Open Letter to Vonnegut Library “Prisoner” 2019
Rai Peterson, English Professor at Ball State University and 2018 Banned Books “Prisoner”
Upon detention behind a wall of banned books, I was fortunate to receive a type-written, hilarious letter from the 2017 Banned Books Prisoner, Greg Bravehorse. He informed me that, by the time I was reading his pages, I would have an antenna implanted in my brain, like Harrison Bergeron, and so my every action and thought was being directed by a lesser power. Let that be a disclaimer. I do not speak for the Ball State University nor the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, nor possibly even myself here.
If you didn’t have some misgivings about agreeing to spend 144 consecutive hours in a 2-room museum, Crown Hill might be a better fit for you. I was the first female “prisoner” to be encamped in the front window of the KVML, and maybe that explains the several visitors who worried that I might be afraid, sleeping alone just a couple of blocks from the State Capitol Building and right across the street from a popular downtown bar.
Welcome to the Slaughterhouse! You’re safe here, but very busy.
I figured if no one had broken into the KVML before to steal Kurt’s 1970s typewriter, smoke one of his left-over Pall Malls, or open that letter his father wrote in 1944, then probably no one would do it while someone was so conspicuously present. Perhaps you, like I, thought “imprisonment” at the KVML would be largely symbolic. It’s not. You will sleeping, eating, and thinking right there in that first floor window.
Voluntary imprisonment seems kind of idyllic to some others. One of my colleagues said she wished for a week alone to get work done, and I did expect to get a lot of personal reading and writing done after I got bored with posting selfie mug shots on social media. Not so. I hardly had time for the mug shots.
KVML provides thought-provoking free or low-cost presentations at least twice per day during Banned Books Week, and you’ll be impressed by the roster of folks who come to give intimate talks in the Library. The best entertainment in Indy often happens in rooms that seat 50 people or fewer.
Future “Prisoner,” somehow, the KVML learned about you, and this week is your chance to learn about the KVML. You’re a “prisoner,” but not in solitary confinement, so don’t confine yourself to solitary activities. You’ve got it a lot better than Vonnegut himself did in captivity; he had to sift through the ruins of Dresden. Here are some far more pleasant tasks you can undertake:
- Attend all of the events and be an encouraging presence.
- Teach visiting classes and get tours started when the staff is busy.
- Contribute to the KVML blog and brainstorm with staff members who write a lot.
- Greet visitors and make them feel at home.
- Get to know the staff and volunteers, their jobs, and how you can help in the future.
The rewards are great: Here are some souvenirs from my week in the KVML:
- meeting a whole class of eager high schoolers who were excited to be on a field trip and then impressed that they actually learned a lot and liked it.
- trading Vonnegut quotes with two men who flew a private plane halfway across the country to visit.
- talking with a volunteer who is a college student dedicated to decolonizing museums.
- thinking about what it means to “live an authentic life” with the son of a famous American author.
This is your week to find out what it’s like to work at the KVML. You’ll see the dedication and ingenuity of its staff daily. Once you’re out of this slaughterhouse, you’ll get to eat and sleep at home, maybe even out of reach of your antenna reception.