Kurt Vonnegut

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Kurt Vonnegut, 1972, at the height of his success

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (born November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis , † April 11, 2007 in New York ) was an American writer .


Kurt Vonnegut, 1940s
New York, 228 East 48th Street (center), Kurt Vonnegut's house, 1973 to 2007

Kurt Vonnegut's parents were the architect Kurt Vonnegut and Edith Vonnegut geb. Dear, the daughter of a brewer. Both parents came from German families who immigrated to the USA from the Westphalian Münsterland . Kurt had two older siblings, Bernard (1914–1997) and Alice André (1917–1958).

Vonnegut attended Shortridge High School in Indianapolis from 1936 to 1940 and gained his first literary experience at the school newspaper The Shortridge High School Echo . He then studied biochemistry at Cornell University and worked at that time as an editor and columnist for the college newspaper Cornell Sun .

In early 1943, he volunteered for the US Army . Shortly before Vonnegut was relocated to Europe, his mother committed suicide because of depression. In December 1944 he served in the 106th Infantry Division as a soldier in a reconnaissance unit during the Battle of the Bulge . The units of the 106th Infantry Division, inexperienced considering an average age of 22 years, were partially worn out. Vonnegut was taken prisoner by Germany on December 22nd , during which he witnessed the air raids on Dresden and the destruction of the city by Allied bombers. He processed these formative experiences in his most famous novel Slaughterhouse Five ( Schlachthof 5 or The Children's Crusade ).

After returning from the war, on September 14, 1945, he married his childhood friend Jane Cox, later Yarmolinsky, died 1986. He had known her since they were in kindergarten. Vonnegut began studying anthropology at the University of Chicago . He also worked as a police reporter and from 1947 in the Public Relations department of General Electric in Schenectady . In 1951 he quit the job in order to continue working as a freelance writer. He was able to sell several short stories and short stories to US magazines, and in August 1952 his first novel Player Piano appeared with an initial circulation of 7,600 copies. In 1954 Vonnegut bought a large, 200-year-old house in West Barnstable , on Scudder Lane on the corner of Route 6A , for himself and his family on the Cape Cod peninsula , where he lived mostly until 1973.

In September 1958 there was a dramatic turning point: Vonnegut's brother-in-law, James Carmalt Adams, Jr. was killed in the railway accident on Newark Bay (44 dead), and a few days later his wife, Vonnegut's sister Alice, died of cancer. Vonnegut and his wife Jane then decided to take in and adopt all three children of the Adams family. Jane later described the extremely stressful, but also very happy time with the now six children in detail in her posthumous memoirs.

After Vonnegut's first novels only had a comparatively small print run, Slaughterhouse Five (1969), in which he dealt with the bombardment of Dresden, turned out to be an enormous success. The novel started in March 1969 with a print run of 10,000 copies, which were sold out in a few days, so that numerous other editions followed. It was translated into many languages, made into a film and soon became an important key work of pacifism , especially among the opponents of the Vietnam War . The work was also published in the Soviet Union , Czechoslovakia and the GDR . In later novels, the writer made a name for himself as a bitter opponent of US President George W. Bush's war policy .

In 1971 Vonnegut and his wife Jane divorced, who later married the well-known scientist and politician Adam Yarmolinsky (1922-2000).

The increasing income from his writing enabled Vonnegut to finally give up his house in Barnstable and buy a house in Manhattan in the fall of 1973 , a brick building built in 1860/61 at 228 East 48th Street, not far from the UN headquarters . He lived there for the next 34 years until his death. He bought another house, primarily used as a summer residence, in 1979 at Sagaponack , 620 Sagg Main Street, a small hamlet in the Hamptons . The building, erected in 1740 on a large estate, included a barn that the previous owner, the artist Frank Stella , had used as a studio. She plays a central role in Vonnegut's novel Bluebeard (1989), which plays in the world of Abstract Expressionism artists . On November 24, 1979, in the New York Methodist Church on 60th Street and Park Avenue , he married the photojournalist Jill Krementz (* 1940), who specializes in portraits and with whom he had lived for 15 years.

Kurt Vonnegut died on the evening of April 11, 2007 of the consequences of a head injury that he sustained in a fall in his New York home. He left behind his second wife, Jill Vonnegut nee. Krementz and seven children he had raised. Three came from his first marriage to Jane Cox, three other children he had adopted came from the marriage of his sister Alice, who died of cancer in 1958, and one was the daughter he adopted together with Krementz.

His brother Bernard Vonnegut was a meteorologist and inventor of cloud inoculation with silver iodide when he was at General Electric, where Irving Langmuir had also worked on it. Kurt Vonnegut, who temporarily worked for General Electric's public relations department, used this as material for the subject of a modification of water (Ice-nine) in his novel Cat's Cradle .

