Foreword by Dave Eggers
Smart, whimsical, and often scathing, the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut influenced a generation of American writers—including Dave Eggers, author of this volume’s Foreword. In these previously unpublished gems, Vonnegut’s originality infuses a unique landscape of factories, trailers, and bars—and characters who pit their dreams and fears against a cruel and sometimes comically indifferent world.
Here are stories of men and machines, art and artifice, and how ideals of fortune, fame, and love take curious twists in ordinary lives. An ambitious builder of roads, commanding an army of bulldozers, graders, and asphalt spreaders, fritters away his free time with miniature trains—until the women in his life crash his fantasy land. Trapped in a stenography pool, a young dreamer receives a call from a robber on the run, who presents her with a strange proposition. A crusty newspaperman is forced onto a committee to judge Christmas displays—a job that leads him to a suspiciously ostentatious ex-con and then a miracle. A hog farmer’s widow receives cryptic, unsolicited letters from a man in Schenectady about “the indefinable sweet aches of the spirit.” But what will she find when she goes to meet him in the flesh?
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922 - 2007) was born to third-generation German-American parents in Indianapolis, Indiana, the setting for many of his novels. As a high-schooler at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, Vonnegut worked on the nation's first and only daily high school newspaper. He briefly attended Butler University, but he dropped out when a professor said that his stories were not good enough. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he served as an opinions section editor for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun, and majored in chemistry before joining the U.S. Army during World War II. While attending Cornell University he was a member of The Delta Upsilon Fraternity following in the footsteps of his father. His experiences as an advance scout with the U.S. 106th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge and as a prisoner of war earned him a Purple Heart and have influenced much of his work.
While a prisoner of war, Vonnegut witnessed the aftermath of the 1945 bombing of Dresden, Germany, which destroyed much of the city. Vonnegut was one of just seven American prisoners of war in Dresden to survive, in an underground meatpacking cellar known as Slaughterhouse Five. "Utter destruction," he recalls. "Carnage unfathomable." The Nazis put him to work gathering bodies for mass burial... Vonnegut explains. "But there were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in guys with flamethrowers. All these civilians' remains were burned to ashes." This experience formed the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five and is a theme in at least six other books.
After the war, Vonnegut attended the University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. According to Vonnegut in Bagombo Snuff Box, the university rejected his first thesis on the necessity of accounting for the similarities between Cubist painting and Native American uprisings of the late 19th century, saying it was "unprofessional." (They later accepted his novel Cat's Cradle and awarded him the degree.) He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York, in public relations for General Electric. He attributes his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.
On the verge of abandoning writing, Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. While he was there Cat's Cradle became a bestseller, and he began "Slaughterhouse-Five," now widely regarded as one of the most significant works of American fiction in the 20th century.
Early in his adult life, he moved to Barnstable, Massachusetts, in the Cape Cod area. He married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, after returning from the war, but the couple separated in 1970. He did not divorce Cox until 1979, but from 1970 to 2000, Vonnegut lived in an East Side Manhattan brownstone, with the woman who would later become his second wife, the renowned photographer Jill Krementz. (Krementz and Vonnegut were married after the divorce from Cox was finalized.)