Kurt Vonnegut Jr. ’44, former Sun assistant managing editor and associate editor, died last night in Manhattan. He was 84.
Vonnegut’s wife, photographer Jill Krementz, said that he suffered brain injuries after a fall at his Manhattan home weeks ago.
Vonnegut, one of Cornell’s most famous alumni, wrote novels, essays, short fiction, poetry and plays. His novels became icons of ’60s and ’70s counterculture, and Vonnegut is often considered a literary idol. His work, including cult-classic Slaughterhouse-Five, is still widely read today.
Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922. Vonnegut came to Cornell in 1941, where he majored in chemistry. In addition to his work at The Sun, Vonnegut was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity.
Vonnegut left the University in 1943 to join the army during World War II. He served as an advance scout with the 106th Infantry Division; he shortly saw combat before becoming a prisoner of war at a camp near Dresden. Vonnegut’s experiences during World War II have influenced much of his work and are featured prominently in Slaughterhouse-Five.
Vonnegut never graduated from Cornell, but later attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) and the University of Tennessee. Vonnegut also studied for a master’s at the University of Chicago. His thesis was rejected by the faculty, but the University eventually awarded him a degree more than twenty years later. Cat’s Cradle was accepted as his thesis then.
After returning from fighting in World War II, Vonnegut married his high school sweetheart Jane Marie Cox. They have three children: Mark, Edith and Nanette. Vonnegut and Jane also adopted his sister’s three children — Tiger, Jim and Steven — after his sister and her husband died within one day of each other in 1958. In 1979, Vonnegut married photographer Jill Krementz. They have a daughter, Lily. Krementz and Vonnegut’s seven children survive him.
Vonnegut published his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952. Timequake, published in 1997, was Vonnegut’s last novel. A Man Without a Country was the last book Vonnegut published. The 2005 collection of biographical essays was a best seller.
Vonnegut often spoke highly about his time at The Sun. At the 125th anniversary dinner in 2005, he proclaimed: “The Cornell Sun, thank goodness, showed me what to do with my life, and I did it.”