John W. Kluge Lecture
Kurt Vonnegut: How Being in the Firebombing of Dresden as a Prisoner of War Shaped His Vision and Work
Kurt Vonnegut spent 23 years on a novel based on his experience of the firebombing of Dresden (February 13-15,1945). An overnight success when published in 1969, Slaughterhouse-Five is now considered one of the most important American novels of the latter twentieth century. In this talk, Suzanne McConnell–Vonnegut’s student, friend, and author of Pity the Reader, a book on his writing advice–explains how Vonnegut’s suffering both as an American POW at the hands of German captors, and along with German citizens, at the hands of American and English pilots’ bombing, informed Vonnegut’s sense of ambiguity and irony, hatred of dogma, and quick, dark humor — not least because his great-grandparents were German and his parents spoke German occasionally at home. Despite these connections, the German audience for Vonnegut’s work has remained curiously small. Why would this be? McConnell ventures some answers and wonders if in 2022, the centennial year of Vonnegut’s birth, his writing might find new readers in the country of his ancestors.
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