Biography Kurt Vonnegut Jr
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born on November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father, Kurt Sr., was an architect. His mother, Edith Sophia Lieber Vonnegut, also gave birth to a daughter, Alice, and another son, Bernard, who became an atmospheric scientist. The Vonneguts lost their wealth in the Great Depression in the 1930s. His father became depressed, and his mother committed suicide in 1944.
At Cornell University, Vonnegut majored in chemistry and biology, then transferred to Carnegie Mellon to study engineering. Vonnegut enlisted in the U.S. Army in World War II. He was taken prisoner by the Germans after the Battle of the Bulge (1944-45) and was present in Dresden during the firebombing of that city by the Allies, a tale he tells in Slaughterhouse-Five, the name of the underground meat locker where he was held prisoner. After the war he studied anthropology at the University of Chicago where his master’s thesis was rejected. He was awarded the Master’s Degree in 1971 by substituting Cat’s Cradle as his thesis.
Vonnegut married his high school girlfriend, Jane Marie Cox in 1945, by whom he had three children. He worked as a newspaper reporter and a teacher before moving to Schenectady, New York, where he was a publicist for the General Electric Corporation. His work interviewing scientists there gave him ideas for Cat’s Cradle. The Vonneguts adopted his sister's three children after her death in 1958. He married his second wife, photographer Jill Krementz, in 1979, whose daughter Lily he adopted.
Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano (1952) criticized corporate culture. Other early novels include The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). Vonnegut himself awarded Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five A-pluses out of all his novels. They were the ones that made him famous and have remained his most popular works. Breakfast of Champions (1973), Happy Birthday, Wanda June, a play (1970), Slapstick (1976), Galapagos (1985, Hocus-Pocus, (1990), Fates Worse Than Death (1991), and Timequake (1997) all deal satirically with some aspect of modern life, politics, or the human condition. His last book was a collection of essays, A Man Without a Country (2005). Critics felt he repeated himself in his later writing.
Vonnegut was also a graphic artist who illustrated his own books with pen and ink drawings. He was a celebrity on TV talk shows, made cameos in film adaptations of his novels Mother Night and Breakfast of Champions, and recorded Ice-Nine Ballads with Dave Soldier, adapted from Cat’s Cradle and released in 2009.
The Mark Twain of his time, Vonnegut is considered one of the most influential American novelists of the twentieth century. He blended science fiction and the absurd with social commentary. He died at the age of 84 on April 11, 2007, in Manhattan, following a fall resulting in brain injuries.