Kurt Vonnegut is widely known for his special brand of postmodernism, science fiction, and humor — particularly his irreverent, semi-autobiographical novel Slaughterhouse-Five, which earned him many accolades including a place in TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English language novels written since 1923.
While works like Slaughterhouse-Five have pushed Vonnegut’s work into the cultural lexicon, the general public knows comparatively less about his personal life. Here are 15 Kurt Vonnegut facts that may surprise you:
Kurt Vonnegut Facts: He wrote for Sports Illustrated
Vonnegut’s time in sportswriting was as brief as it was memorable. Case in point: his final “story.” After receiving an assignment to write about an escaped racehorse, Vonnegut sat down at his typewriter for hours, where he managed to write one single sentence before walking out — for good — in exasperation. The sentence? “The horse jumped over the f***ing fence.”
He married his elementary school sweetheart
Kurt Vonnegut and Jane Marie Cox met in kindergarten at the Orchard School in Indianapolis, Indiana. They got together in high school and after Vonnegut returned home from his Army stint in 1945, they married.
He found his mother dead in her home
Edith Lieber Vonnegut was born into Indianapolis high society (her parents ran a popular brewery) and later married Kurt Sr., a successful architect. Prohibition and the Great Depression struck several great blows to the Vonnegut family’s finances, and Edith’s spirit.
In 1944, Kurt returned home for Mother’s Day weekend. Upon his arrival, he found his mother, who had committed suicide via a fatal dose of sleeping pills.
He escaped death by hiding in an underground meat locker
Like the characters in Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut found himself in a prison camp in Dresden, Germany while serving in WWII. There, he lived in an actual slaughterhouse and worked at a malt syrup factory. When Allied forces firebombed Dresden in 1945, he took cover in a meat locker buried three stories underground.
Upon emerging, his captors forced Vonnegut — along with his fellow soldiers — to loot the dead bodies for valuables. Vonnegut later likened this activity to a “terribly elaborate Easter-egg hunt.” A few months later, he gained entrance into a repatriation camp in Le Havre, France and could return to the United States.
He received a Purple Heart
Discharged from the Army in 1945, Vonnegut wrote, “I myself was awarded my country’s second-lowest decoration, a Purple Heart for frost-bite.” As one of only a handful of Dresden bombing survivors, it is ironic that what Vonnegut described as a “ludicrously negligible wound” sent him home.