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Kurt Vonnegut | Biography


Early Life

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is best known for satirical novels and short stories highlighting the absurdities of American culture and politics. His father was an architect and his mother came from a wealthy family, but the family's fortunes were substantially diminished by the Great Depression. After an illustrious high school career during which he wrote for his school's newspaper, Vonnegut studied chemistry at Cornell University, describing himself as a mediocre student.

War Experience

He joined the U.S. Army in 1943 and was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. As the army prepared for D-Day (Allied invasion of Normandy, France, from June 1944 to August 1944 that liberated Western Europe from the control of Nazi Germany), he was transferred to Camp Atterbury, near Indianapolis. During his time at Camp Atterbury, Vonnegut's mother, Edith, died from an overdose of sleeping pills in May 1944. A month later Vonnegut began his journey to Europe with the army. His regiment arrived in France on December 6, 1944. On December 19 his unit was captured by Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, which was the final German offensive campaign during World War II.

Vonnegut and the other prisoners were transported via rail in cattle cars to a prisoner of war (POW) camp at Bad Orb, Germany, but he was transferred to a camp near Dresden, Germany, in January 1945. The prisoners were housed in a concrete-block slaughterhouse in Dresden, where he witnessed the massive firebombing of the city in 1945.

Life as a Writer

After the war Vonnegut led a civilian life, publishing his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952, and then four other books before finally finishing his "Dresden novel" in response to the war, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). By 1969 Vonnegut had developed a niche following as a satirical science fiction author, but Slaughterhouse-Five brought his work into the mainstream and earned him widespread fame. However, Bluebeard (1987) received mixed reviews upon publication, some labeling it sentimental while others praised it as a sequel to Slaughterhouse-Five.

Throughout his life Vonnegut maintained his antiwar stance and continued to tackle social, political, and economic issues in his writing. During the 1980s, Vonnegut suffered from depression. He attempted to commit suicide in 1984, although he continued to write and publish extensively. During his lifetime, Vonnegut published a total of 14 novels, 6 plays, and 9 collections of short stories and essays before his death on April 11, 2007, in New York City.

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