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(From Wikipedia) Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007) was a prolific and genre-bending American novelist known for works blending satire, black comedy, and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973).
Kurt Vonnegut was born to fourth-generation German-American parents, son and grandson of architects in the Indianapolis firm Vonnegut & Bohn, on Armistice Day. As a student at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, Vonnegut worked on the nation's first daily high school newspaper, The Daily Echo. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1942, where he served as assistant managing editor and associate editor for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun, and majored in biochemistry. While attending Cornell, he was a member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity, following in the footsteps of his father. While at Cornell, Vonnegut enlisted in the U.S. Army. The army sent him to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the University of Tennessee to study mechanical engineering. On May 14, 1944, Mothers' Day, his mother, Edith S. (Lieber) Vonnegut, committed suicide.
Kurt Vonnegut's experience as a soldier and prisoner of war had a profound influence on his later work. As a Private with the 106th Infantry Division, Vonnegut was cut off from his battalion along with 5 other battalion scouts and wandered behind enemy lines for several days until captured by Wehrmacht troops on December 14, 1944. Imprisoned in Dresden, Vonnegut witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden in February 1945, which destroyed most of the city. Vonnegut was one of a few American prisoners of war in Dresden to survive, in their cell in an underground meat locker of a Slaughterhouse that had been converted to a prison camp. The administration building had the postal address Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five) which the prisoners took to using as the name for the whole camp. "Utter destruction", he recalled, "carnage unfathomable." The Germans put him to work gathering bodies for mass burial. "But there were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Nazis sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians' remains were burned to ashes." This experience formed the core of one of his most famous works, Slaughterhouse-Five, and is a theme in at least six other books.
Vonnegut was freed by Red Army troops in May 1945. Upon returning to America, he was awarded a Purple Heart for what he called a "ludicrously negligible wound," later writing in Timequake that he was given the decoration after suffering a case of "frostbite."
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 painters and the leaders of late 19th century Native American uprisings, saying it was "unprofessional." He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York, in public relations for General Electric. The University of Chicago later accepted his novel Cat's Cradle as his thesis, citing its anthropological content and awarded him the M.A. degree in 1971.
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 best-seller, and he began Slaughterhouse-Five, now considered one of the best American novels of the 20th century, appearing on the 100 best lists of Time magazine and the Modern Library.
Early in his adult life, he moved to Barnstable, Massachusetts, a town on Cape Cod.
The author was known as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., until his father's death in October 1957; after that he was known simply as Kurt Vonnegut. He was also the younger brother of Bernard Vonnegut, an atmospheric scientist who discovered that silver iodide could be used for cloud seeding, the process of artificial stimulation of rain.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, after returning from World War II, but the couple separated in 1970. He did not divorce Cox until 1979, but from 1970 Vonnegut lived with the woman who would later become his second wife, photographer Jill Krementz. Krementz and Vonnegut were married after the divorce from Cox was finalized.
He raised seven children: three with his first wife, three more born to his sister Alice and adopted by Vonnegut after she died of cancer, and a seventh, Lily, adopted with Krementz.
On November 11, 1999, the asteroid 25399 Vonnegut was named in Vonnegut's honor.
Vonnegut reportedly smoked Pall Mall cigarettes, unfiltered, which he claimed is a "classy way to commit suicide."
Vonnegut died at the age of 84 on April 11, 2007, in Manhattan after a fall at his Manhattan home several weeks prior resulted in irreversible brain injuries.
He was deeply influenced by early socialist labor leaders, especially Indiana natives Powers Hapgood and Eugene V. Debs, and he frequently quotes them in his work. He named characters after both Debs (Eugene Debs Hartke in Hocus Pocus and Eugene Debs Metzger in Deadeye Dick) and Russian Communist leader Leon Trotsky (Leon Trotsky Trout in Galápagos). He was a lifetime member of the American Civil Liberties Union and was featured in a print advertisement for them.
Vonnegut frequently addressed moral and political issues but rarely dealt with specific political figures until after his retirement from fiction. (Although the downfall of Walter Starbuck, a minor Nixon administration bureaucrat who is the narrator and main character in Jailbird (1979), would not have occurred but for the Watergate scandal, the focus is not on the administration.) His collection God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian referenced controversial assisted suicide proponent Jack Kevorkian.
With his columns for In These Times, he began a blistering attack on the Bush administration and the Iraq war. "By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East?" he wrote. "Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas." In These Times quoted him as saying "The only difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected."
In A Man Without a Country, he wrote that "George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography." He did not regard the 2004 election with much optimism; speaking of Bush and John Kerry, he said that "no matter which one wins, we will have a Skull and Bones President at a time when entire vertebrate species, because of how we have poisoned the topsoil, the waters and the atmosphere, are becoming, hey presto, nothing but skulls and bones."