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Kurt Vonnegut’s Modesty

August 11, 2013

JFKCAMP1960-0982-011-p0003In August 1960, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to Senator John F. Kennedy to offer his support to the candidate’s presidential campaign.  With some modesty, he pointed out to Kennedy that he can write “pretty well.”

“… I am thirty-eight, have been a freelance for ten years.  I’ve published two novels, and am a regular contributor of fiction to The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, McCalls, and so on.  On occasion, I write pretty well.

I would be honored if you could use me as a volunteer in any capacity whatsoever.”

He sure did write well and we learned about it for years thereafter, with his many books, collections and other writings.

Vonnegut was also modest about his vernacular.  In God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian, a 1999 collection of fictional interviews about the afterlife, or as Vonnegut puts it, “the hundred yards or so of vacant lot between the far end of the blue tunnel and the Pearly Gates,” Vonnegut spoke with William Shakespeare.  Vonnegut compared himself to the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon and took a back seat.

“During my most recently controlled near-death experience, I got to interview William Shakespeare.  We did not hit it off.  He said the dialect I spoke was the ugliest English he had ever heard, ‘fit to split the ears of groundlings.’  He asked if it had a name, and I said ‘Indianapolis.’”

Nothing against Shakespeare (which of course would be asinine).  Who can deny the immense influence that he had on the English language?  But Vonnegut’s alright with me and his nod to Shakespeare is becoming.  And the Midwest dialect is a small price for his fond childhood memories.

“Where is home?  I’ve wondered where home is, and I realized, it’s not Mars or someplace like that, it’s Indianapolis when I was nine years old.  I had a brother and a sister, a cat and a dog, and a mother and a father and uncles and aunts.  And there’s no way I can get there again.”

From → Writing

  1. Did JFK accept his help? I’ve always liked Vonnegut. Fun blog. –Curt


    • Thank you, Curt.

      That was the first question that I had. While I cannot tell conclusively, it appears that Vonnegut did not work for the campaign.


  2. read a lot of vonnegut. Galapagos is my favorite. yes, he does write well, LMA


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