Artistic creation

Vonnegut saw himself as a legitimate descendant of Mark Twain , which he already indicated by his external appearance. He also gave his first son, who was born in 1947, the name Mark. His strongly philosophical work combines satirical elements with science fiction in an original way , whereby his novels are comparatively short. For example, the original edition of Slaughterhouse Five is only 186 pages. It is also characterized by an extremely simple language, some of which is reminiscent of the language of children. He also likes to loosen up his texts with his own humorous illustrations, which are also kept extremely simple. An important stylistic device is the frequent, refrain-like repetition of a proverbial phrase. In Slaughterhouse Five he ends many sections with the laconic saying “And so it goes”, which reminds us of the “Amen” used in prayers.

The writer was not religious, but came from a family with a long tradition of free thinkers . He was honorary president of the American Humanist Association and was one of the first to sign the Humanist Manifesto III . In Vonnegut's novels, however, there are repeated arguments with religion, which he questioned or even led ad absurdum, for the first time in his early work The Sirens of Titan (1959).

The atheist and humanist Vonnegut saw religion as an attempt by people to overcome their loneliness. In the novel Slapstick , Kurt Vonnegut set the utopia of an (artificial) extended family against the power of loneliness , which ultimately destroyed the small family. Kurt Vonnegut expressed himself skeptically about the success of love and its benefits. In his opinion, people need less love than general decency in dealing with one another.

His fictional alter ego Kilgore Trout appears in some stories . The real role model for Trout was probably the science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, who was friends with Vonnegut . Vonnegut had put some immature ideas or historical fragments on paper that were too bizarre for him , he liked to attribute them to the "long out of print science fiction author Kilgore Trout". There is speculation that derives Kill Gore-Trout (to German quasi: Schlachte the trout ) from an in Time Quake described anecdote to Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea from, but the connection is sturgeon - trout , in German sturgeon or trout obvious. In Alan Rudolph's adaptation of Breakfast of Champions , Kilgore Trout is portrayed by Albert Finney .

The idea of ​​Kilgore Trout was also taken up by the author Philip José Farmer in the novel Venus on the Half-Shell (German The Birth of Venus ), which he wrote under this name.

His first novel Player Piano (1952) is considered an important work among the dystopias .


The lyrics to the songs Happiness by The Kilowatt , It Was Fear of Myself That Made Me Odd and parts of No Transitory by the Canadian post-hardcore band Alexisonfire are based on the anthology Welcome to the Monkey House (1950-1968). The short stories The Euphio Question / More Stately Mansions , Report on the Barnhouse Effect and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow were received .

The title of the song Starshaped from the album Modern Life Is Rubbish by the British band Blur is borrowed from Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions .


An asteroid discovered on Kurt Vonnegut's 77th birthday was named after him: (25399) Vonnegut . In addition, a crater on the planet Mercury was named after him in 2017 : Mercury crater Vonnegut .

Works (selection)


  • Player Piano (1952)
German as: The infernal system. Translated by Wulf Bergner . Heyne, Munich 1964. Also: Goldmann TB # 9174, 1988, ISBN 3-442-09174-8 .
German as: Die Sirenen des Titan . Translated by Harry Rowohlt . Piper, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-492-02437-8 . Also as: rororo # 5318, 1984, ISBN 3-499-15318-1 .
  • Mother Night (1962)
German as: mother night. Translated by Klaus Hoffer . Piper, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-492-10875-X .
  • Cat's Cradle (1963)
German as: Katzenwiege. Translated by Michael Schulte . Piper, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-492-02531-5 . Also as: rororo # 12449, 1989, ISBN 3-499-12449-1 .
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
German as: God bless you, Mr. Rosewater. Translated by Joachim Seyppel . Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1968. Also as: rororo # 1698, 1974, ISBN 3-499-11698-7 .
German as: Schlachthof 5 or Der Kinderkreuzzug . Translated by Kurt Wagenseil . Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 1970, ISBN 3-455-07955-5 . New translation by Gregor Hens : Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 2016, ISBN 978-3-455-40555-2 .
  • Breakfast of Champions (1973)
German as: Breakfast for strong men. Translated by Kurt Heinrich Hansen. Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 1974, ISBN 3-455-07952-0 . Also as: rororo # 4047, 1977, ISBN 3-499-14047-0 .
  • Slapstick or Lonesome No More (1976)
German as: Slapstick or Never again lonely. Translated by Michael Schulte. Piper, Munich & Zurich 1977, ISBN 3-492-02289-8 . Also as: rororo # 4502, ISBN 3-499-14502-2 .
  • Jailbird (1979)
German as: Galgenvogel. Translated by Klaus Hoffer. Piper, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-492-02611-7 . Also as: rororo # 5423, 1984, ISBN 3-499-15423-4 .
  • Deadeye Dick (1982)
German as: Zielwasser. Translated by Lutz-W. Wolff. Goldmann TB # 8633, 1987, ISBN 3-442-08633-7 .
  • Galapagos (1985)
German as: Galapagos. Translated by Lutz-W. Wolff. Bertelsmann, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-570-02550-0 . Also as: Goldmann TB # 9624, 1990, ISBN 3-442-09624-3 .
  • Bluebeard (1987)
German as: Bluebeard. Translated by Lutz-W. Wolff. Bertelsmann, Munich 1989, ISBN 3-570-00916-5 . Also as: Goldmann TB # 9926, 1991, ISBN 3-442-09926-9 .
  • Hocus Pocus (1990)
German as: Hokus Pokus or Wohin so hastily ?. Translated by Lutz-W. Wolff. Goldmann TB # 41155, 1992, ISBN 3-442-41155-6 .
  • Timequake (1997)
German as: Zeitbeben. Translated by Harry Rowohlt . Hanser, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-446-19508-4 . Also as: Goldmann TB # 44507, 2000, ISBN 3-442-44507-8 .
  • A Man Without a Country (2005)
German as: man without a country. Translated by Harry Rowohlt. Pendo, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-86612-077-8 . Paperback of this edition as a man without a country. Memories of a drowning man. Piper, Munich a. a. 2007, ISBN 978-3-492-24928-7 .

