I’ve often been asked about the last dedication of From Under a Tree. It reads:
Listen: The words stopped on April 11, 2007. This is when the master came unstuck in time. So it goes . . .
For many it is a riddle; for others, the words are understood.
It has been eight years since the passing of one of the great writers in modern history, and of a favorite writer of mine, Kurt Vonnegut. Best known for his books Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Cradle, and many, many more, Vonnegut had a way of creating alternate realities, while at the same time saying something important about our own.
Perhaps his most known work was Slaughterhouse-Five. Written in Vonnegut’s signature conversational style, Slaughterhouse-Five is considered a classic of American literature.
He had roots in upstate New York. Vonnegut was a chemistry major who cut his undergraduate career short when he enlisted in the Army in 1943. While at Cornell he was a columnist and editor at The Cornell Daily Sun. After the war, he worked as a journalist and began publishing short stories, gaining fame with his early novels including Player Piano (1952), The Sirens of Titan (1959) and Cat’s Cradle (1963). He returned to Cornell several times to lecture and to attend Sun alumni events between 1980 and his death in 2007.
Vonnegut’s eminence, his reflections on the ideals and challenges of a generation, made him an exceptional writer. He was a pinball wizard of cosmic cool, astral jokester, moralist and, yes - a writer who offers subtle challenges wrapped in an enticing style. Vonnegut was a science fiction and fantasy writer but in a unique way, for rationalizing fantasy in such a manner that will make life endurable.
And, one cannot forget an unanswerable question Vonnegut once asked: What are people for?
Some words of wisdom from a great writer who is now unstuck in time . . .
I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’