Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born to third-generation German American parents in Indianapolis, the setting for many of his novels. As a high-schooler at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, Vonnegut worked on the nation's first and only daily high school newspaper. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he served as an opinions section editor for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun and majored in chemistry before joining the U.S. Army in World War II. He is a combat infantry veteran and holds a Purple Heart. His experiences as an advance scout with the U.S. 106th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany, while a prisoner of war, would influence much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five.
After the war, he attended the University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. According to Vonnegut in Bagombo Snuff Box, the university rejected his first thesis on the necessity of accounting for the similarities between Cubist painting and Native American uprisings of the late 19th century, saying it was "unprofessional"; they later accepted his novel Cat's Cradle and awarded him the degree. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York, in public relations for General Electric. He attributes his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Jane Marie Cox, after returning from the war, but the couple separated in 1970. He did not divorce Cox until 1979, but from 1970 to 2000, Vonnegut lived in an East Side Manhattan brownstone, with his second wife, the renowned photographer Jill Krementz. Krementz and Vonnegut were married after the divorce was final between the author and his first wife. On January 31, 2000, a fire destroyed the top story of his home. Vonnegut suffered smoke inhalation and was hospitalized in critical condition for four days. He survived, but his personal archives were destroyed, and after leaving the hospital he retired to Northampton, Massachusetts. He taught an advanced writing class at Smith College for a period in 2000, and he was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.
With the publication of his novel Timequake, Vonnegut announced his retirement from writing fiction. He currently writes for the magazine In These Times, focusing on subjects ranging from contemptuous criticism of the Bush administration to simple observational pieces on topics like a trip to the post office. In 2005, many of his essays were collected in a new bestselling book entitled A Man Without A Country. Vonnegut referred to the book's success as "a nice glass of champagne at the end of a life," although the emotionally-charged essays belied no diminished energy on the author's part.
He has been a lecturer at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop and at Harvard University, as well as a Distinguished Professor at the City College of New York.
Some of Vonnegut's self-proclaimed literary influences include H. L. Mencken, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, and then Hunter S. Thompson and good friend Joseph Heller.