Night of Vonnegut Writing Contest Winner
We received a boatload of entries into this year’s Night of Vonnegut writing contest! The topic – why Kurt Vonnegut’s writing is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago – really seems to have touched a nerve with a lot of you, and the essays were, to a one, excellent. Thanks very much to all of you who participated and submitted entries! We certainly appreciate the response. Although we wish that we could have given each of you a pair of tickets to the Night of Vonnegut event, in the end there could be only one winner. So, without further ado, the winner was (drumroll, please) Mr. C.D. Culp from Vincennes, Indiana! Reproduced below is the text of his winning entry. Thanks for the thoughtful and well written essay, C.D. Hope you had fun at the event.
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Kurt Vonnegut and I never met. We never got the chance to talk over dinner as I had so hoped. But that’s not to say we never shared an idea. In 2009, two years after his death and a year after I had graduated from Indiana University’s School of Education, I finally gave old Kilgore a spin in my mind. The first book was Breakfast of Champions, given to me by a friend of an ex love. So it goes.
I thumbed through the first couple pages and found that Vonnegut and I were both Hoosiers, members of a granfalloon, part of a group that doesn’t actually exist, but it wasn’t until I finished my second Vonnegut book, Slaughterhouse-Five, that I realized Kurt’s words still had the power to set fires regardless of when they were hammered into his typewriter. Vonnegut, the person who could understand the flaws in us all, the person to help me embrace the hilariously insane world I was soon to inherit, the one who advises to be kind to everyone and desire nothing more, was transcending through time like Winston Niles Rumfoord.
It was only at a small nexus of our lives where Kurt and I existed on the same plane. In my early life (the later part of his) I grew up thinking that once I sprouted into adulthood things would even out. The madness would end. Adults were mature and thoughtful, humanity at its best. But as the years passed before me, I was shocked at what I witnessed. What was wrong with the world, chasing wealth, starting wars, complaining about luxuries, and carelessly creating global problems for others to solve? What was this country? Where were all the levelheaded leaders?
Kurt taught me that the dreams and demons of humanity are the same today as they were forty years ago. We as humans are inclined to falter. We disobey. We look back when warned not to, even if it means turning into a pillar of salt. We fight, cheat, and lie. These imperfections make us human and we must learn to embrace them in ourselves and, more importantly, in each other. I had gone most of my life trying to distance myself from these flaws, trying to stand above the wretched refuse, but Kurt showed me that I belonged beside them, helping all that I could. We are in this mess together, this constant life of suffering, no matter what the year, and the best thing we can do is learn to get along. Every desirable thing in this world some day dissolves. Loved ones die, possessions wilt, and power will fade, but instead of being filled with despair and animosity, we should simply try to live out our short lives with love and understanding for each other.
In 2009, forty-four years after God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater was published, I joined the AmeriCorps, to work at a homeless shelter in Colorado. It was there I learned, with the help of Kurt’s stories, how to accept humanity while discovering what we have in common. I found out we all favor a hot meal, a good joke when necessary, and the feelings of love and value, no matter where we come from. I worked with many people down on their luck, offering them what soul comforting Rosewater treatments I could, but I soon found out it would take a lot more than an aspirin and a glass of wine to cure every problem. My easiest and favorite remedy was a non-judgmental ear, and that’s all many have wanted their entire life. It may be what a lot of us really need. Thanks to Kurt’s ideas, I left Colorado feeling complete, knowing I had made a difference, one conversation at a time. The following fall I wound up in an Arlington, Virginia bookstore, purchasing Cat’s Cradle and The Sirens of Titan.
Now, as a twenty-six year old human, Kurt’s old words still provoke new thought in these trying times. Teachers are losing respect, recent graduates are expected to thrive in a poor economy, and even the world itself is throwing us her greatest natural disasters. The suffering occurs. The suffering persists and such things will always, yet sadly, happen. Vonnegut has shown me, sometimes in rude detail, the dirty yet lovable world in which I am to live for the next eighty or so years (if I’m lucky). He has taught me to find the things in my day-to-day life that are nice, pleasant, filled with love, and announce their existence fearlessly to all, saying, “If this isn’t nice, then I don’t know what it is.” That is how you combat suffering, by being cognizant and thankful for the good moments when they arise.
I find it sad that Kurt died as a man without a county, torn with guilt for the nation that raised him. He said he felt like Mark Twain at the end of his run, losing hope in humanity. I am twenty-six years old, not a Vonnegut eighty-four or a Twain seventy-four, and things are much different now than when Vonnegut (and most definitely Twain) was growing up. I disagree with the idea of losing hope in humanity. There are problems, yes, things I wish I could change about our world and government, but problems will always exist. The reason all of us babies work is to prevent or solve problems as they occur, but new babies are born every minute, raised in new environments with new hopes and dreams, and as long as Vonnegut’s words are there for fresh eyes to read, I will have faith in our species. “There’s only one rule that I know of babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” I am grateful to know Mr. Vonnegut through the work he left behind, and maybe, someday, I will tell him so myself.