Kurt Vonnegut Additional Biography


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1922. Both the location and the era of his birth helped shape his distinctive worldview. Growing up in the American heartland in the calm interval between the world wars, Vonnegut had a brief vision of a middle-class world that embraced the values of honesty, decency, and human dignity. For Vonnegut, this was the world as it should be, a world unravaged by violence and war, a world untouched by technology. This period of childhood happiness was, however, merely the calm before the storm in a life that would be rocked by a series of personal and national disasters: the suicide of his mother on Mother’s Day; his prisoner-of-war experience in World War II; the deaths of his sister and brother-in-law; the dissolution of his first marriage; the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima; the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Vietnam War; the death of his first wife, with whom he had maintained a close friendship; and the death of his brother Bernard. All the heartaches of his family and his nation reverberate through Vonnegut’s work, while the artist, through his fiction, stands as advocate for a saner, calmer world.

During the years of the Great Depression, Vonnegut’s family suffered emotional and financial setbacks. When Vonnegut entered Cornell University in 1940, his father forbade him to study the arts and chose instead for his son a career in...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Kurt Vonnegut’s great-grandparents came to the United States from Germany in the 1850’s. He was the youngest of three children. His father was an architect whose unemployment as a result of the Great Depression led to a decline in the family’s fortunes, contributing to his mother’s suicide in 1944.

Kurt attended Shortridge High School in Indianapolis and wrote for its newspaper, the Daily Echo. He continued newspaper writing when he went to Cornell University in 1940. Although he had written against American entry into World War II, after Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Army, was sent to Europe, and was captured in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. He was imprisoned in Dresden, where he witnessed the Allied fire bombing that destroyed that city on February 13 and 14, 1945. Years later, that experience became the basis of his best-known novel, Slaughterhouse-Five: Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death.

On his return to the United States he was married and had three children. Later he and his wife adopted three more children when his sister and her husband died within forty-eight hours of each other. He attended graduate school in anthropology at the University of Chicago, then took a job as a public relations writer for the General Electric Company. There he began writing short stories, publishing his first, “Report on the Barnhouse Effect,” in 1950. He then devoted himself full-time to writing, his first novel, Player Piano, appearing in 1952. Vonnegut lived in New York until his death in 2007 at the age of 84.

Vonnegut’s experience in the technological world of General Electric and as a prisoner of war permeates his fiction. His writing explores the plight of the individual swept up in a world of technological revolution or cataclysmic events. His stories are punctuated with such questions as “Why me?,” “What are people for?,” or “Who am I this time?” His characters struggle to find identity in worlds devoid of reference points that give them meaning. Often it is the identity of the individual in an unfriendly environment that he explores: the prisoner of war, the jailbird, the artist in a philistine society, the woman in a male-dominated world. He displayed an anthropologist’s interest in how cultural customs often determine identity.


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Author Profile

Noted for his accessible writing style—which is comprehensible even to young readers—Vonnegut combines uncompromising social criticism with a willingness to address such controversial issues as sex, religion, and politics. The mixture has made him one of the most frequently censored novelists in the United States. His most famous novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), depicts the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, by British and American forces during World War II—an event that he witnessed firsthand as a prisoner of war. It combines fantastic elements, such as aliens and time travel, with the grim realities of war and the absurdities of human behavior. For various reasons, including the...

(The entire section is 1278 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Few comic fiction writers since Mark Twain have achieved the combination of popularity and critical acclaim attained by social satirist Kurt Vonnegut (VON-uh-guht) or had similarly long and productive careers. Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922, to Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., and the former Edith Lieber, Vonnegut was the youngest of three gifted children. His brother, Bernard, has made noteworthy contributions to the science of meteorology, and his sister, Alice, who died of cancer at age forty-one, showed talent as a sculptor. Vonnegut’s father and paternal grandfather were architects, while the Liebers owned a prosperous local brewery. Unfortunately, anti-German prejudice inspired by World War I plus financial setbacks...

(The entire section is 1150 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was born on November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the third child and second son of Kurt Vonnegut and Edith Lieber...

(The entire section is 1428 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922, the son of accomplished German immigrants. His grandfather held...

(The entire section is 343 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born November 11, 1922, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Kurt and Edith (Lieber) Vonnegut. Vonnegut's father was a...

(The entire section is 524 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born in 1922, the youngest of three children of Edith and Kurt Vonnegut, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His siblings had...

(The entire section is 457 words.)