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Famous Veterans: Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
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One name you'll often hear among groups of writers and anyone discussing the best authors of all time is Kurt Vonnegut, the man who wrote Slaughterhouse Five. Known for his flair for satire as well as his grim and ironic humor, he has made such lists as Time's "All-Time 100 Novels" and Modern Library's "100 Best Novels."

Many readers include Vonnegut among their favorites, and the people who have not read his work have likely at least heard of him or his books. Slaughterhouse Five, probably his most well-known novel, was about Vonnegut's experience as a World War II prisoner of war (POW), so it should come as no surprise that he was indeed a veteran, and served in the army from 1943 to 1945.

His Military Years

Vonnegut enlisted in the Army after graduating from Cornell University. In 1942 he was sent to what is now Carnegie Mellon University to study engineering, and served in Europe the following year as an infantry battalion scout. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but was taken as a POW on December 14, 1944. The influence for much of his writing, but especially Slaughterhouse Five, came from his experience as a POW, as he was in Dresden, Germany during this time and witnessed the Allied firebombing of the city. He recounts stories of having to clear out corpses from the rubble, and of the surviving populace throwing stuff at him and the others as they did so. Vonnegut survived the firebombing because he was kept in an underground meat locker at the time.

Becoming an Author

In 1952, Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano. In addition to Slaughterhouse Five (1969), his other notable works include Breakfast of Champions (1973), Jailbird (1979) and Deadeye Dick (1982). He soon became known for his unusual writing style of using long sentences with little punctuation, and accumulated a cult following. Today you can find an assortment of wonderful interviews with him on writing, and his "8 Basics of Creative Writing" are referenced in many creative writing classes.

Vonnegut on Life

If you aspire to be an author, Vonnegut's life and process is an example of how to go about it. Take, for example, his work day. Vonnegut would wake up and work for three hours in the morning, and then another hour or so in the evening. He said that "Businessmen would achieve better results if they studied human metabolism. No one works well eight hours a day. No one ought to work more than four hours." Of course, he also said that "we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different," so take what he had to say as you will.

Kurt Vonnegut passed away on April 11, 2007 in Manhattan, at the age of 84. Considering his level of success and long life, four-hour work days don't seem so ridiculous.

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