Historic Legacy * Education Resource * Local Treasure
To some avid HI architecture fans, he might not be considered the “favorite Indy Vonnegut,” but to others, it will always be author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. –who emerged as an “overnight success” in the 1960s. The truth is, it’s hard to pick a favorite, since the Vonnegut family has many colorful characters and has been a local institution for over a century.
The Great-grandfather: Clemens Vonnegut, Senior (1824–1906) emigrated from Germany in 1850 and built the Vonnegut Hardware store, an extremely successful business venture that elevated and magnified the immigrant family’s finances and social standing.
The Grandfather: Bernard Vonnegut, Senior (1855 – 1908) was co-founder of the renowned Indianapolis architectural firm of Vonnegut & Bohn. Local landmarks attributed to Bernard Senior are: the Athenaeum, William H. Block Company store, John Herron Art Institute (Now Herron High School), the L. S. Ayres store Building, the Delaware Street Synagogue of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation and Shortridge High School on Meridian Street.
The Father: Kurt Vonnegut, Senior (1884 – 1957) carried on in the family architecture business as partner in the firms of Vonnegut & Bohn; Vonnegut, Bohn & Mueller; and Vonnegut, Wright, & Yeager. Local buildings designed by Kurt Senior include: the Indiana Bell Telephone Building, All Souls Unitarian Church, the Plaza Service Station, various Hook’s Drug Stores (pre-WWII), and the family residence in the Williams Creek neighborhood.
The Son: Kurt Vonnegut, Junior (1922 – 2007) graduated from Shortridge High School in 1940 and left Indianapolis to pursue his education. As is typical of many successful men, his “overnight success” was anything but overnight. Kurt attended Cornell University and dropped out to enlist in the Army during WWII. The Army sent Kurt to Carnegie Institute of Technology after he enlisted. His experiences as a prisoner of war and his survival of the bombing of Dresden, would later feature quite prominently in his writings — but being a new kind of “voice” in American literature lead to a great deal of frustration before his best-known novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, was recognized as a success. Kurt attended the University of Chicago after the war was over, and after he married.
Science fiction author, novelist, playwright, artist and social commentator: Kurt Jr.’s accomplishments may well outlive the beautiful edifices built by his forefathers. Many of his works are now considered “classics” of American literature:
- Novels: Player Piano (1952) The Sirens of Titan (1959) Mother Night (1961) Cat’s Cradle (1963) God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) Breakfast of Champions (1973) Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (1976) Jailbird (1979) Deadeye Dick (1982) Galapagos (1985) Bluebeard (1987) Hocus Pocus (1990) Timequake (1997)
- Short Fiction: Canary in a Cathouse (1961) Welcome to the Monkey House: A Collection of Short Works (1968) Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (1999)
- Plays: Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970) Between Time and Timbuktu, or Prometheus Five: A Space Fantasy (1972) Make Up Your Mind (1993) Miss Temptation (1993) Essays and Collections Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (1974) Palm Sunday (1981) Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage (1991) God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999) A Man Without a Country (2005)
Library of Champions*
Though Vonnegut didn’t reside for long in Indianapolis after his high school graduation, it appears he looked upon his Indianapolis roots with pleasure– and with his signature, acerbic wit.
“All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis.” —Kurt Vonnegut, 1986
Therefore, it seems only fitting that the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library would be located here. The not-for-profit library and museum champions the author’s literary, artistic and cultural contributions and serves as a unique educational resource with a variety of highly interactive events and displays–especially for such a small organization. A Vonnegut devotee could spend a week soaking in the author’s essence, free to peruse the library and museum exhibits at will — or — to enjoy a deeply insightful (if appropriately irreverent) discussion of Vonnegut’s life and times with Curator, Chris Lafave.
Guests benefit from the passion of the staff and their expert story telling. From:
– Ironic: A delicious collection of rejection letters from short-sighted editors to
– Quirky : Vonnegut’s drawing, doodles and quotations, and from
– Reverent: Veterans’ writing workshops, Veterans Reclaim Armistice Day panels, exhibits by soldier-artists and more to
– Irreverent: The annual Banned Books Week…the gamut is well-covered.
What’s In It For You?
The library serves the community by supporting Indianapolis public high school newspapers, awarding scholarships through high school writing competitions, and bringing together members of the Indianapolis writing community through visiting authors, artists, performers and others. Thanks to donors and volunteers, the library continues Kurt Vonnegut’s fight against censorship and supports language and visual arts education through programs and outreach activities such as:
- Teaching Teachers to Teach Vonnegut (an accredited continuing education course)
- Kurt Vonnegut and Jane Cox Vonnegut Writing Awards
- So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library
- Night of Vonnegut
- IDADA First Friday Gallery Tours
- School tours and partnerships
- Original exhibits and art shows
– Did you ever meet Kurt Vonnegut or any other Vonnegut?
– What are your favorite Vonnegut stories and quotes?
Valuing = Supporting
Publishing HI every day is more than just a ’labor of love‘ (though we do love it), but takes hundreds of hours each month to create. If you are entertained, inspired, better informed, feel more connected with Indy or just value what you discover here, please consider becoming a supporting member with a recurring monthly donation.
Or, become a one-time supporter with a single donation in any amount you choose.
More old-fashioned? Checks or money orders may be sent to:
Historicindianapolis.com at P.O. Box 2999, Indianapolis, IN 46206
Thank you and HI-5! Love, The HI Team