by Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog
Kurt Vonnegut, the author and Cornell alumnus, died yesterday of injuries sustained in a fall. He was 84.
Vonnegut's breakthrough novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five", published in 1969, is a classic of its era, and of anti-war literature. Like his other work, it is an innovative blend of satire, science fiction, and social commentary.
The stalwarts of Vonnegut's readership were the young, who were captivated by the distinct but gentle anarchy in his literature and philosophy of life. Vonnegut wrote books young people read not because they had to , but because they wanted to.
Vonnegut was a prolific essayist and speaker about social issues. One of his last public appearances was at St. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan last year, at the 85th birthday celebration of his fellow Cornellian, Father Daniel Berrigan, the antiwar and nonviolence activist.
In an interview in 2005, Vonnegut talked about the mix of hope and bleakness he found in life.
... What makes being alive almost worthwhile, for me, is music, and all the saints I meet, who can be anywhere. By 'saints' I mean people who act decently, in a strikingly indecent society. Their acts of kindness and reason. On a very local level. A human level. You know, I walk down the street to buy an envelope. I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And see some great-looking babes. And a fire engine goes by, and I give them the thumbs-up . . . if this isn't nice, I don't know what is.