Short story collections

  • Canary in a Cat House (1961)
  • Welcome to the Monkey House (1968, therein: Harrison Bergeron )
    • German: Go back to your dear wife and son. Translated by Kurt Wagenseil u. a. Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg 1974, ISBN 3-455-07953-9 . Also as: rororo # 1756, 1974, ISBN 3-499-11756-8 .
  • Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970)
  • Between Time and Timbuktu (1972)
  • Sun Moon Star (1980)
  • Bagombo Snuff Box (1997)
    • German: Search dream, offer me: Scattered short stories. Translated by Harry Rowohlt. Hanser, Munich & Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-446-20062-2 .
  • God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999)
    • German: God bless you, Dr. Kevorkian: Broadcasting from Beyond. Translated by Harry Rowohlt. Hanser, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-446-20468-7 .
  • Armageddon in Retrospect (2008, short stories and essays)
    • English: The dove-blue dragon: beautiful stories. Translated by Harry Rowohlt. Kein & Aber, Zurich 2009, ISBN 978-3-03-695539-1 .
  • Look at the Birdie (2009)
  • While Mortals Sleep (2011)
    • English: Hundred Dollar Kisses: Sixteen Unpublished Stories. Translated by Harry Rowohlt. Kein & Aber, Zurich 2013, ISBN 978-3-0369-5624-4 .
  • We Are What We Pretend to Be (2012)
  • Sucker's Portfolio (2013)
  • Complete stories . Edited by Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield, with a foreword by Dave Eggers . Seven Stories Press, New York 2017, ISBN 978-1-6098-0808-2 .

Essays and other prose

  • Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (1974)
  • Palm Sunday (1981)
    • German: Das Nudelwerk: speeches, reports, short texts: 1965 - 1980. Translated by Klaus Birkenhauer. Straelener Manuskript-Verlag, Straelen 1992, ISBN 3-89107-033-0 . Also as: Das Nudelwerk: Write down. Reclams Universal Library # 1513, 1994, ISBN 3-379-01513-X .
  • Nothing Is Lost Save Honor: Two Essays (1984)
  • Fates Worse Than Death (1991)
    • German: Better dead then: An autobiographical collage from the eighties. Translated by Klaus Birkenhauer. Straelener Manuskript-Verlag, Straelen 1993, ISBN 3-89107-035-7 .
  • A Man Without a Country (2005)
  • Kurt Vonnegut: The Cornell Sun Years 1941–1943 (2012)
  • If This Isn't Nice, What Is? Advice to the Young (2013)
  • Vonnegut by the Dozen (2013)


  • Happy Birthday Wanda June. Dell, New York 1970.
    • German: Halali-Luja !!! Piece in 3 acts. Translation and editing for the stage by Ruth and Rick Mueller. Distribution point and publisher of German stage writers and stage composers, Norderstedt approx. 1975 (not in bookshops).




