Vonnegut wins Prometheus Award for ‘Harrison Bergeron’

The following is a press release from the Libertarian Futurist Society:

The 39th annual Prometheus Award has been given to
Kurt Vonnegut in the Hall of Fame (Best Classic Fiction) category for his short
story, “Harrison Bergeron.”

The Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS) made the
official announcement of the award on their website July 6 and officially
presented the award Aug. 19 during the 77th World Science Fiction Convention,
“Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon,”  which ran Aug. 15-19, 2019, in Dublin,
Ireland.

The Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque
for the winners – with a one-ounce gold coin for Best Novel and a smaller gold
coin for the Prometheus Hall of Fame (for Best Classic Fiction in all written
and broadcast/on-screen media) and the occasional Prometheus Special awards,
according to the LFS press release about the 2019 awards.

This is the first time Kurt Vonnegut has been
recognized with the Prometheus award. The LFS explained their decision in their
press release by stating, “In ‘Harrison Bergeron,’ first published in 1961 in
the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vonnegut blends a satirical and
tragic tone in depicting a dystopian future in the United States where
constitutional amendments and a Handicapper General mandate that no one can be
stupider, uglier, weaker, slower (or better) than anyone else. Vonnegut
dramatizes the destruction of people’s lives and talents and the obliteration
of basic humanity via a denial of emotions and knowledge that leaves parents
unable to mourn a son’s death. ‘Harrison Bergeron’ exposes and mourns the
chilling authoritarian consequences of radical egalitarianism taken to an
inhuman and Orwellian extreme that denies individuality, diversity and the opportunity
to excel.”

Among the many other works inducted over the years
into the Prometheus Hall of Fame are George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and
Animal Farm, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Ursula Le Guin’s
The Dispossessed, Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Ira
Levin’sThis Perfect Day, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Sinclair Lewis’
It Can’t Happen Here, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Hans Christian
Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Also receiving the 2019 Prometheus award in the Best
Novel category was Causes of Separation, by Travis Corcoran.

 The Libertarian
Futurist Society describes the distinctive focus and goal of the Prometheus
Awards as recognizing outstanding works of speculative fiction, science fiction
and fantasy that “dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power,
champion cooperation over coercion, expose the abuses and excesses of
government, critique or satirize authoritarian ideas, or uphold individual
rights and freedoms as the mutually respectful foundation for peace,
prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance, and civilization itself.”

According to an LFS news release, the Prometheus
Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), is celebrating its
40th anniversary in 2019, having been first presented in 1979, making it one of
the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the
oldest fan-based awards currently in sf.

For more information, visit www.lfs.org

The following includes acceptance remarks from the Vonnegut family: 

Without wanting to make anyone else feel bad about having written or published less good stories and without wishing to appear vain or in any way showy, we are moderately proud of this story, what it’s meant to others and this award.”

Sincerely,

The Vonnegut children and cousins and their children and cousins

The following includes a note of thanks from the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library:

The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in Indianapolis, Indiana is thrilled to receive news that Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron” is being recognized by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS) with the Prometheus Award in the Hall of Fame (Best Classic Fiction) category. The story, like much of Kurt’s other writings, seems a perfect fit for LFS, who identify as, “libertarians and freedom-loving science fiction fans who believe cultural change is as vital as political change in achieving freedom.”

Kurt’s principles, in keeping with LFS standards, include passionate promotion of the necessity for free expression in the world. In fact, in 1973 in the very month of Kurt’s birth, November, the school district of Drake, North Dakota, controversially burned 32 copies of Slaughterhouse-Five in the school furnace. Kurt responded passionately in a letter that was later published in the very first chapter of his non-fiction collection, Palm Sunday, appropriately entitled “The First Amendment.” 

Among other sentiments in the letter, Kurt stressed, “Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.”

The work recognized for this year’s award, “Harrison Bergeron,” is one of the most widely taught texts in schools around the country. It is often featured during the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library’s annual workshop specifically created for teachers interested in bringing Vonnegut’s messages of freedom of expression and common decency to their own classrooms.

Seemingly contradicting the sentiment expressed at the beginning of this acceptance that Kurt’s writings are a perfect fit for LFS, it might be noted that he was not very fond of being known as a science-fiction author.  In fact, in his book Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons, he rather succinctly noted, “I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled ‘science fiction’ … and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.”     

This might sound like a man who did not appreciate science-fiction as a genre, however, in the last of his books published within his lifetime, Man Without a Country, he expounded by writing: “I became a so-called science fiction writer when someone decreed that I was a science fiction writer. I did not want to be classified as one, so I wondered in what way I’d offended that I would not get credit for being a serious writer. I decided that it was because I wrote about technology, and most fine American writers know nothing about technology. I got classified as a science fiction writer simply because I wrote about Schenectady, New York. My first book, Player Piano, was about Schenectady. There are huge factories in Schenectady and nothing else. I and my associates were engineers, physicists, chemists, and mathematicians. And when I wrote about the General Electric Company and Schenectady, it seemed a fantasy of the future to critics who had never seen the place.” 

Above all, Kurt wanted to be recognized not for the genre he wrote in, but for the importance and humanity of his words and themes.

It is the honor of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, therefore, to thank the Libertarian Futurist Society for recognizing the importance and humanity of our Hoosier son, Kurt Vonnegut’s words with this 2019 Prometheus Award in the Hall of Fame (Best Classic Fiction) category.

 If he were here with us today, he might have shared his favorite expression taught to him by his favorite uncle, Alex, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

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