Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

Kurt Vonnegut, New York, June 12, 1987 –  photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate by Allen Ginsberg

Kurt Vonnegut – May 30, 1997  Remarks delivered by  fax to Robert Weide to be read at the  Los Angeles tribute to Allen Ginsberg,  June 1 1997 :

“Allen Ginsberg and I were inducted in the American Institute of Arts and Letters in 1973. A reporter from Newsweek telephoned me at that time and asked me what I thought about two such outsiders being absorbed by the establishment. I replied, “If we aren’t the establishment, I don’t know who is.”

Allen was inducted nominally as a poet,but he had in fact become world famous for the radical love and innocence of his person, from head to toe.

Let me be frank and admit that the greatest poetry satiates few deep appetites in modern times. But the appearance in our industrialized midst of a man without guile or political goals or congregation, who was doing his utmost to become wise and holy, was for many of us a surprising, anachronistic, feast for our souls.

Allen and I met at a dinner given in Cambridge by the Harvard Lampoon in the late 1960s. We would hold hands during the ensuing entertainment,

I had returned from witnessing the end of the civil war in southern Nigeria. The losing side, the rebellious Ibos, had been blockaded. There had been widespread starvation. I was there with my fellow-novelist, Vance Bourjaily. We arrived on a blockade-running Catholic relief DC-3. We were surrounded at once by starving children begging for mercy. They had distended bellies, everted rectums, hair turned yellow, running sores, that sort of thing. They were also dirty.

We were afraid to touch them lest we get an infection to take back home. But Vance was ashamed of his squeamishness. He said that if Allen Ginsberg had been with us, Allen would have hugged the children, and gone down on his knees and played with them.

I told this story at the Lampoon dinner, and then said directly to Allen – “We have not met before, sir, but such is your reputation”

and John Leonard, writing in the Nation 

“When they were inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1973, Kurt Vonnegut said of Allen Ginsberg: “I like “Howl” a lot. Who wouldn’t? It just doesn’t have much to do with me or what happened to my friends. For one thing, I believe that the best minds of my generation were probably musicians and physicists and mathematicians and biologists and archaeologists and chess masters and so on, and Ginsberg’s closest friends, if I’m not mistaken, were undergraduates in the English department of Columbia University. No offense intended, but it would never occur to me to look for the best minds in any generation in an undergraduate English department anywhere. I would certainly try the physics department or the music department first — and after that biochemistry. Everybody knows that the dumbest people in any American university are in the education department, and English after that.”

Here’s Vonnegut’s 2007 obituary in the New York Times

from 1983 – an  interview with Vonnegut

from 1986 interview (audio) with Terry Gross

from 1999  interview (video)  with Charlie Rose

Jim O’Loughlin‘s Kurt Vonnegut Remembered, a gathering of remembrances, came out in 2019
Jeremy C Justus reviews it for The North American Review – here

Alan Bisbort at Please Kill Me speaks to O’Loughlin and looks back on some of his own encounters

and then there’s Robert Weide’s unique documentary – Unstuck in Time

(and see Robert Weide on Vonnegut at 100 – here)

Further Resources from the Archives at the  Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (in Vonnegut’s home-town, Indianapolis)

KVML is  “dedicated to championing Kurt Vonnegut’s legacy and the principles of free expression and common decency”
In 2022, KVML will celebrate Kurt Vonnegut’s Centennial with a wide range of programming

More on Vonnegut from The Internet Archive


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