Kurt Vonnegut biography

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Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

How to pronounce Kurt Vonnegut: kert VAHN-uh-guht

Kurt Vonnegut Biography

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 11, 1922. He studied biochemistry at Cornell University (1940–2) before attending the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1943.  He served in the US Army from 1942-1945.  As an advance scout with the US 106th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge, Vonnegut was cut off from his battalion behind enemy lines and was eventually captured in December 1944 and held as a prisoner of war.  He was held in Dresden where he witnessed the February 1945 bombings that destroyed much of the city.  He was one of just seven American prisoners of war in Dresden to survive, in an underground meatpacking cellar known as "Slaughterhouse Five".  This experience formed the basis for his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five and is a theme in a number of his other books.

After the war he attended the University of Chicago (1945–7; 1971) where he specialized in anthropology.  He was a police reporter in Chicago (1947), worked for General Electric Co's public relations (1947–50), and taught at many institutions. He eventually settled in New York City, and produced a steady stream of novels, short stories, non-fiction works, and plays. His first books were in the science-fiction genre but his work shifted to social satire with Cat's Cradle (1963). He is best known for his irony, wild inventive humor, and themes such as the uneasy balance between technology and humanity.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, shortly after World War II, but they separated in 1970 and divorced in 1979, after which he married Jill Krementz.  He had seven children in all; three with his first wife; he adopted his sister Alice's three children in 1958 when her husband died in a commuter train accident two days before she died of cancer; and adopted Lily in 1982. 

He suffered smoke inhalation and was hospitalized in critical condition for four days in 2000 when a fire destroyed the top story of his home.  He survived but his personal archives were destroyed. He died in Manhattan at the age of 84 on April 11, 2007 from injuries sustained in a fall some weeks earlier. 

Partial Bibliography


  • Player Piano (1952) aka Utopia 14
  • The Sirens of Titan (1959)
  • Cat's Cradle (1960)
  • Canary in a Cat House (1961)
  • Mother Night (1961)
  • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)
  • Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)
  • Breakfast of Champions (1973)
  • Venus on the Half-Shell (1975) (under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout)
  • Slapstick: or Lonesome No More! (1976)
  • Deadeye Dick (1982)
  • Jailbird (1983)
  • Galapagos (1985)
  • Bluebeard (1987)
  • Between Time and Timbuktu: Or Prometheus-5 a Space Fantasy (1990)
  • Hocus Pocus (1990)
  • Timequake (1997)


  • Welcome to the Monkey House (1968)
  • Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (1976)
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Collection (1995)


  • Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1970, play)
  • Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (1974, nonfiction)
  • Opinions (1975, nonfiction)
  • Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage (1981, nonfiction)
  • Fates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage (1983, nonfiction)
  • God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999, nonfiction)
  • Like Shaking Hands with God: A Conversation about Writing (1999, nonfiction)
  • A Man Without a Country (2005, nonfiction)

Link to Kurt's website

This biography was last updated on 03/24/2008.

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While Mortals Sleep jacket Look at the Birdie jacket Armageddon in Retrospect jacket Bagombo Snuff Box jacket
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