Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

On this date in 1922, author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Clemens Vonnegut Sr., his German immigrant great-grandfather, helped found the Freethinker Society of Indianapolis in the 1870s. He enrolled at Cornell University and wrote for the student newspaper before leaving after three years when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943.

His books and short stories, including social satire, black comedy and science fiction, often take a tragicomic turn. Life-altering experiences included his mother’s suicide on Mother’s Day 1944 while he was home on leave and surviving as a prisoner of war the Allied incendiary bombing that destroyed Dresden, Germany.

His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1954, followed by The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; or, Pearls Before Swine (1965), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick (1976), Jailbird (1979), Galápagos (1985) Bluebeard (1987) Hocus Pocus (1990) and Timequake (1997). Several collections of his short stories and essays have also been published, such as God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999).

While admitting that churches did some good, he was mostly dismissive of religion. In Issue 82 of the literary journal Image, he’s quoted as saying, “I am not, nor have I ever been a Christian, so I should not be given a funeral or memorial service under any sort of Christian supervision or in any Christian space.” In a 1991 letter to Billie Lyon he wrote, “When I, an atheist (there’s money in it), hear from a man about to get out of prison who has no family waiting for him, who wants to know what to do with freedom, I tell him, ‘Join a church.’ The risk in that, of course, is that he might join the wrong one, and wind up back in the cooler for blowing up an abortion clinic.” (“Kurt Vonnegut: Letters,” ed. Dan Wakefield, 2012.)

He was married to Jane Marie Cox from 1945 to 1971. He married photographer and children’s author Jill Krementz in 1979. He had three biological children and adopted four others. Vonnegut was named 1992 Humanist of the Year of the American Humanist Association and later became its honorary president. He died at age 84 from brain injuries suffered several weeks earlier in a fall at his home in New York. D. 2007.

Public domain photo: Pvt. Kurt Vonnegut between 1943-45.

Freedom From Religion Foundation