No, God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

Legendary author Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday evening in Manhattan at the ripe old age of 84. The novels he wrote over the course of his career became both hallmarks for counterculture as well as American classics.

His novels were sometimes banned in school libraries for their language and sexual innuendo. Of course, this caused students to seek out his books. When they finally did get Vonnegut in their hands, they were exposed to a world that was often violent and war-torn, but always offered dark humor and morality as a guiding compass.

I had the honor of meeting Kurt Vonnegut about ten years ago. A local university professor was an old friend of the author's, and had invited him to speak to his students. I heard about the event and found a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend to garner admittance.

Held in a very small lecture hall, only about a hundred people were allowed into the room. It was a magical two hours, with the professor and the old man trading stories like the old friends they were.

Vonnegut was peaceful, far more soft-spoken than I would have imagined, and deftly, wickedly funny. While it was difficult to peel my eyes away from the living legend, I occasionally glanced around the room to see the same rapt look on every student's face in the room.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am so thankful for the opportunity. Vonnegut was incredibly gracious about answering questions from students. Many of us asked about Dresden, a key turning-point in his life.

What I remember most is that he was able to relay some of the horrors surrounding that event, yet peppered the recollections with humor. I sat there and realized, this is what life is, then. Some really terrible things happen, yet there are glimmers of hope and light that we have to retain.

And just like that, Kurt Vonnegut slipped away from his earthly audience, after 84 years of the horrific and the fantastic. So it goes.

Thank you, Mr. Vonnegut. You will truly be missed.


Unknown said...

I second that. I wish I could have seen the man speak.

Aspeth said...

Thanks, Brian. It's strange to feel so maudlin about the death of an 84-year old person. All I can say is that we truly lost one of the greats.

I came across this, and thought it was absolutely perfect:

"I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke."

With that in mind, let it be said that "Kurt is up in heaven now."

lucidiocy said...


Thanks for highlighting his levity.


Aspeth said...

Hi Lucidiocy. Yeah, seems like he'd been calling for that for the past several years, so...

Anonymous said...

Truly, Kurt Vonnegut has become unstuck in time.

Make me young, make me young, make me young again!

Aspeth said...

Uomo Moderno...Ha! Great comment!!

Unknown said...

I loved Mr.Vonnegut.I started reading him sometime in 1970.
Read allmost all of his books.
He might have shaped my thinking.
I am going to miss him.
Thank you Brian.
- Jayant B. Joshi.

Aspeth said...

Hi Jayant...Agreed. Vonnegut was unique. There are probably hundreds of thousands of kids out there with a similar experience. And if you're going to have your little mind shaped by something, exposure to Vonnegut is perhaps one of the highest and best teachers.

francessa said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Aspeth said...

Hi Francessa...Thank you for reading!

NoVA Dad said...

I ran across your post on Vonnegut today while bouncing around the blogosphere; since posting my own encounter with Vonnegut on my blog, I’ve sought out the memories and opinions of others and have found some great stories. I really enjoyed reading of your experiences with Vonnegut’s writing and of your encounter with him, and just wanted to pass that along to you. I’m in the process of reading (and in some instances, re-reading) many of his books now and hoping that my daughters enjoy them when they get older as much as I do now.

Aspeth said...

NoVA Dad...Thanks for the note. I imagine Vonnegut's a hot ticket at libraries and bookstores right now. I think I need a little more time before I can re-read the novels. While Vonnegut had pretty firmly established a moratorium on any more books, there was always that 'chance', that hope that he'd dust off the typewriter and put another great one on the shelves. Now, that hope is gone, and I fear that reading his works will be like reading John Kennedy Toole in terms of lingering questions.