The first and only YA biography of the great American novelist and humanist comes out on the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, and many other brilliant novels and short stories, is one of our greatest American writers, often using science fiction, humor, and a humanist view of society, religion, politics, and human nature in his writing to show us the absurdity and the loveliness of life on earth. Born in 1922, Vonnegut's life was full of great fortune and great despair: his family was wealthy, but lost everything in the market crash of 1929; he was the youngest son in a loving family, until his mother fell into a depression and committed suicide; he joined the army in WWII with great pride for our country, but experienced instead a world of destruction and horror. These and many others were the experiences that made him a writer. But how did he channel the highs and lows of his life into great writing?
Dan Wakefield, a friend and mentee of Vonnegut's for decades and a fellow Hoosier, distills the facts including Kurt's novels, essays, interviews, letters and personal experiences, into a beautiful telling of the making of a writer. Using the second person "You," it is as though Wakefield is a friend walking through Kurt's life alongside him, a guide for readers to his extraordinary life. Here is an American life, a burgeoning artist's life to inspire anyone who has read Vonnegut's work or who themselves aspire to write.
Dan Wakefield is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter. Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, he was an Eagle Scout and began his writing career as a columnist of his high school newspaper, The Shortridge Daily Echo. Shortridge High was also the school Kurt Vonnegut had graduated from a few years earlier. They didn't know each other at the time, but eventually they met and became lifelong friends.
Dan has served as a sports correspondent and writer for a number of magazines and newspapers including Harpers, Atlantic Monthly, and The New York Times Magazine. His best-selling novels Going All The Way and Starting Over were made into feature films, and a documentary film was produced of his memoir New York in the Fifties. He splits his time between Indianapolis IN and Miami FL.
"It’s not only young adults who will get a kick out of the book. You will, too . . . You get the idea that Mr. Wakefield’s account of Vonnegut’s life is funny and tender, the kind of book that will leave you bruised and happy and reverberating a little, as if you are a piano that someone has just finished playing. . . .What really strikes you, though, is that the reviewer is addressing you directly, using the second person, in the present tense. ... it works like a dream. The style Mr. Wakefield uses has the effect of turning Vonnegut (1922-2007) into your intimate friend."
—Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal
"Dan Wakefield has delivered Kurt Vonnegut to a new generation of readers. During the Vietnam war years Vonnegut was regarded as a truth-teller by young students who gulped down his novels. As Wakefield puts it, 'He said things that other people thought but didn’t’ say or hadn’t dared to think but recognized as true when they heard them.' This book is especially important to anyone who aspires to be a writer. Vonnegut was more than merely gifted: he was dogged. In 1992, when he was 70, Vonnegut said, 'It has always been the case with me that when my life is a mess I can find some relief by writing.' Vonnegut’s good friend Dan Wakefield knew him as did few others; and he has done us all a favor with this detailed biography of this fearless writer."
—Phillip Hoose, winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature
"Novelist, screenwriter and fellow Indiana native Dan Wakefield draws on letters, essays, speeches, novels and his long friendship with Kurt Vonnegut for this excellent biography, the first Vonnegut biography written for teens.. . . Wakefield's unusual use of the second-person gives the book a startling immediacy and intimacy. . . . A complete portrait of Vonnegut as artist, practical joker, brother, father, uncle, friend, mentor and humanist emerges."
—Jean Westmoore, The Buffalo News
"A penetrating view of the life, work, and character of a renowned writer, artist, playwright, and countercultural icon.
"Wakefield, editor of Vonnegut’s collected letters and short stories as well as a personal friend of the late author, incorporates dozens of the former as well as extracts from speeches and personal memories into a present-tense, second-person encomium that slides smoothly over some rougher spots—notably fractured relationships with certain publishers and agents as well as both of his wives. But readers who are still, after so many years, encountering Vonnegut’s edgy, profane, often hilarious writing in high school or later will find links aplenty between his early experiences and later works and themes alongside ample documentation of his devastating and even now timely attacks on warmongers and, as the author of several perennially challenged books, self-appointed censors. The epistolary passages make up for a relative paucity of direct quotes from the books in providing a sense of his voice, and the notes for an undelivered talk that close the main narrative (the editor adds on substantial reminiscences and acknowledgements) do capture his characteristic sensibility and wit: 'And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one….I’m out of here.'
"Sympathetic, authoritative, and readable." (photo credits, index) (Biography. 13-18)
"I love the tone the second person gives the story. There's something intimate and warm about it. It says I see you and I understand you. The thing that students love about Vonnegut is the humor but also the moral compass, the humanity and this book shows where it comes from."
—Susan Neville, Butler University
"In this rich, engaging biography, Dan Wakefield introduces readers to the key mentors, artistic influences, family members, and experiences that shaped Kurt Vonnegut’s distinctive voice and extraordinary career as a writer. Vonnegut fans young and old alike will be enchanted by Wakefield’s intimate and always insightful portrait of the beloved Hoosier icon."
—Christina Jarvis, author of Lucky Mud & Other Foma: A Field Guide to Kurt Vonnegut’s Planetary Citizenship
"Wakefield, a lifelong friend of Vonnegut, here pens an unusual biography for young adults. The time line of this biography is typical: it follows Vonnegut’s life through childhood, high school, college, military service, young family and working life, to finally getting published and becoming a literary sensation. In high school, he identified as a bit of a nerd, but was voted one of the most popular boys in school along with the star athletes, much to his surprise! His parents were of means, particularly his mother. They lost most of their money in the stock market crash of 1929. Ultimately, his mother couldn’t adjust to a simpler lifestyle and died by suicide when Vonnegut was 21. He raised seven children while struggling to make a living getting published. After he and his wife had three children, they adopted his sister’s four orphaned sons after their parents died suddenly. Much of his early life makes for compelling reading. However, the narrative style of the biography is rather unconventional, using the second-person mixed with personal letters. Reading Vonnegut’s life from his own point of view feels very intimate and will keep readers engaged. While Wakefield discusses Vonnegut’s values and influences and how well received his novels were once he got published, the biography falls short in educating readers about the remarkable stories that made him an icon, perhaps missing an opportunity to inspire readers to seek them out. VERDICT A curious and appealing biography that is recommended where literary classics are popular."–Karen T. Bilton
—School Library Journal