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November 11: Kurt Vonnegut Jr

Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1922)

Kurt Vonnegut Jr

It was on this date, November 11, 1922, that science fiction and satire writer Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Vonnegut enrolled at Cornell University as a biochemistry major, but left for the Air Force during World War Two. He was captured in May 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. Released in May 1945, he was awarded the Purple Heart.

After the War, he worked several writing jobs until he published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. He followed that with Mother Night (1962), filmed in 1996 (he made a cameo appearance), and Cat's Cradle (1963). Vonnegut carried some of his war experiences into his writing, notably the firebombing of Dresden in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five. Slaughterhouse Five elevated Vonnegut to #1 on the New York Times best-seller list and was later filmed (1972). In addition to essays, short stories, and screenplays, Vonnegut's other novels include Breakfast of Champions (1979), Deadeye Dick (1982), Hocus Pocus (1990), and Timequake (1997).

Among many other awards, including an honorary Masters from the University of Chicago, Vonnegut was named Humanist of the Year in 1992 by the American Humanist Association. In an interview in Free Inquiry magazine, Vonnegut said, "For at least four generations my family has been proudly skeptical of organized religion." In his autobiographical book, Palm Sunday (1981), Vonnegut quotes himself in a commencement speech, saying, "You have just heard an atheist thank God not once, but twice. And listen to this: God bless the class of 1974."

Still later in Palm Sunday, Vonnegut interviews himself, asking how he was affected by his study of anthropology at the University of Chicago. Vonnegut answers, " confirmed my atheism, which was the religion of my fathers anyway." The honorary President of the American Humanist Association, and lifetime member of the American Civil Liberties Union, died on 11 April 2007.

* As reported in the Denver Post.

Originally published November 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

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