Last Saturday’s gray, chilly winter afternoon in Indy’s Indiana Avenue Cultural District received a sweet dose of sunshine at the grand opening of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. Admirers from all over the Hoosier state (and a few from beyond our borders) flitted in and out of the ribbon cutting event that saw an enthusiastic turnout for one of Indiana’s native sons.
To some, Kurt Vonnegut is known more by his legacy than his writing. Such is often the case when you’re talking about one of the most respected authors of the 20th century. Like J.D. Salinger, George Orwell or Richard Wright, Vonnegut influenced a generation of writers, who in turn loaned those treasured literary works to their friends, their children, and, now, their grandchildren.
Although I never subscribed to his bleak, cynical view of the modern world, I admired his style and respected his devotion to the causes he held dear. So, of course, I found myself beaming with pride to see my hometown honor a man of his unique caliber.
The memorial library is a small, but worthy space. Personal photos, self portraits and a variety of artistic musings from friends and family decorate the walls of the cozy gallery and delightfully play off the historical artifacts of the adjoining studio. A leisurely stroll around the library will take you past one of Vonnegut’s classic blue typewriters, a framed rejection letter from The Atlantic Monthly, his purple heart from World War II, and an ornate 20-foot painting called “Star Time” by Chris King and Rodney Allen that details the major events of KV’s long life alongside the indisputable milestones that shaped the universe, world and U.S. during his time on Earth.
But for me, the literary geek could not resist the centerpiece of this wonderful memorial: a re-creation of Vonnegut’s writing space. With the irreplaceable items tucked away behind glass, visitors can sit beside the replica of KV’s notorious coffee table—he didn’t care to work at a desk—and have a go on the Smith-Corona 2200 that sits in front of his red rooster lamp while gazing at words that inspired millions around the world.
Again, the space is certainly on the petite side, but it is no less endearing. I spent a good 40 minutes pouring over his mini-library that decorated this writing hideaway. Tomes donated by family and friends are scattered among the many literary and popular titles. Oh yes, it turns out that KV was no prude. Among the books included to reflect his personal collection and appreciation, you’ll find Jonathan Franzen sharing shelf space with Willa Cather, Toni Morrison a stone’s throw from Graham Greene, T.S. Eliot nestled alongside Ian McEwan, Geraldine Brooks holding hands with Jeffrey Eugenides, and Henry James mixing it up with Gloria Naylor.
As I mentioned, devotees traveled from all over to pay their respects. One gentleman drove down from Chicago just to see this much-deserved tribute to his favorite author. Another young man by way of North Carolina stopped in to donate a portrait of KV painted by a family friend from Zionsville, who has since moved to the Caribbean. Such is the way of the Vonnegut fandom.
That Saturday, patrons of every age, gender, ethnicity and economic class wandered through the door to share in their mutual appreciation of the one and only Vonnegut. Some were also treated to a book signing by KV’s childhood friend, Majie Failey, whose memoir shares details of her friendship with Vonnegut the man, not just the writer. Others enjoyed putting questions to Heather Augustyn, the last journalist to interview Vonnegut before his passing in 2007. But no matter the highlight, every one walked away feeling a little more proud of this remarkable man’s legacy.
So what can you do if you didn’t get a chance to attend the ribbon cutting festivities? That’s easy. Just find your way down to the funky corner where Indiana Ave. meets Senate and Vermont. (Yeah, it’s one of those intersections.) The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is located across the street from the Bourbon Street Distillery. The library is open Sunday through Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday from Noon to 5pm.
Still need more incentive? The KVML curators plan to rotate Vonnegut’s many rejection letters from prominent publications to serve as inspiration to struggling artists out there who need a bit of encouragement from time to time. So stop in for a visit, then come back here and tell me which publication told Vonnegut “Sorry, no thanks” this month.
Which rejection letter did you see?