“I Was There”

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William Dereseiwicz’s luminous response to Kurt Vonnegut’s oeuvre recently printed by the Library of America, is a critique as much as it is hero-worship.

Dereseiwicz confronts Vonnegut’s novels from his earliest to his last, focusing on Vonnegut’s zenith in moral seriousness and the long, personal road to Slaughterhouse-Five. Vonnegut played around with his essential question, the elegantly put “What are people for?”, in his early work, though he then lacked the artistic and rhetorical strength of the novels to come. Dereseiwicz traces Vonnegut’s evolving forms and themes from beginning to end, placing the author’s brilliant qualities alongside his more questionable and possibly self-deluded backsliding.

For the die-hard fans: This Paris Review interview with Vonnegut from 1977, in which he talks about Dresden and teaching at Iowa, covers the 10 year period surrounding the writing and publication of Slaughterhouse-Five.


Graham Todd is an intern at The Rumpus. He spends his mornings writing post-apocalyptic, vaguely biblical sci-fi horror comedy, his evenings tutoring the wide-eyed youth of the Palo Alto area, and his Thursdays at The Rumpus office, effectively “off the streets”. Beyond this weekly ritual, he enjoys karaoke, the movies, and jogging. More from this author →