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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vonnegut’s hometown honors late author

April 29, 2007

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— A hometown celebration of Kurt Vonnegut's life and literary prowess was highlighted Friday night with the last thing the author wrote - a speech he had planned to deliver himself at Butler University.

Vonnegut wrote the 13-page lecture two weeks before he died at age 84 on April 11, said his son, Mark, who spoke on his father's behalf at the annual McFadden Memorial Lecture.

The sold-out event was part of a yearlong tribute to the author. Indianapolis officials designated 2007 the "Year of Vonnegut," with readings and forums intended to encourage people to visit libraries and to read.

"It was a great honor to him. I'm trying to figure out if he's sorry he's not here or not," Mark Vonnegut joked - something his father would have appreciated. "He was really, really serious about being funny."

Like a stand-up comedy routine, Vonnegut's last words hopped rapidly from one topic to the next. The only common thread was their absurdity.

He noted he achieved the same military rank as Napoleon and Hitler; that he intended to sue a cigarette manufacturer for breach of promise - "Their product did not kill me;" and that the final words of a condemned man lying on an execution gurney ought to be "This will certainly teach me a lesson."

Finally, his son read his father's last sentence "I thank you for your attention, and I'm outta here."

Kurt Vonnegut was regarded as a key influence in 20th-century American literature during a career of more than 60 years.

The city's tribute also included a seven-minute recording of Kurt Vonnegut reading from "Slaughterhouse-Five," the novel that developed from his firsthand account as a German prisoner of war during the Allies' firebombing of Dresden in 1945.

His last book, "A Man Without a Country," was published in 2005 and released in paperback on Jan. 16. On Saturday, a copy of "Slaughterhouse-Five" was to be placed with other items in a time capsule that will be sealed for 50 years inside the city's newly expanded Central Library.

Mayor Bart Peterson presented Vonnegut's widow, Jill Krementz, a proclamation designating Friday as Kurt Vonnegut Day in Indianapolis. State Rep. Greg Porter also presented a resolution by the Indiana General Assembly in Vonnegut's honor.

"He took the human condition as it was, unvarnished, and attempted to come to terms with it," Peterson said.

Vonnegut was born Nov. 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, the youngest of three children. His affluent German-American ancestors played a key role in the city's early development, and his paternal grandfather was a prominent architect who designed several Indianapolis landmarks.

Vonnegut left Indianapolis shortly after his 1940 graduation from Shortridge High School - now a middle school - but he referred to the city in several of his works and he returned periodically for lectures and visits.

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