I am very real. (1 Diatribe)

I apologize in advance for the reading required to enjoy this post, but it's worth it..

In October of 1973, Bruce Severy — a 26-year-old English teacher at Drake High School, North Dakota — decided to use Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, as a teaching aid in his classroom. The next month, the head of the school board, Charles McCarthy, demanded that all 32 copies be burned in the school's furnace as a result of its "obscene language." Other books soon met with the same fate.
For those of you unfamiliar with Slaughterhouse-Five, it is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim. Ranked the 18th greatest English novel of the 20th century by Modern Library, it is generally recognized as Vonnegut's most influential and popular work.

On the 16th of November, Kurt Vonnegut sent McCarthy the following letter. He didn't receive a reply.

November 16, 1973

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.

Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.

I want you to know, too, that my publisher and I have done absolutely nothing to exploit the disgusting news from Drake. We are not clapping each other on the back, crowing about all the books we will sell because of the news. We have declined to go on television, have written no fiery letters to editorial pages, have granted no lengthy interviews. We are angered and sickened and saddened. And no copies of this letter have been sent to anybody else. You now hold the only copy in your hands. It is a strictly private letter from me to the people of Drake, who have done so much to damage my reputation in the eyes of their children and then in the eyes of the world. Do you have the courage and ordinary decency to show this letter to the people, or will it, too, be consigned to the fires of your furnace?

I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of ratlike people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything. I am so much trusted with young people and by young people that I have served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the City College of New York. Every year I receive at least a dozen invitations to be commencement speaker at colleges and high schools. My books are probably more widely used in schools than those of any other living American fiction writer.

If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.

After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, “Yes, yes–but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community.” This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the eduction of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books–books you hadn’t even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.

Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.

Kurt Vonnegut

[Source: lettersofnote.com]

  • David H

    I feel as though people have forgotten about Vonnegut in recent years. Especially since the mockery that is the movie Breakfast of Champions caused people to pull away. Sometimes you just don't need a movie to be made of your brilliant story.
    The most beautiful thing about Kurt is that while he had his obvious opinions on politics, religion, etc. He never condemed the people who shared the views he opposed, only the view itself. He truely embodied what it was to have the right to an opinion and this letter just reafirms that!
    RIP- Kurt

  • SquishyFlint

    My mother gave me a signed copy of Slaughterhouse 5 for my birthday when I was 15 because at the time it was my favourite book. It's been almost fifteen more years since then, and it's still probably the most read book on my shelves. This letter is a prime example of why.

  • BenJamin

    Thank you Mr. V. Today more than ever we need hearts and minds like yours.

  • Asimpkin

    Today on the Chive gravity is particularly high! Bravo Hero.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13752682 Zach Rochner

    Proud to say he's from my home state… then again, so is Michael Jackson.

    Cat's Cradle is the greatest book I've ever read.

  • Grant

    'Merica. Fuck yeah

  • MattKL

    This is why Kurt Vonnegut is one of the best.

  • pyramidclimber

    i love tits

  • http://Www.olekingcole.tumblr.com OleKingCole

    The Bill Murray of Authors???

  • Bill

    Game, set and match. Don't f with Vonnegut.

  • and so it goes...

    Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

  • Grammar Patrol

    Does anyone else think this letter seems poorly written?

  • 327

    haha I'm from Drake, I didn't know this was ever that big of a deal….WOW!

  • oakleydog

    He kept calm…he chived on. One of my favourite authors, one of my favourite books.

  • Xarion


  • Casper

    Joining slow clap

  • BillEPilgrm

    If you want to like him more read "man without a country" which he wrote shortly before he died

  • project_2501

    Assertive (non-aggressive) verbal ownage. 🙂

  • Abe


  • Dr. Evil.

    Book burnings; what we'll get if people like mayer jacoby get their way!

  • Bill G

    Eloquence and truth over comes ignorance and fear yet again. Inspiring, righteous…Noble.

  • Yon Yonson

    My name is Yon Yonson. I live in Wisconon. i work in the lumber mill there. When people pass me by they ask me my name and I say…

  • Nik

    Where was Kurt Vonnegut when we had the mixer match ups??
    Definitely a man you could sit down and have a drink with.
    (So long as you don't mind the smell of roses and Mustard gas)

  • troll

    there must have been copies made…….

  • shawn


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