Kurt Vonnegut was an American novelist known for his black comedy and science fiction stories. He wrote some of the most influential American novels of all time, including Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions. Performing a people search will show that Vonnegut is one of the most acclaimed novelists of all time.
Vonnegut was born on November 11, 1922, in Indiana. His parents were fourth-generation German-Americans. When he was at Cornell University, Vonnegut enrolled in the US Army, and he was sent to several other colleges to study mechanical engineering. During World War II, he was sent into battle as a private with the 106th Infantry Division.
Vonnegut’s time at war had a profound effect on his writings. Lost behind enemy lines, he and his fellow soldiers ended up being captured by German troops on December 14, 1944. They were imprisoned in Dresden, the capital city of the German state of Saxony. As Vonnegut was able to speak German, he was appointed the leader of the POWs; until he managed to anger some soldiers so much that he received a beating.
Between February 13 and 15, 1945, the British RAF bombed Dresden, destroying nearly the entire city, and killing as many as 40,000 people. Vonnegut’s group of soldiers survived the attack as they were being kept in an underground meat locker, which the Germans referred to as “Slaughterhouse 5.” After the attack, the Germans forced the remaining POWs to gather bodies for mass burial while German citizens pelted them with rocks. These experiences became the foundation of Slaughterhouse-Five and 6 other Vonnegut novels.
After the war, Vonnegut returned to America and was awarded a Purple Heart. He wrote about this in his novel Timequake. Later, he pursued a post-graduate degree in anthropology at the University of Chicago. After rejecting his initial thesis, his novel Cat’s Cradle was accepted as his thesis in 1971 and he was awarded the M.A. degree. His first published story was Report on the Barnhouse Effect in the February 11, 1950 edition of Collier’s. His first novel, Player Piano, a story about human workers being completely replaced by machines, was published in 1952. The Sirens of the Titan was published in 1959. Douglas Adams, the creator of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, called it “an absolute tour de four.”
In 1963, Cat’s Cradle was published. It was a bestseller and one of his most celebrated works. In 1969, Vonnegut released Slaughterhouse-Five. This novel was the debut of his unique writing style where the structure of the story was distorted by the element of time travel. Breakfast of Champions was published in 1973 and Deadeye Dick was released in 1982. After the publication of Timequake in 1997, Vonnegut announced that he was retiring from fiction-writing. He continued writing for the magazine In These Times until his death in 2007.
Many of Vonnegut’s works were adapted into film or stage productions. The movie Slaughterhouse-Five, starring Michael Sacks, Valerie Perrine, and Ron Leibman, was released in 1972. It was also adapted for a theatre production by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1996. Cat’s Cradle was turned into a 2008 stage adaptation and there’s some rumor about a film adaptation in the works. Welcome to the Monkey House inspired a television series in 1991, featuring Vonnegut himself. The Sirens of the Titan was adapted to stage in 1974. In 1982, Who Am I This Time? was adapted into a direct-to-TV movie, starring Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken.