Stone last year:

The Army kept me on because I could type, so I was typing other people's discharges and stuff. And my feeling was, "Please, I've done everything I was supposed to do. Can I go home now?" That's what I feel right now. I've written books. Lots of them. Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?

Welcome home.

image via egg.