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BIRSS: Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse-Five

BIRSS 2019

An Unusual Career

Over the course of his early life, Kurt Vonnegut persevered to become a writer. During that time, while his stories regularly were rejected by magazine and journal editors, Vonnegut worked as a newspaper reporter, teacher, and public-relations employee for General Electric. Finally, in 1952, his first novel, Player Piano, was published. Throughout his career, Vonnegut was determined to write his own way by upending expectation and convention, resulting in the imaginative and satirical novels we enjoy today such as Slaughterhouse-Five, Cats Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions.

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Writing Slaughterhouse-Five

Vonnegut was driven to write about his experience during the Dresden bombing and the impact it had on him and how he saw the world. At times giving up on fiction writing altogether, it took him over 20 years to write the "Dresden Book," experimenting with a variety of structures and voices, before finally settling on the perspective of the fictional character Billy Pilgrim. 

The Bombing of Dresden

As documented in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, the 1945 allied bombing campaign of the German City of Dresden resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, primarily civilians. A member of the 106th Infantry Division in the U.S. Army, Vonnegut was being held as a prisoner of war there at the time of the aerial attack. Along with his fellow POWs, he survived by hiding in a cold-storage cellar below the slaughterhouse where they were housed. 

1986 NPR Fresh Air Interview: Vonnegut Describes Dresden Bombings