Kurt Vonnegut’s Tips for Teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1967)

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.

via Slate

Relat­ed con­tent:

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Von­negut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Kurt Von­negut Reads from Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Tips on How to Write a Good Short Sto­ry

Kurt Von­negut: “How To Get A Job Like Mine” (2002)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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