Kurt Vonnegut : Letters
by Kurt Vonnegut and Dan Wakefield

"Newsweek"/The Daily Beast - The Huffington Post" - Kansas City Star - Time Out New York - Kirkus Reviews"
This extraordinary collection of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Kurt Vonnegut's fiction.

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More About Kurt Vonnegut by Kurt Vonnegut; Dan Wakefield
"Newsweek"/The Daily Beast - The Huffington Post" - Kansas City Star - Time Out New York - Kirkus Reviews"
This extraordinary collection of personal correspondence has all the hallmarks of Kurt Vonnegut's fiction. Written over a sixty-year period, these letters, the vast majority of them never before published, are funny, moving, and full of the same uncanny wisdom that has endeared his work to readers worldwide.
Included in this comprehensive volume: the letter a twenty-two-year-old Vonnegut wrote home immediately upon being freed from a German POW camp, recounting the ghastly firebombing of Dresden that would be the subject of his masterpiece "Slaughterhouse-Five;" wry dispatches from Vonnegut's years as a struggling writer slowly finding an audience and then dealing with sudden international fame in middle age; righteously angry letters of protest to local school boards that tried to ban his work; intimate remembrances penned to high school classmates, fellow veterans, friends, and family; and letters of commiseration and encouragement to such contemporaries as Gail Godwin, Gunter Grass, and Bernard Malamud.
Vonnegut's unmediated observations on science, art, and commerce prove to be just as inventive as any found in his novels--from a crackpot scheme for manufacturing "atomic" bow ties to a tongue-in-cheek proposal that publishers be allowed to trade authors like baseball players. ("Knopf, for example, might give John Updike's contract to Simon and Schuster, and receive Joan Didion's contract in return.") Taken together, these letters add considerable depth to our understanding of this one-of-a-kind literary icon, in both his public and private lives. Each letter brims with the mordant humor and openhearted humanism upon which he built his legend. And virtually every page contains a quotable nugget that will make its way into the permanent Vonnegut lexicon.
- On a job he had as a young man: "Hell is running an elevator throughout eternity in a building with only six floors."
- To a relative who calls him a "great literary figure" "I am an American fad--of a slightly higher order than the hula hoop."
- To his daughter Nanny: "Most letters from a parent contain a parent's own lost dreams disguised as good advice."
- To Norman Mailer: "I am cuter than you are."
Sometimes biting and ironical, sometimes achingly sweet, and always alive with the unique point of view that made him the true cultural heir to Mark Twain, these letters comprise the autobiography Kurt Vonnegut never wrote.
Praise for "Kurt Vonnegut: Letters"
"Splendidly assembled . . . familiar, funny, cranky . . . chronicling Vonnegut's] life in real time."--Kurt Andersen, "The New York Times Book Review"
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" This collection is] by turns hilarious, heartbreaking and mundane. . . . Vonnegut himself is a near-perfect example of the same flawed, wonderful humanity that he loved and despaired over his entire life."--"NPR"
"Congenial, whimsical and often insightful missives . . . one of Vonnegut's] very best."--"Newsday"
"These letters display all the hallmarks of Vonnegut's fiction--smart, hilarious and heartbreaking."--"The New York Times Book Review"

  • ISBN-13: 9780385343756
  • ISBN-10: 0385343752
  • Publisher: Delacorte Pr
  • Publish Date: October 2012
  • Page Count: 436
  • Dimensions: 1.5 x 7 x 10.75 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Literary Collections > Letters
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2012-07-02
  • Reviewer: Staff

This miraculous volume of selected letters provides a moving and revelatory portrait of the famed author of Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. Organized by decade from the 1940s to the 2000s (Vonnegut died in 2007), the letters chart Vonnegut’s life from his service in WWII to his first steps in the world of publishing, his emergence into literary fame, and beyond. The grain of Vonnegut’s charming and unmistakable voice is palpable, along with his sense of humor that produces unexpected poetry on almost every page. The private and public Vonneguts both shine, as in his magical letters to his many children, or his painful reflections on divorce, war, and growing older. Elsewhere Vonnegut reveals aspects of his writing process and his philosophy of fiction, and marks his ongoing opposition to violence and censorship. Of particular literary interest are his letters to such authors as Norman Mailer, Anne Sexton, Bernard Malamud, and Jose Donoso. Edited by writer and longtime friend Wakefield, the volume begins with a warm retrospective essay, and each section is prefaced with overviews of each decade of Vonnegut’s life, as well as helpful notes to explain his references. Fans will find the collection as spellbinding as Vonnegut’s best novels, and casual readers will discover letters as splendid in their own way as those of Keats. Agent: The Farber Agency. (Oct.)

BookPage Reviews

A late bloomer, in letters: Vonnegut's wit & wisdom

Reading Kurt Vonnegut’s newly published Letters, it is nearly impossible to progress more than a page or two without pausing again to admire another wry observation or nod in agreement with some pithy aphorism. It is abundantly apparent even in his casual writing that Vonnegut, who would be celebrating his 90th birthday on November 11, was a writer of sharp intelligence and inventive wit. Although early on he was pigeonholed as a science fiction writer, time has more accurately assessed him as equal parts fabulist and satirist—and 100 percent original.

Like most originals, Vonnegut for many years struggled to find his audience. Although he began publishing widely while still in his 20s, he was not embraced by a large readership until he was past 40. That’s when the perfect storm of 1960s counterculture figured out what this often zany writer was all about, crowning him something of an underground superstar. His masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969, sealed the deal. After years of struggle, Vonnegut at last had recognition and the money that came with it.

Yet, as these selected letters—edited and introduced by Vonnegut’s good friend and fellow Hoosier, the novelist Dan Wakefield—make clear, achieving long-desired success did not necessarily guarantee happiness. Indeed, it is the earlier parts of this collected correspondence, which spans more than 60 years, that finds Vonnegut at his blithe best. The years of his first marriage have a warm and hectic feel, characterized by a house full of children. Later, remarried but with his children grown and gone, the writer seems less content, even as he becomes the public face for important causes such as censorship or amnesty for persecuted writers around the world.

After 20 years of writing, Vonnegut finally became an underground superstar, thanks to the 1960s counterculture.

The first—and most striking—letter in the book was written to his family from Le Havre, where Pfc. Kurt Vonnegut awaited transport home after being a German prisoner of war and surviving the firebombing of Dresden. That inferno, of course, would become the basis for Slaughterhouse-Five 20 years later, and this chilling, if typically unadorned account preserves a younger Vonnegut’s memories. Back stateside, Vonnegut pursued a typical GI’s path: marriage, graduate school, a public relations job with General Electric. But he was different from the start. The stories he wrote on nights and weekends began appearing in major magazines, and he started to forge the literary friendships that would sustain his career even in the dark times.

There are many congenial letters to his legendary editors (Knox Burger, Seymour Lawrence), fellow writers (Norman Mailer, Gail Godwin—his student at Iowa), family back in Indiana and his beloved children. One comes away from these missives with an impression of Vonnegut as a benevolent man—father, teacher, colleague, friend—who lived by a simple creed of kindness, even as he lampooned and battled the barbarians at the gate.

BAM Customer Reviews