One of America's most influential authors, fourth generation Indy resident Kurt Vonnegut epitomized the literary side of the city.
Here's the deal with writer, humorist, and all-around fantasist Kurt Vonnegut: "What people like about me is Indianapolis." Even though he wrote from elsewhere, Vonnegut's heart really rests in Indy. "All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business," Vonnegut said.
In his collection Fates Worse Than Death, he wrote, "That city gave me a free primary and secondary education richer and more humane than anything I would get from any of the five universities I attended."
The city — its culture and values — permeated throughout his prose, allowing him to become one of the most influential novelists of the past century. Vonnegut was an avant-garde writer who laced satire, science fiction and suspense into a unique style, one riddled with dark humor. His trade-mark plain-spoken prose, sharp wit, and crisp imagery was a clear homage to his Midwestern roots. "A lot of critics think I'm stupid because my sentences are so simple and my method is so direct: they think these are defects," he said. "No. The point is to write as much as you know as quickly as possible." He may have specialized in straight forward prose, but he was a stickler for punctuation, almost to the point of insanity. "First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."
Clearly, the man had a handle on humor. And in tribute to its favorite literary son, Indianapolis declared 2007 "The Year of Vonnegut." The author, who said he was "thunderstruck" by the honor, died the same month he was scheduled to make his triumphant return to the city.
As Vonnegut himself would say: So it goes. The city celebrated anyway. And it continues to celebrate.
For diehard fans visiting Vonnegut's hometown, a trip to the new Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (www.vonnegutlibrary.org) is a must. Recent events have included a staged reading of Vonnegut's only play Happy Birthday, Wanda June and the distribution of free copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to students in Republic, Missouri, where the book was recently banned for profanity. Sounds like a plot twist Vonnegut would approve of.
Another essential stop: Artist Pamela Bliss' new 38-foot-tall mural of the rumpled author on Massachusetts Avenue, which isn't far from the Athenaeum (www.athenaeumfoundation.org), a landmark building designed by Vonnegut's grandfather, renowned architect Bernard Vonnegut, who was also responsible for the downtown L.S. Ayres Building, which now anchors Circle Center shopping mall. Inside the Athanaeum you'll find The Vonnegut Room, dedicated to the family, and on April 14 the KVML will host its annual "Night of Vonnegut" gala at the Athenaeum theater, where Jim Lehrer will give the keynote address.