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February 13, 2013

“So It Goes”

Kurt Vonnegut   (1922 - 2007)

Kurt Vonnegut
(1922 – 2007)

On the evening of this day in 1945, British and U.S. planes began the 48-hour bombing of Dresden, Germany. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is the most famous fictional record of what resulted — a firestorm that destroyed 85% of the city and killed 135,000 people. Vonnegut “got about five dollars for each corpse,” he said, and a life-long desire to prevent such things from ever happening again.

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December 4, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules for Reading Fiction

519whs6ihzL._SL160_A term paper assignment from the author of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Suzanne McConnell, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s students in his “Form of Fiction” course at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, saved this assignment, explaining that Vonnegut “wrote his course assignments in the form of letters, as a way of speaking personally to each member of the class.” The result is part assignment, part letter, part guide to writing and life.

This assignment is reprinted from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, out now from Delacorte Press.


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September 24, 2011

Mark Twain story formally ‘unbanned’ in US

Mark Twain: "The deep unconscious irony of it delights me." Photograph: Bert Underwood/Getty Images

Eve’s Diary, embargoed in 1906 over its illustrations, formally restored to library to launch Banned Books Week.

By Alison Flood

The return to library shelves of two controversially banned novels – Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five – marks the start of America’s annual celebration of prohibited literature, Banned Books Week, on Saturday.

Twain’s comic short story told from the perspective of Eve was banned from Charlton Library in Massachusetts in 1906 after its trustees objected to illustrations of a naked Eve – or as the New York Times put it at the time, “her dresses are all cut Garden of Eden style”. When Richard Whitehead became a trustee of the library in 2008, he stumbled across the century-old controversy and decided to track down a copy of the banned book, complete with illustrations.

“Knowing that Banned Book Week was coming up in September [he] proposed the idea of having an official ‘unbanning’ of the book,” said the library’s director Cheryl Hansen. “On Tuesday, September 20, 2011 the board of library trustees unanimously voted to unban Eve’s Diary. I think that Mark Twain would be very pleased and I’m sure that he would have something humorous to say about it.” At the time, Twain wrote in a letter that “the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me”.

Eve’s Diary’s reinstatement follows the return of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic title Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Ockler’s young adult novel Twenty Boy Summer – about two girls coming to terms with the sudden death of a loved one – to a school library in Republic, Missouri. Unlike the Twain title, these two novels were first banned not a century ago but earlier this summer, after a local resident called them immoral and said their presence on the school curriculum and in the library was “unacceptable, considering that most of the school board members and administrators claim to be Christian”.

A public outcry followed their removal and the books have now been reinstated – but in a restricted section of the school library and only accessible by parents.

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August 18, 2011

Why are schools still banning books?

Written by Ken Paulson

It’s rare that book banning makes me nostalgic. Yet the news last month that the Republic, Mo., school board banned Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” brought me back to 1969, the year the book was published and my freshman year in high school.

“Slaughterhouse Five” was the cool new book and, along with the 1966 republication of “The Hobbit,” was destined to be seen under the arms of high school students everywhere. As a 15-year-old, I found the book to be very challenging; it explored difficult concepts such as free will and fate in an unconventional narrative. Forty-two years later, I still remember it as a thought-provoking and powerful novel.

Wesley Scroggins, a Republic resident and professor at Missouri State University, saw the book differently, and urged the school board to ban “Slaughterhouse Five,” along with Sarah Ockler’s “Twenty Boy Summer” and Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak.”

In a column for the Springfield News-Leader headlined “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” he wrote: “This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The ‘F-word’ is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.”

Scroggins’ stance raises a number of important questions. First of all, do sailors still blush?

Second, in a society in which movies rated for a high school audience include extensive profanity and violence, and where three of the top 10-selling songs featured the F-word in their titles, how can coarse language in a book published the year we first set foot on the moon be considered a threat? What’s next?

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July 30, 2011

Slaughterhouse-Five banned by US school

Kurt Vonnegut’s celebrated second world war satire censored along with teen novel Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.

By Alison Flood

Kurt Vonnegut in 2001. Photograph: Janet Knott/AP

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and young adult novel Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler have both been banned from a school curriculum and library in a Missouri school following complaints from a local professor about children being exposed to “shocking material”.

Ockler’s novel, which tells of a girl’s summer romance as she attempts to get over the death of her first love a year earlier, is being removed from the school curriculum and library in Republic, Missouri, along with Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five. The ban follows a complaint from c a professor at Missouri State University, who wrote in a column for a local paper last year claiming that Vonnegut’s novel “contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame”. He said that Ockler’s book, described by Kirkus Reviews as a “sincere, romantic tearjerker”, “glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong”, and laid into Laurie Halse Anderson’s acclaimed novel Speak, which he felt “should be classified as soft pornography”.

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