Visitors to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, whether avid fans or those simply curious about the aura surrounding him, will leave with a new appreciation for the man who showed a lifelong pride in his Hoosier heritage. The words “memorial” and “library” do not do justice to the KVML's vitality. It is a living, breathing organization of enthusiasts carrying on the author's indomitable spirit.
That said, it is fitting that the first item one sees upon entering the 1,100 square foot space in downtown Indianapolis is Vonnegut's Smith Corona typewriter used in the 70s. The brightly painted space is an eclectic mix of Vonnegut's art and photos and some artwork created of him. His words and the story of his life are painted on the walls, including a timeline of his life and the historic events of his time.
On Jan. 28 the library will celebrate its first anniversary with a full slate of events. (See box.) Most are free, as is museum admission.
Executive Director Julia A. Whitehead said a myriad of events is appropriate.
“It all fits because Vonnegut had so many different interests. At the time of his death, someone was writing an opera with him,” Whitehead said.The facility is funded by private donations and a recent $50,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment. The law firm Katz and Korin, PC, donated the space.
“We rely heavily on individual donations and foundations and on sale of our merchandise, both in the gift shop and on our website,” Whitehead said. “In a recent activity about Banned Books week, we received 150 copies of ‘Slaughterhouse-Five' to give to high school students in Missouri where the book was banned from the school library. We picked up 1,000 donors from that. We have more donors from Australia than certain individual states in the U.S.”
For library visitors, Assistant Librarian Chris Lafave's private tour is not to be missed. A lifelong Vonnegut devotee, Lafave points out various artifacts, such as the Vonnegut family belt buckle, while weaving an intriguing mix of tales of Vonnegut's life. Lafave's also willing to give advice to the uninitiated.
“Your first Vonnegut book should probably be ‘Cat's Cradle' or ‘Slaughterhouse-Five,'” he said. “If you start somewhere else, you'll probably be a little lost. My favorite work is ‘Welcome to the Monkey House.' The stories are so warm and dark and funny.”
Most of Vonnegut's art pieces on the walls simply have a title. One piece dated 1996 is called “Prozac.” Another includes Vonnegut's words: “Life is no way to treat an animal.”
Another favorite phrase: “We are what we pretend to be so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”
“He wasn't much for explaining things,” Lafave said. “Vonnegut attempted suicide. His mother gave him a dark way of looking at life. There are few photos where he is smiling.”
Born Nov. 11, 1922, Vonnegut died April 11, 2007, and has been called one of the most influential novelists of the twentieth century. Sadly, he was to speak at Clowes Memorial Hall April 27, 2007, just days after his death. His son Mark gave a speech for him.
The museum has a TV set up with videotapes of people talking about Vonnegut. In an interview with CBS newsman Morley Safer, Vonnegut's longtime friend says about him, “You were never allowed to ask him why he looked gloomy all the time.”
Creative types will appreciate seeing Vonnegut's rejection letters from publishers. And a most popular spot is the replica of Vonnegut's library, replete with a replica typewriter and chair. .
Whether just passing through or taking a few moments to sit and type in the replica of Vonnegut's library, those from Indiana will want to stop in to visit the KVML, dedicated to the man who wrote: “I don't know what it is about Hoosiers, but wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.”
For more memorable Vonnegut quotes, go to www.vonnegutlibrary.org and click on “15 Things Kurt Said Best.”