Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, R.I.P.

One of the great authors of the last 50 years died yesterday. Kurt Vonnegut was 84. His work has had an important influence on writing and culture. Among all his work my two favorites were shorter pieces. "Who Am I This Time" and "The Manned Missiles" are both from "Welcome to the Monkey House". Each have special places in my heart.

I got to meet Vonnegut once when he spoke at Chautauqua Institution here in western New York. I was on the announcing staff at a local radio station and no one from the news department was particularly jazzed about covering him. With a well deserved reputation as a book addict they asked if I wanted to go do the coverage. I think I was out the door before they finished asking the question. Vonnegut spoke at the outdoor Amphitheater then went to the house where he was staying for the press conference. By the time I got there the only space available was kneeling right next to his chair. I crouched there with tape recorder in hand listening to the conversation. Finally it was my turn to ask a question. He had spoken of the resistance by the older generation of authors to his generations new style and approach to literature. So I asked him, now that he was one of the older generation, his thoughts on the new generation of "young turks". Vonnegut took a look at me as if surprised that I'd actually listened to the lecture and said:

"That's a good question."

That pretty much made my day. I had managed to ask a question that had, in some small way, managed to impress "the great man". His answer was that he didn't see it as his place to pass judgement. So the question turned out to be better than the answer.

I assume that some portion of the press conference ran on the news that day. There's no memory of that at all. I do remember crouching next to an author I greatly respected and asking a question that he thought was pretty good.

And now he's gone.

So it goes.


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