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Remembering Kurt Vonnegut: “A Rather Daft and Kind Old Man”

April 16th, 2007 · No Comments · Blogroll, Blogs, Books, Culture, History, Lit, News, Peace, Uncategorized

Vonnegut Cage DrawingGregory Rodriguez has a piece in the LA Times today in which he remembers working as an editorial assistant for Kurt Vonnegut’s publisher, and getting to know Vonnegut as he worked on revising Hocus Pocus for publication.

Their first meeting, as Rodriguez recounts it, has Vonnegut displaying a vulnerability
that is at once charming and wrenchingly familiar to us lesser writers who scratch away in his shadow:

I was a 23-year-old, highly impressionable and generally terrified editorial assistant at Putnam Publishing in New York when I first met Kurt Vonnegut. One day, when his editor, my boss, Faith Sale, was out of town, he came to the office, slipped by the receptionist and asked to see Sale. What he got was me.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Vonnegut, I’m Gregory, Faith’s assistant. She’ll be in London for the next two weeks. Is there anything I can do for you?”

He looked dejected, even scared. And referring to the “Hocus Pocus” manuscript he had recently handed in, he asked, “Gregory, is the book terrible?”

From there they develop a glancing but warm professional friendship, and Rodriguez is able to give us the rare perspective of someone who got to know Vonnegut the man before reading Slaughterhouse-Five. Go read the full piece, but here’s the essence of it:

A critic once wrote that “Slaughterhouse-Five” “was less about Dresden than about Vonnegut’s failure to come to terms with it.” I couldn’t agree more. Like Lot’s wife, Vonnegut looked back at the firebombing of Dresden, the defining event of his life, and never got over it. No, he didn’t turn to salt, and more important, he didn’t resort to anger. He saw and he wept, but, like one of his protagonists in another novel, millionaire philanthropist Eliot Rosewater, Vonnegut’s answer throughout his writing was to exhort us to be kind.

Based on my few days and hours as a lowly editorial assistant toiling beside the great Kurt Vonnegut, I can honestly say that he practiced what he preached.

Also: here’s a small roundup of blog elegies for Vonnegut I liked, from Earthgoat, NZBC, and Starling.

Previously on Ocelopotamus: Kurt Vonnegut, Home at Last.


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