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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

100 years and still as popular as ever

Today would have been the 100th birthday of the man who wrote, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

Writer Kurt Vonnegut was born on this date in 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. But it may have been his time in the U.S. Army during World War II, especially the time he spent as a German prisoner of war after the Battle of the Bulge, that shaped him and his work more than anything else. His books include Cat's Cradle (1963), Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Breakfast of Champions (1973), and Timequake (1997).

In 1999, Vonnegut wrote a piece called "How to Write with Style." He ended his essay by summing up his seven most important points: Find a subject you care about; do not ramble, though; keep it simple; have guts to cut; sound like yourself; say what you mean; and pity the readers. He wrote:

"I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand. All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago."

On NPR’s site, there is an informative piece about the impact the war had on the writer and how and why his novels are just as relevant today, if not more so, as they were when they were first published. The article captioned “Kurt Vonnegut would have turned 100 today — his war novels are relevant as ever” was written by Tom Vitale.

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