A New Kurt Vonnegut Museum Opens in Indianapolis … Right in Time for Banned Books Week

“All my jokes are Indi­anapo­lis,” Kurt Von­negut once said. “All my atti­tudes are Indi­anapo­lis. My ade­noids are Indi­anapo­lis. If I ever sev­ered myself from Indi­anapo­lis, I would be out of busi­ness. What peo­ple like about me is Indi­anapo­lis.” He deliv­ered those words to a high-school audi­ence in his home­town of Indi­anapo­lis in 1986, and a decade lat­er he made his feel­ings even clear­er in a com­mence­ment speech at But­ler Uni­ver­si­ty: “If I had to do it all over, I would choose to be born again in a hos­pi­tal in Indi­anapo­lis. I would choose to spend my child­hood again at 4365 North Illi­nois Street, about 10 blocks from here, and to again be a prod­uct of that city’s pub­lic schools.” Now, at 543 Indi­ana Avenue, we can expe­ri­ence the lega­cy of the man who wrote Slaugh­ter­house-FiveCat’s Cra­dle, and Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons at the new­ly per­ma­nent Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library.

The muse­um’s founder and CEO Julia White­head “con­ceived the idea for a Von­negut muse­um in Novem­ber of 2008, a year and a half after the author’s death, writes Atlas Obscu­ra’s Susan Salaz. “The phys­i­cal muse­um opened in a donat­ed store­front in 2011, dis­play­ing items donat­ed by friends or on loan from the Von­negut fam­i­ly” — his Pall Malls, his draw­ings, a repli­ca of his type­writer, his Pur­ple Heart.

But the col­lec­tion “has been home­less since Jan­u­ary 2019.” A fundrais­ing cam­paign this past spring raised $1.5 mil­lion in dona­tions, putting the muse­um in a posi­tion to pur­chase the Indi­ana Avenue build­ing, one capa­cious enough for vis­i­tors to, accord­ing to the muse­um’s about page, “view pho­tos from fam­i­ly, friends, and fans that reveal Von­negut as he lived; “pon­der rejec­tion let­ters Von­negut received from edi­tors”; and “rest a spell and lis­ten to what friends and col­leagues have to say about Von­negut and his work.”

The new­ly re-opened Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library will also pay trib­ute to the jazz-lov­ing, cen­sor­ship-loathing vet­er­an of the Sec­ond World War with an out­door tun­nel play­ing the music of Wes Mont­gomery and oth­er Indi­anapo­lis jazz greats, a “free­dom of expres­sion exhi­bi­tion” that Salaz describes as fea­tur­ing “the 100 books most fre­quent­ly banned in libraries and schools across the nation,” and vet­er­an-ori­ent­ed book clubs, writ­ing work­shops, and art exhi­bi­tions. In the muse­um’s peri­od of absence, Von­negut pil­grims in Indi­anapo­lis had no place to go (apart from the town land­marks designed by the writer’s archi­tect father and grand­fa­ther), but the 38-foot-tall mur­al on Mass­a­chu­setts Avenue by artist Pamela Bliss. Hav­ing known noth­ing of Von­negut’s work before, she fell in love with it after first vis­it­ing the muse­um her­self, she’ll soon use its Indi­ana Avenue build­ing as a can­vas on which to triple the city’s num­ber of Von­negut murals.

You can see more of the new Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library, which opened its doors for a sneak pre­view this past Banned Books Week, in the video at the top of the post, as well as in this four-part local news report. Though Von­negut expressed appre­ci­a­tion for Indi­anapo­lis all through­out his life, he also left the place for­ev­er when he head­ed east to Cor­nell. He also satir­i­cal­ly repur­posed it as Mid­land City, the sur­re­al­ly flat and pro­sa­ic Mid­west­ern set­ting of Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons whose cit­i­zens only speak seri­ous­ly of “mon­ey or struc­tures or trav­el or machin­ery,” their imag­i­na­tions “fly­wheels on the ram­shackle machin­ery of awful truth.” I hap­pen to be plan­ning a great Amer­i­can road trip that will take me through Indi­anapo­lis, and what with the pres­ence of an insti­tu­tion like the Kurt Von­negut Muse­um and Library — as well as all the cul­tur­al spots revealed by the Indi­anapo­lis-based The Art Assign­ment — it has become one of the cities I’m most excit­ed to vis­it. Von­negut, of all Indi­anapoli­tans, would sure­ly appre­ci­ate the irony.

via Smithsonian.com

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why Should We Read Kurt Von­negut? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

Kurt Von­negut Cre­ates a Report Card for His Nov­els, Rank­ing Them From A+ to D

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

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

Behold Kurt Vonnegut’s Draw­ings: Writ­ing is Hard. Art is Pure Plea­sure

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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