Seminal views and guidance on writing from Kurt Vonnegut Jr., freely annotated by a former workshop student.
Vonnegut is best remembered for his novels such as Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five. However, during a career that spanned more than five decades, he also published several autobiographical essay collections, and much of this writing referenced the writing craft. In this latest posthumous work, a project that was commissioned by the Vonnegut Trust, McConnell—a former Vonnegut student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently a writing instructor and author—has drawn from a hefty assortment of Vonnegut’s writing, including letters, essays, speeches, and lectures, to structure her thematic chapters around Vonnegut’s views on the inspiration, mechanics, and profession of writing. Taken together, the chapters paint an expansive portrait of Vonnegut’s life and career, with examples of how personal experiences often directly contributed to his work. A profound example was his experience as a prisoner of war during the World War II firebombing of Dresden, which he brilliantly recounted in Slaughterhouse-Five. “That event, and others, fueled his writing and shaped his views,” writes McConnell. “(It did not, however, as is often assumed, initiate it. He was already headed in the direction of being a writer when he enlisted.)” Though much of his writing is served up as fragmented bits to support the choppy narrative, for the most part Vonnegut’s practical advice and acerbic humor remain richly articulated. He stresses the need to be entirely passionate about whatever the subject matter is and to bring as much clarity to the writing as possible, which is accomplished mainly through extensive revisions. The downside of McConnell’s approach is that too often her own voice intrudes on Vonnegut’s lessons. In fact, her writing comprises nearly half of the book, and with frequent references to her own opinions on writing and teaching, she stretches her role beyond what would seem appropriate for such an annotated collection.
An uneven assemblage of memoir and writing advice that will interest devoted readers of Vonnegut’s work.