Vonnegut on White Supremacy

An opportunity to analyze and discuss depictions of racism in Vonnegut’s fiction
by Steve Ellerhoff

July 20th  1-3pm EST

Workshop Synopsis

Vonnegut was no friend to racist attitudes and power structures. Take, for instance, the time he and Joseph Heller were interviewed by Stephen E. Ambrose for the 50th anniversary of V-E Day. When Ambrose put forward the view that democracies generally do not make war, Vonnegut added, “Except against Indians.” Nearly thirty years prior, he and Heller shared a stage at the Notre Dame Literary Festival when the horrible news broke that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. Both publicly opposed such barbarity.

But how does Vonnegut’s disgust with white supremacy play out in his fiction? In small groups, workshop participants will have the chance to review and discuss his portrayal of characters like Howard W. Campbell, Jr. (from Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five), the Reverend Doctor Lionel J. D. Jones (Mother Night), Dwayne Hoover and Wayne Hoobler (Breakfast of Champions), Mary Hoobler (Deadeye Dick), and historical figures Birnum Birnum and James Earl Ray (God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian).

Together we will take up the question: To what extent was Kurt Vonnegut an anti-racist writer?

Extracts from his works for the discussion groups will be available to those interested, via Dropbox, before the workshop opens. This suite of topics is not easy to discuss, so this presents a fantastic opportunity for all of us to hear each other with mutual sensitivity and respect.


Dr. Steve Gronert Ellerhoff
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff holds a PhD from the School of English at Trinity College Dublin. He is the author of Post-Jungian Psychology and the Short Stories of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut (2016), Mole (2020), Tales From the Internet (2015), and Time’s Laughingstocks (2013). He also co-edited George Saunders: Critical Essays (2017) and Exploring the Horror of Supernatural Fiction: Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (2020). His most recent publication is “White Supremacy and the Multicultural Imagination in Ray Bradbury’s Afrofuturist Stories of Mars for the Journal of Modern Literature.