The University of Iowa

Remembering Kurt Vonnegut

     Kurt was a genius of the Absurd. He saw that mankind was courting doom and was able to blend the spectacle with the horrific so that we laughed and squirmed. He was an original. I once came out of a bar on a fall evening to find Kurt walking quickly down the sidewalk--backwards. One of his favorite jokes was of the guy strapped into the electric chair who is asked if he has any last words and replies, "Yeah, I guess this will teach me a lesson." He used to attend our weekly nickel-dime-poker games, stay an hour, drink one beer, lose $10 and leave. Returning at an advanced age to speak in Iowa City, he articulated a doomsday view of planetary changes, then brightened and said, "But hey! This isn't my problem. I'm outta here."

     While a teacher in the Workshop, Kurt won a Guggenheim. It would allow him to track down the German guards with whom he had survived the Dresden firebombing. A short time later, he was back in town. "Couldn't you find them?" I asked. "Oh, I found them," he said. "No one remembers a thing."

     It was George Starbuck who, as Director of the Workshop, hired Vonnegut. George hired Nelson Algren at the same time. Afterward, Algren claimed that Vonnegut's students preferred Nelson and came to his classes, but the truth was just the reverse. Algren's students preferred Vonnegut.

- Marvin Bell

Poet Marvin Bell, who taught forty years for the Workshop, was a colleague of Kurt Vonnegut's.


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