Happy birthday, Mr. Vonnegut

Photo by Rachel Anderson

After celebrating our president’s inauguration this weekend, be sure to blow out a candle for Butler University’s  most famous student.

No, we’re not talking about Gordon Hayward or Shelvin Mack, we’re talking about Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut.

The author of such novels like “Cat’s Cradle” and “Slaughterhouse-Five” was enrolled at Butler for a short time in 1942 but dropped out after managing no better than a “C” average in his English courses.

This Friday would have been Kurt Vonnegut’s 89th birthday.

His hometown is ready to celebrate him at the ongoing Spirit & Place Festival, which featured Butler dancers last weekend. This weekend, the festival is featuring “Kurt Vonnegut on the Human Body.”

Richard Clark, professor of music at Butler, will be conducting a group of Butler students and alumni in pieces based on Vonnegut’s own words.

Clark said he was a close friend of Vonnegut, calling him a quasi-grandfather. Vonnegut collaborated with Clark and his orchestra in New York, performing with them and writing original music with Clark.

“I’m keeping my friendship with him alive through this performance and events like these,” Clark said.

The first piece is entitled “Destructive Testing,” which is from “Breakfast of Champions.” There will also be what Clark described as “Ice-9 Ballads,” a reference that any “Cat’s Cradle fan will recognize.

Finally, and what Clark said is the most important, is “Armistice Day.” Nov. 11 is commonly known in the United States as Veterans Day, but during Vonnegut’s life, it was still known as Armistice Day, a celebration of the end of World War I. Clark said the fact that this day fell on Vonnegut’s birthday was very important to Vonnegut.

Katie Burns, a sophomore cello performance and English major, said that she is looking forward to the performance.

“I am so excited to help celebrate Kurt Vonnegut, not only because he’s one of my favorite American authors,” she said. “It makes me glad to see that people realize the value of his work and are putting in the effort to continue his legacy.”

Julia Whitehead, the current president, executive director and founder of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, is particularly excited about the event and thinks it is an excellent opportunity for Butler students to learn more about Indiana’s most famous author.

“Having the spirit of Kurt in the back of our mind is helpful, not only to create new ideas, but to know that we can put them into motion, just like he did,”  Whitehead said. “He is inspirational. People have said they come to Indianapolis and the United States just to come to the library. Readers connect with him as a friend.”

Besides a performance from the School of Music, the celebration includes a reading and discussion of Vonnegut’s works and a viewing of his art. The event will be moderated by Indianapolis Business Journal arts and entertainment editor Lou Harry, Hoosier author (and Vonnegut’s close friend) Dan Wakefield and Vonnegut scholars and authors Marc Leeds, Rodney Allen and David Hoppe.

Beforehand, Gregory D. Sumner, the author of “Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Work” will be signing books and speaking at the Vonnegut Library at 5 p.m. After, the group will head to the main event.

The pieces that the Butler group will be performing have been compiled on an album, due out on Jan. 4, 2012. Vonnegut narrated the songs just before his death, and his voice will be on the album. Advanced copies of the album will be available at the  event on Friday night.

The celebration will be held at the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. The cost is $20. The event is presented by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and the Butler University department of music.


Want other ways to celebrate Vonnegut’s day of birth? Here are some other ideas for the weekend.

Located at 340 N. Senate Ave., the Vonnegut Library offers art and literature from Vonnegut, along with a recreation of his workspace.

Whether you choose out of the ordinary short stories, or a classic like “Cat’s Cradle,” reading Vonnegut provides many fun facts about the Naptown that Vonnegut knew.

Built by Vonnegut’s grandfather in 1898, this building now houses the Rathskellar, Indiana’s local German restaurant.


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