Friday night at Popejoy Hall, I got a chance to see an idol of mine. Anyone else thinking about writing anything should do the same.
Kurt Vonnegut, author of “Breakfast of Champions” and “Slaughterhouse Five” as well as numerous other books, gave his advice to young college students and everyone else in attendance.
In front of a packed Popejoy Hall audience, this master of the written word showed why he is loved by so many. From jokes about his wife and his writing to the difference between typewriters and computers, Vonnegut kept the capacity crowd captivated and begging for one more insight into the world the 80-year old author knows so well.
Vonnegut discussed the importance of books and stories and showed the value of “Hamlet,” arguably one of the best written works of all time. He described why some stories last forever and how to go about writing that perfect story.
I first heard of Vonnegut in my second year in college when I took a government class. In the class, the professor compared Vonnegut to some of the great thinkers of all time, including Nietzche. This author of “Harrison Bergeron,” which was adapted into a movie on Showtime starring Sean Astin, goes to every length to satirize the world. In “Harrison Bergeron,” Vonnegut touches on the danger of equality and questions the lengths to which the government will go to make sure all are equal.
To give you an idea of how Vonnegut’s brain works, the story is set in the future and the government is disappointed with the number of unhappy people in the world. In an attempt to make the lower half equal to the upper half, the government equips the more gifted people in the nation with performance-hindering equipment. Instead of trying to boost the lower half, they bring the upper half down to the level of the less-fortunate.
Vonnegut has written a number of books and short stories and started his writing career as a reporter for the Chicago News Bureau.
Before going to the bureau, Vonnegut served in the Army and was captured at the Battle of the Bulge. Vonnegut was sent to a work camp in Dresden after he was captured. His experience in Dresden was the basis of his book “Slaughterhouse Five.”
After the lecture, the University of New Mexico sponsored a reception for Mr. Vonnegut in the UNM bookstore. Close to 100 people stood in line awaiting their turn to greet the author they longed to meet.
At the reception, I got a chance to meet and shake the hand of a man who has really influenced my life and my writing career. His advice to me as a young writer was this: “Stick with the newsaper and use that experience to help you with your book. The most important thing about a book is to tell the reader who, what, when, where and why. You’ll learn that at the newspaper.”
Though I obviously have a soft spot for the writer, I feel like his advice to all students, as well as his individual advice to me, was right on the money.