The University of Iowa

Five Things You Didn't Know About Kurt Vonnegut


Whether you’re looking to plumb the depths of literary trivia or impress someone with an authorial anecdote, this list will sufficiently arm you. Oft quoted and oftener tweeted, Kurt Vonnegut is a staple of American literature, penning such classics as Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five. Throughout his life, Vonnegut made waves due to his eccentricity and wit. These five little-known facts are perfect examples.



1. Kurt Vonnegut was allegedly challenged to a duel by Verlin Cassill, a graduate and former teacher at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Cassill proposed the duel take place on North Linn Street in Iowa City, in front of the Hamburg Inn.



2. Though notoriously pessimistic, Kurt Vonnegut’s first wife was his elementary school sweetheart. Vonnegut and Jane Cox met when they were both in kindergarten at a private school in Indianapolis called the Orchard School.



3. Before Kurt Vonnegut taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he did a brief stint working for Sports Illustrated. After being assigned to an article about a racehorse who attempted to escape, an exasperated Vonnegut supposedly sat down at his desk, typed a single sentence (“The horse jumped over the f***ing fence”) and left, never to return.



4. Kurt Vonnegut majored in chemistry, biology, and anthropology in turn but he never finished any of those degrees. During a speech made to students at Cornell, Vonnegut told the assembly if they truly wished to anger their parents, they should pursue the arts.



5. When he was not selling cars, getting lousy grades, and being challenged to duels, Kurt Vonnegut was raising children. Vonnegut and his first wife had three children of their own and adopted the three children of his deceased sister. He also adopted a child with his second wife, bringing the grand total up to seven.

For more information about Kurt Vonnegut, visit our biography section or our City of Lit web app!