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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  • 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.

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