Art not only saves lives, it casts ripples, as Kurt Vonnegut surely knew when he replied—at length—to five New York City high school students who’d contacted him as part of a 2006 English assignment. (The identities of the other authors selected for this honor are lost to time, but not one had the courtesy to respond except Vonnegut.)
Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
Vonnegut’s kind wishes and Yoko Ono-esque prompt have been widely disseminated on the Internet, which is no doubt where students at Hove Park School in Brighton, East Sussex caught the scent. Working with a professional production company that specializes in narrative-driven work, they literalized the assignment in the video above, and while I might have preferred a sneak peek at the poems and drawings such a task might yield, pre-shredding, I loved how they acknowledged that not everyone heeds the call. (The casting of that one could have gone either way…wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that that boy has a punk band that would’ve ripped Vonnegut’s ears off.)
via Kate Rix