Kurt Vonnegut Urges Young People to Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

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!

Kurt Von­negut

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kurt Von­negut Dia­grams the Shape of All Sto­ries in a Master’s The­sis Reject­ed by U. Chica­go

“Wear Sun­screen”: The Sto­ry Behind the Com­mence­ment Speech That Kurt Von­negut Nev­er Gave

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

Kurt Von­negut: Where Do I Get My Ideas From? My Dis­gust with Civ­i­liza­tion

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is spend­ing tonight’s Night of Von­negut in Los Ange­les rather than her home­town of Indi­anapo­lis. So it goes. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (4)
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  • CelerEtVerus says:

    It stings that peo­ple like this even­tu­al­ly die, and can’t sim­ply con­tin­ue to live and share them­selves with the guide­less. This man, at his dark­est, some­how always man­ages to turn on a light in my mind and heart. What a giant.

  • Rain,adustbowlstory says:

    This is also good advice for every alien­at­ed/half-crazy/frag­ile ado­les­cent on the plan­et.

  • Art20 says:

    I would like to think that some­how we find our­selves back to a place where cre­ativ­i­ty and the act of cre­ation is as much val­ued, as the act of mon­e­tiz­ing the cre­ation.

  • Oneal Isaac says:

    I liked the home­work assign­ment. At the age of 73
    I have a poem to write tonight.

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