Kurt Vonnegut on creative expression as self awareness

My awareness of Kurt Vonnegut came from 2 Eighties movies

  • Footloose – Early scene where the main character talks about Slaughterhouse 5 as ‘a classic’; and
  • Back to School where the Rodney Dangerfield character hires the actual Vonnegut (who cameos in the movie) to write an English paper on himself

So this is from a decade ago and I’ve only just picked it up from a friend’s Facebook post.

In 2006, a group of students at Xavier High School in New York City were given an assignment by their English teacher, Ms. Lockwood, that was to test their persuasive writing skills: they were asked to write to their favourite author and ask him or her to visit the school. It’s a measure of his ongoing influence that five of those pupils chose Kurt Vonnegut, the novelist responsible for, amongst other highly-respected books, Slaughterhouse-Five; sadly, however, he never made that trip. Instead, he wrote a wonderful letter. He was the only author to reply.

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

Where to with this?

I’ve now done 2 things

  1. I’m finally reading (listening to) a Kurt Vonnegut novel
    On the advice of the writer of this blog post, I’m starting with God Bless You, Mr Rosewater;
  2. I’ve added the theme of analysing one’s creative expressions as insights into the self alongside my other readings on the benefits (and methods) of getting to know one’s self

Published by Maru Ririnui


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