Author Charles J. Shields, whose book on Harper Lee was well-received last summer, wants to hear from you on your experiences with Kurt Vonnegut. “Now I’m beginning work on the first authorized biography–the first biography at all, actually–of Kurt Vonnegut. I’d like to hear from any of your readers about their experiences with Vonnegut, either personally or with his novels.”
Vonnegut is the author of A Man without a Country, Timequake, Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, and a few other books.
I asked Mr. Shields how he gained the opportunity to write Kurt Vonnegut’s first authorized biography. He replied:
Many years ago when I was a little boy wearing thick glasses, baggy pants, and Hush Puppy shoes, I realized I wasn’t the brightest star in the heavens, but I could compensate for that by being persistent. That’s really the story behind MOCKINGBIRD, which Harper Lee didn’t want me to write and tried to dissuade her friends from helping me with. But four years of research and hundreds of interviews produced a portrait of her. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s done in watercolors, not oils, but it will be valuable to biographers of hers who will come later.
Mr. Vonnegut turned me down at first, but when I pointed out the number of ways our lives connect—-we’re both Midwesterners; both humanists; he’s a veteran, so was my father; both men worked in public relations for large corporations—-I convinced him that I’m the guy for the job. He still remained skeptical for awhile, I think, but I kept up a regular stream of chat via phone and mail and I seem to have won him to my side. He’s a generous man, anyway. This biography will be the obverse of the one about Lee, in a sense. Vonnegut is an extrovert with many friends and a large body of work. His papers going back to the 1950s are on file at Indiana University. I was Philip Marlowe on the case of “Harper Lee, Recluse.” This time I get to be Boswell!