Wonderful idea department: The city of Indianapolis just opened the “Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library” in honor of one of its most famous native sons. Though he lived in the East most of his life, Kurt never forgot his roots: seems you can take the boy out of Indianapolis, but you can’t take Indianapolis out of the boy. His hometown is where he soaked up the values that shaped his work and first found his voice as a writer. Kurt was the first to admit the debt he owed it: “All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business.”
The new library is now home to a replica of Kurt’s writing studio. It also features his typewriter, a pristine pack of Pall Malls, and a sampling of rejection letters from publishers. Apparently those on display are just the tip of the turn-down iceberg. During his long, storied career, Kurt amassed boxes full of rejection letters. In one, an editor said that he did not have time to work with him because he wasn’t as talented as other writers. Now there’s a rejection rejecting enough to set your teeth on edge and make you think about taking up pool cleaning or pouring cement!
Fortunately, Kurt kept on writing, ultimately producing a body of work that’s beloved the world over for its wit and wisdom. As one professor put it, “He invites you right in. ‘Come in and have a cigarette, have a cup of coffee.’ But then you suddenly start talking about Kafka and cosmic time and Dresden.”
It’s great to see a city embrace a writer, isn’t it? It makes me think of Asheville, North Carolina, the hometown of Thomas Wolfe, the author of that lush and amazing novel, Look Homeward, Angel. So often, authors have love-hate relationships with the places where they were born: Kurt took plenty of pot-shots at Indianapolis and so did Tom in his mythical version of Asheville. And yet, they look homeward for themes and inspiration. Perhaps we need to do the same. You never know what treasures you might unearth by rooting around in your roots!