Film adaptations
  • 1986: Do it again, Dad / Orig .: Back to School (short appearance as himself) - Director: Alan Metter


  • Hans-Jürgen von Bose Schlachthof 5th opera in two parts, libretto by the composer. World premiere: Bavarian State Opera July 1, 1996, staged by Eike Gramss, set by Gottfried Pilz

Audio book / radio play


Individual works and individual aspects
  • Harold Bloom (Ed.): Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Chelsea House, Philadelphia 2002, ISBN 0-7910-6337-2 .
  • Harold Bloom (Ed.): Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Chelsea House, New York 2001.
  • Kevin Alexander Boon: Chaos theory and the interpretation of literary texts. The case of Kurt Vonnegut. Mellen, Lewiston, NY 1997 (= Studies in American literature 27), ISBN 0-7734-8553-8 .
  • Helmbrecht Breiig: satire and novel. Studies on the theory of genre conflict and the satirical narrative literature of the USA from Brackenridge to Vonnegut. Narr, Tübingen 1984 (= Mannheimer Contributions to Linguistics and Literature 4).
  • Lawrence R. Broer: Sanity plea. Schizophrenia in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Umi Research Press, Ann Arbor, Mich. ao 1989 (= Studies in speculative fiction 18), ISBN 0-8357-1885-9 .
  • Sabine Broker: Adventurous elements in the modern novel. Italo Calvino, Ernst Augustin, Luigi Malerba, Kurt Vonnegut, Ror Wolf. Hanser, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-446-13311-9 .
  • Peter Freese : Kurt Vonnegut jr .: The Sirens of Titan. In: Hartmut Heuermann (Ed.), The Science Fiction Novel in Anglo-American Literature. Interpretations. Bagel, Düsseldorf 1986, pp. 196-219, ISBN 3-590-07454-X .
  • Richard Giannone: Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Kennikat Press, Port Washington, New York 1977.
  • Irina Klein: Pluralism in the worldview of Kurt Vonnegut's works. Tectum, Marburg 1997 (= Edition Wissenschaft; Series American Studies 7), ISBN 3-8288-0009-2 .
  • Dominik Kuppels: War and "black humor". Postmodern narrative methods with Joseph Heller (Catch-22), Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-five) and Thomas Pynchon (Gravity's rainbow). Tectum, Marburg 1997 (= Edition Wissenschaft; Series Anglistik 16), ISBN 3-89608-786-X .
  • Monica Loeb: Vonnegut's Duty-Dance with Death: Theme and Structure in Slaughterhouse-Five. Umeå Studies in the Humanities, Umeå, Sweden 1979.
  • Leonard Mustazza: Forever pursuing genesis. The myth of Eden in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Bucknell University Press, Lewisburg 1990, ISBN 0-8387-5176-8 .
  • Leonard Mustazza (Ed.): The critical response to Kurt Vonnegut. Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn 1994 (= Critical responses in arts and letters 14), ISBN 0-313-28634-5 .
  • Helena Bertram Countess von Nimcz zu Caldaha: There Is No Why - Religion and the Image of God in the Work of Kurt Vonnegut based on selected novels. Hebe-Verlag, Alzenau 2009, ISBN 978-3-00-027565-4 .
  • Ralf Norrman: "Wholeness restored". Love of symmetry as a shaping force in the writings of Henry James, Kurt Vonnegut, Samuel Butler and Raymond Chandler. Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 3-631-33729-9 .
  • Bo Pettersson: The world according to Kurt Vonnegut. Moral paradox and narrative form. Åbo Akademis Förl., Åbo 1994, ISBN 952-9616-45-7 .
  • Stefan T. Pinternagel : Kurt Vonnegut jr. and the science fiction - Kilgore Trout, Tralfamadore and Bokononism. Shayol, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-926126-49-3 .
  • Peter J. Reed: The Short Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut 1997.
  • Barbara Sinic: The socially critical function of the grotesque. Analyzed using the novels by Vonnegut, Irving, Boyle, Grass, Rosendorfer and Widmer. Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2003 (= Viennese contributions to comparative literature and Romance studies 12), ISBN 3-631-50649-X .
  • Eva-Maria Streuer: Human Threat from Science and Technology? Answers in the novels (1952–69) by Kurt Vonnegut. Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1984 (= Mainzer Studies in American Studies 19), ISBN 3-8204-5180-3 .
  • Asa B. Pieratt, Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, Jerome Klinkowitz: Kurt Vonnegut. A comprehensive bibliography. Archon Books, Hamden, Conn. 1987, ISBN 0-208-02071-3 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Shields (2011), p. 94.
  2. Shields (2011), p. 123.
  3. Shields (2011), p. 133 and fig. After p. 338.
  4. Jane Vonnegut Yarmolinsky: Angels Without Wings: A Courageous Family's Triumph over Tragedy . Houghton Mifflin, 1987 (German: angel without wings. Bastei-Lübbe, 1990).
  5. Shields (2011), pp. 314f.
  6. Shields (2011), p. 340.
  7. Shields (2011), pp. 342f.
  8. Stuart Maconie: Blur. 3862 days. The official chronicle. Hannibal, Höfen 2000, ISBN 978-3-85445-176-1 .