Few who dip into Kurt Vonnegut’s work come away without the influence of his voice. If we can judge by his letter to Richard Gehman (click here to read it in large format), this will go for his personal correspondence as much as it does for his fiction. In addition to such novels as Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut left behind a great many letters, some of the most interesting of which have just come together in a new 464-page collection. We previously featured one of Vonnegut’s dispatches from the army, written to his parents at age 22. 22 years after that, he wrote the above page to Gehman, himself a noted man of letters. It contains the one thing for which nearly ever dedicated reader of Kurt Vonnegut must long: advice from Kurt Vonnegut.
“Mornings are for writing,” Vonnegut tells Gehman, “and so are most of the afternoons.” The recipient was preparing for a teaching stint at the University of Iowa’s famous Writer’s Workshop. Vonnegut’s own tour of duty there from 1965 to 1967 put him in a position to offer wise counsel. “The classes don’t matter much,” he writes, a sentiment that will strike creative writing teachers as at once dispiriting and sensible. “The real business, head-to-head, is done during office hours.” He also has much to say about university life and how to cope with the remoteness of Iowa City. “Forget your lack of credentials.” “You go to Cedar Rapids for seafood.” “Cancel classes whenever you damn please.” “Every so often you will go nuts. All of a sudden the cornfields get you.” “Run with the painters. I did.” “Go to all the football games. They are great.” Beyond these points, the letter only gets juicier — as a true Vonnegut fan would expect. Again you can read it in large format here.