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VonnegutFest Celebrates Art for Veterans

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The late Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was an Indiana native, author, military veteran and artist. In remembrance of Vonnegut, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library will be hosting an event dedicated to his life and values.

Vonnegut had an experience in life that no person wants to go through.  As a prisoner of war in Dresden during World War II, he was shackled in an underground meat locker and left for dead with five other men. The city was firebombed in February of 1945, leaving it in ruins. Being in this underground meat locker, the five American soldiers survived. 

Visitors can sit down and type something out on an old-school typewriter just like the one Vonnegut used at the Vonnegut Library.
  • Visitors can sit down and type something out on an old-school typewriter just like the one Vonnegut used at the Vonnegut Library.

After returning from the war, Vonnegut was emotionally scarred and couldn't find a way to cope with his wartime experiences. He bounced around from job to job, writing for numerous newspapers, doing public relations work, teaching and even trying to run his own car dealership. After trying all of these occupations, he began to write short stories and novels, which proved to be the best medicine.

Vonnegut used the arts as a way to cope with his traumatic past. His book Slaughterhouse Five was one of his first bestsellers and was based on his experiences in that Dresden meat locker. Vonnegut saw the arts as a way for himself and all veterans to work through their battlefield memories. This concept inspired Veterans Reclaim Armistice Day, which in turn inspired the inaugural Vonnegutfest, stressing the importance of the arts as a way for veterans to deal with war.

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library will hold its second Vonnegutfest as a daylong, multi-site event on Nov. 9th. Expanding on last year's original event, based solely on the Veteran's Reclaim Armistice Day program, this year's event will feature many more things to do and see. 

Julia Whitehead, Director of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, explains, "We started a version of Vonnegutfest in 2012, but that event was specifically focused on Veteran's Reclaim Armistice Day. This was meant for veterans to reach out to the arts to help recover from combat trauma." 

A timeline of events that occurred during Vonnegut’s lifetime on display at the Vonnegut Library
  • A timeline of events that occurred during Vonnegut’s lifetime on display at the Vonnegut Library

"We've been working with the person who is now the head of the Indiana Department of Veteran's Affairs," Whitehead continues. "His name is Jim Brown, and he provided a lot of guidance to us last year on how important it was to have veterans reach out to the arts, because medicines don't always work and other kinds of therapy don't always help to move people forward in their lives."

Kurt Vonnegut turned to the arts after his experiences during World War II, and he fully believed that the arts could heal people. This is why this part of the event is so vital and will never be taken off the agenda whenever Vonnegutfest comes around.

Vonnegut was also an artist and the library features much of his artwork.
  • Vonnegut was also an artist and the library features much of his artwork.

Last year's Fest was very successful and Whitehead expects more of the same this time around. "I will be really surprised if we don't have a bigger turnout this year," Whitehead says. "Things were so successful last year that we actually got invited to attend an event at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center outside Washington, D.C." 

As part of growing the Fest, this year authors Benjamin Patton and Tim O'Brien will be doing book signings at the Vonnegut Library during the day, and there will be an art show curated by The Jimmy Carter Center featuring the Dali Llama, Bono and Bob Dylan. Even some of Vonnegut's work will be shown. 

"It's 14 different pieces of art that will be on display," says Whitehead. "Then we will read a letter that President Carter has written to the library about the importance of peacemakers."

People around the country who are looking at different ways for the veterans using the arts to heal gathered at this event. Whitehead, a former soldier herself, personally enjoys VonnegutFest to see past members of the military using the arts to heal. 

Events that will be taking place during VonnegutFest are as follows:

   ·A Kurt Vonnegut look-a-like contest at Bookmamas.
   ·Lego Creations of people's favorite authors and literary characters at the Irvington Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library.
   ·Views of Human Rights art exhibition sponsored by the Jimmy Carter Center.
   ·Book signings by Benjamin Patton and Tim O'Brian at the Vonnegut Library.
   ·Veteran's Reclaim Armistice Day panel at Eskananzi Hall at the Herron School of Art, part of the Spirit and Place Festival. Tickets Required. Admission is free.
   ·One-man Vonnegut plays at Indy Reads Bookstore.
   ·Timequake Clambake at Cook Theatre starting at 7 p.m., which will feature stand-up comedian Gary Gulman from Comedy Central's Last Comic Standing. Tickets Required.

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