Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Kurt Vonnegut (Nov. 11, 1922 - April 11, 2007)

November 11

by Allison Paller

Kurt Vonnegut, grandmaster of American literature

Called by the New York Times “the counterculture’s novelist,” Kurt Vonnegut's works guided a generation through the miasma of war and greed that was life in 20th-century America. After stints as a soldier, anthropology PhD candidate, copy writer for General Electric, and salesman at a Saab dealership, Vonnegut rose to prominence with the publication of Cat’s Cradle in 1963. Several modern classics, including Slaughterhouse-Five, soon followed. With a blend of science fiction, social criticism, philosophy, and, of course, humor, Vonnegut shaped a generation's alternative line of thought, often lambasting the destruction of the environment or probing the banalities of consumer culture. Never quite embraced by the stodgier arbiters of literary taste, Vonnegut was nonetheless beloved by millions of readers throughout the world.

“Given who and what I am,” he once said, “it has been presumptuous of me to write so well.”

 (Photo by Gil Friedberg / Pix Inc. / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images)

"“Socialism" is no more an evil word than "Christianity." Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.”

―Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

“1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.”

―Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

“I've often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they're on, why they don't fall off it, how much time they've probably got here, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on. I tried to write one once. It was called Welcome to Earth. But I got stuck on explaining why we don't fall off the planet. Gravity is just a word. It doesn't explain anything. If I could get past gravity, I'd tell them how we reproduce, how long we've been here, apparently, and a little bit about evolution. I didn't learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn't a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It's also a source of hope. It means we don't have to continue this way if we don't like it.”

―Kurt Vonnegut

Recent posts