"Upon finishing his short speech, Vonnegut picked up his watch—I’d swear he smiled at us seated comfortably in front—and then marched off through the audience almost as if he were Moses parting the Red Sea...”
Nearly 18 years ago friends suggested we make the relatively short trip from Nampa, Idaho to the big capital of the state, Boise - the occasion being the yearly Hemingway Conference. Besides thinking of Hemingway in terms of my future move to Spain, in this case the event was especially attractive since the author Kurt Vonnegut was to be the main speaker.
As things would have it we arrived late after having lost our way in the big city. After dashing about like only hicks on a big-town-university campus can do, we reached a large auditorium – only to see that it was packed tight. If I remember correctly there were some heated words, when suddenly a gentleman in a tan corduroy jacket came up behind us and made some comments about how filled the place was. After a bit of banter to the respect, he told us to follow him.
He led us past the entire audience, then grabbed two chairs from off the stage, placed them firmly in the front row and told us to sit down … and then walked to the center of the stage and began to speak. It was only then I realized that it had been none other than Kurt Vonnegut who had been our usher.
I don’t remember too much about his speech, other than two points. One that, according to Vonnegut, Hemingway told stories as native Indians do - that a story doesn’t need to follow a plot to create a climax, but that it’s just a story for its own sake – and that unfortunately Hemingway lived as if his life were a story. Hence explaining why he killed himself, argued Vonnegut, who also said it was just a plain stupid theory – indeed an interesting statement coming from Vonnegut given that his mother - a failed writer - also committed suicide by overdosing on pills.
Upon finishing his short speech, Vonnegut then picked up his watch – I’d swear he smiled at us seated comfortably in front as he walked past – then marched off through the audience almost as if he were Moses parting the Red Sea.
His sudden departure seemed to catch the sponsor by surprise, who hastily grabbed the microphone and said that she was sure Mr. Vonnegut would be willing to take some questions. Her pleas, however, were unheeded, and Vonnegut – without even issuing one word – simply raised upward an arm that seemed to reach unendingly toward heaven and then ever so graciously waved, goodbye.
That’s the image that I have of Vonnegut, wading through a sea of people with his arm raised high in a friendly gesture, while for all purposes refusing to even enter into the possibility that he would give us one more second of his time. Obviously he felt that he had earned his speaker’s fee.
Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007, died Wednesday night. He was 84.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Biography