Donor Spotlight: Greg and Jane Castanias

We are thrilled to host our 10th Annual Night of Vonnegut Gala, presented by Wabash College, on April 11 at the Athenaeum with special guest Salman Rushdie and interviewer Douglas Brinkley. Much planning and preparation will go into this big event, thanks to our 2019 Honorary Event Chairs Jane and Greg Castanias! We can’t thank the Castanias family enough for their time, insight, and creativity. We recently asked the couple to share thoughts on their favorite hometown author and the upcoming fundraiser.

What is your interest in Vonnegut?

Greg:  I grew up in Indianapolis, in the Williams Creek area where Kurt Vonnegut also grew up. The Vonnegut name was the source of no small amount of civic pride—and not just because Kurt, the author, was from Indianapolis. I remember taking trips with my dad to the Vonnegut Hardware store. I was aware that Vonneguts had built some of the breathtaking houses that lined Meridian Street, and once I was old enough to understand Kurt’s writing, I devoured his novels. I couldn’t believe that literature could be written that way, and with humor, too.  I also remember a two-page ad for International Paper that he wrote, called “How to Write With Style.”  In that piece, he offered writing advice. He said you should “sound like yourself,” to which he elaborated: “I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.”  I still send that piece out as writing advice.  Also, near the end of my father’s life, I learned that my dad had piloted one of the American B-17s that bombed Dresden, Germany, while Vonnegut was a P.O.W. there—so in a weird way, my dad and his crew had an unwitting hand in the writing of Slaughterhouse-Five.

Jane:  I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis, but I’ve been drawn to his message of humanism.  In these odd days of American history, especially after November 2018, there’s renewed meaning in his words from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:  “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”  We’re trying to raise two young daughters in the 21st Century with that kind of empathy, and that isn’t always easy.

What is your interest in Salman Rushdie?

Greg:  Other than the obvious—to meet and honor a person who risked his life and stood up for his moral right to speak freely in the face of a fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini—I read The Satanic Verses in law school and wrote a paper as the final exam for a constitutional law class that compared his re-interpretation of the Quran to the way that the various justices of our Supreme Court interpret and re-interpret our Constitution.  (And, yes, I got an “A.”)

Jane:  I want to ask him about his past marriage to Padma Lakshmi from Top Chef.  (I’m kidding.  Sort of.)  Seriously, like Greg, I’m awed by his bravery and his clear articulation of shared moral and ethical values, particularly in the face of a death sentence that ostensibly continues to this day.

What are you most looking forward to at Night of Vonnegut ’19, which is presented by Wabash College and KVML?

Jane:  Aside from meeting Sir Rushdie, it will be wonderful for us to share an evening with fellow supporters of the KVML.

Greg:  I agree with Jane, with the additional connection that I graduated from Wabash in 1987, and one of my fondest memories from that college was borrowing a van with an English professor and a bunch of other English majors and trekking from Crawfordsville to Fort Wayne to see and hear Kurt speak in person.

You both have been such wonderful assets to us, why do you believe it is important to support the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library?

Jane and Greg:  Kurt Vonnegut is such an important part of American cultural life that it is essential for the KVML to maintain a place of scholarship and celebration of his life and works.  No one else is doing that.

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