Kurt Vonnegut Tweets (@VonnegutTweets)
[Update Sept 2019: This tweet project is now complete. Once you’ve read the intro below, and all of the tweets, see my final words.]
Kurt Vonnegut Tweets will play out the entire life of Kurt Vonnegut in 1000 tweets, over a 1 year period.
Not sure what this might look like? Take a look at similar projects I have completed over the years for Philip K Dick, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Ludwig Wittgenstein (it seems I have been inadvertently assembling a bizarre boy band).
As with these earlier projects, each tweet falls into one of 3 categories: verbatim quotes from Kurt Vonnegut, paraphrased quotes from Kurt Vonnegut, and things he really, really could have said at the time, I promise (see below for what I’m basing this on).
Why Vonnegut? As a teenager I was – like so many others – immediately inspired by his writing. My entry points were Breakfast of Champions and his short stories in Welcome to the Monkey House. I remember feeling lucky for having discovered these treasure troves of creative genius, and thankful to Vonnegut for the insights he was sharing with me. Ever since then I have I wanted to know more about the man who made those things. I have only felt more and more indebted to him, the more I have read.
Now I’m going to hurl a bunch of caveats at you.
Firstly, I will redirect something that Vonnegut wrote about Hunter S. Thompson (for Harper’s Magazine, 1973) back at himself: “He is unabridgeable. He is that rare sort of American author who must be read.” Nothing here will provide a worthy substitute for simply reading Vonnegut’s novels and short stories. If you haven’t read any of them, do that now! If you have done, do it some more!
Secondly, Vonnegut wrote about himself far more engagingly than anyone else has done. He meticulously curated his anecdotes and artfully wove autobiographical elements into his fiction. I have not. So not only are these tweets no substitute for reading Vonnegut, but they are no substitute for reading Vonnegut-on-Vonnegut.
Finally, these tweets will be released in chronological order. Whilst this is nice and convenient, it’s certainly not very Vonnegutian. In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut didn’t have Billy Pilgrim ‘unstuck in time’ just as some quirky literary device; this genuinely reflected something of how he experienced life. In Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, he wrote, “I honestly believe I am tripping through time. Tomorrow I will be three years old again. The day after that I will be sixty-three.” Since he was sceptical about slicing up time “like a salami,” I’m not sure he’d approve of the neat slicing and parcelling of these tweets. “Hi ho.”
Yet something which gives me courage is that Vonnegut certainly considered it important to know about the writer behind the writing. In a letter to his brother in 1995 he wrote, “Any work of art is one half of a conversation between two human beings, and it helps a lot to know who is talking at you.” This twitter project is a playful but only semi-frivolous attempt to inform the many conversations going on between Vonnegut and his audience. To use one of his phrases, I hope it’s taken as a “work of love,” not just as a “work of plagiarism,” or a “work of egregious editing.”
Being a “work of love” does not mean that this is a work of hagiography. As Vonnegut often said, “You’ve got to take the goods with the bads.” So these tweets will cover challenging aspects of Vonnegut’s personality, as well as difficult times in his life. I apologise in advance to those who knew him personally, in the event that any of these tweets bring back difficult memories.
These tweets will be based mainly on material from the books piled up in the image below. I recommend all of these to those who want to find out more about the man himself. Nevertheless, this twitter project is entirely unofficial and unaffiliated with any of the authors of these books, including Kurt Vonnegut and Kurt Vonnegut LLC who now represent his work.
And So It Goes by Charles J. Shields is an excellent and comprehensive biography. Letters by Kurt Vonnegut, edited by his friend Dan Wakefield, provides a huge amount of insight into Vonnegut’s life, both professionally and personally. Marc Leeds’ Vonnegut Encyclopedia is a great, incredibly detailed reference book. Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, Palm Sunday, Fates Worse Than Death, and A Man Without a Country are Vonnegut’s wide-ranging non-fiction and autobiographical works. I’ve also dipped into Vonnegut’s short stories and novels where appropriate.
All in all, Vonnegut’s collected writings have offered up an embarrassment of riches. When in doubt I have simply scooped lazily from this huge pile of gems.
I urge you to read more Vonnegut, and I hope you enjoy the tweets. The last line I’ll borrow from him is one he liked to use when embarking on an adventure of any kind: “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”
NB The dates given in brackets at the end of the tweets are often only rough guides. If you would like to know what I’m basing any tweet on, please just email me and I’ll happily point you in the right direction. It’s hard to fit a full set of references into the 280-character limit.