Vonnegut Expressed Skeptical Nature with Humor

Novelist Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday of complications from a fall. He was 84. Vonnegut was critical of war and skeptical of government. One of his last public acts was to criticize the war in Iraq.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Throughout this morning, we're remembering a novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who died on Wednesday at the age of 84.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. KURT VONNEGUT (Novelist): You know, I don't mean to intimidate you and your listeners but I have a masters' degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Kurt Vonnegut said that tribalism was a powerful force in American life. He got that point across by writing up the future. The United States broke up into futile states led by the king of Michigan or the Duke of Oklahoma.

INSKEEP: In another novel, "Player Piano," Vonnegut described the world where machines do all the work, leaving most Americans with nothing to do except buy consumer goods.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

INSKEEP: Has any part of that turned out to be true to you?

Mr. VONNEGUT: All of it. Where have you been?

MONTAGNE: His slapstick novels included time travel and alien abductions. His main characters included a Nazi collaborator and a man convicted in Watergate. The jokes contain Vonnegut's commentary on our times, even as Vonnegut insisted that his writing wasn't important.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. VONNEGUT: Ink on paper, it doesn't matter anymore. Television is the whole story and it is the way to communicate now and so there's no shortage of satire now. And the subject is still what idiotic, complicated animals human beings are.

INSKEEP: Vonnegut never turned away from tragedy. In 1968, he wrote on his novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five," Robert Kennedy was shot two nights ago. So it goes. And everyday, my government gives me a count of corpses in Vietnam. So it goes. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. went on to criticize the war in Iraq, one of his last public acts before he died yesterday of complications from a fall. So it goes.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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Kurt Vonnegut Judges Modern Society

Kurt Vonnegut. Credit: Edith Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is well-known as an author. But his creative efforts extend to the world of graphic arts. As the years have gone by, drawing has taken up more of Vonnegut's time. Edith Vonnegut hide caption

itoggle caption Edith Vonnegut

The author Kurt Vonnegut has been looking to the future through his writing ever since the publication of his first novel, Player Piano. The story tells of a time when men are displaced by machines in the workplace. Society is reduced to a managing class and a consuming class. His books have often included an element of science fiction, including his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five.

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As part of the Long View series on Morning Edition, Vonnegut, 83, looks back with Steve Inskeep at how society has changed in the last 50 years.

Vonnegut's latest book, published in 2005, is a series of essays and speeches called A Man Without a Country.

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