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Feb 21, 2020

(February 15, 2020) Some folks assume Kurt Vonnegut seldom visited Indianapolis after he achieved fame. Others claim the literary lion disliked his hometown - intensely and continuously - until his death in April of 2007.

Julia WhiteheadStill others make assumptions about his religious and spiritual beliefs. Then there are those who think of him as a curmudgeon. And those who assume that most of Vonnegut's extended family members remain involved in the multi-generational hardware business that his great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, founded in the 1850s.

Our show explores a range of misperceptions - as well as aspects that are much more nuanced than often assumed - related to the author of the classic Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) and other bestselling books, including the semi-autobiographical Palm Sunday (1981).

Clemens Vonnegut (1824-1906), great-grandfather to novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., founded a hardware store in Indianapolis in the 1850s.We also explore little-known episodes in Vonnegut's life. Nelson's studio guest Julia Whitehead, executive director of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in Indianapolis, will talk about how Vonnegut and his first wife, Jane, were inadvertently involved in the cruel hoax that became known as "reverse Freedom Rides" during the turbulent 1960s. Tune in to hear details about the infamous "rides" initiated by segregationists in the Deep South - and the connection to Cape Cod, Mass., where the Vonneguts had a home.

Julia and Nelson are joined during the show by Dan Simon, founder of Seven Stories Press, the New York-based publisher of Vonnegut's final three books, including A Man Without a Country (2005). In addition to being Vonnegut's publisher, Dan was his editor and friend.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born in Indianapolis in 1922. His grandfather, Bernard, a well-known architect, was the only one of Clemens Vonnegut's four sons not to be involved for an extended period in the hardware business.

Clemens was a local leader of the German Freethinkers, which Hoosier History Live explored during a show last June. Clemens' grandson, Kurt Sr., was the architect for a Unitarian church in Indianapolis and attended services there.

In Palm Sunday, Kurt Jr. refers to himself as a "Christ-worshiping agnostic." In other references, he describes himself as an atheist, but his works frequently include biblical references and analogies. Our guest Julia Whitehead notes that Vonnegut credited a childhood nanny for much of his early spiritual instruction.