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]

  • Carlos

    And to think, Thornton Mellon fired him in "Back to School". What folly mortal men make!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cyborg5875 Benjamin Alan Becker

    Man he was right on freedom of speech y'all

  • Yanko

    If that was the only copy how did it make it onto the internet? Surely the principal didn't get the letter and decide to send it into the Chive? I would love for even the members at theChive to share some insight as to how they got this letter.

  • steve phares

    Well worth the read, rock on Kurt Vonnegut!

  • Anonymous

    if this is the only copy how did you happen to come across it?

  • lotus14

    the German poet Heirich Heine wrote in the late 1800s, "When books are burned in the beginning, in the end men will be burnt."

  • Notch Johnson

    not being funny but that passage reads like it was written by a kid, not a 'literary genius'…. just sayin'

  • Dave

    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<…

    WW II ended in 1945…Over 65 years ago…

    • Dave

      Just saw the date. My bad.

  • brad


  • Backward Genius

    Slaughterhouse 5 is my favorite book ever

  • http://ayfji.high.ghg qtgh

    @Dave this was written in 1973 which would make him in his late teens and early twenties at the time of world war 2.

    • Dave

      Yeah. My bad. Just noticed the date of this letter.
      My apologies.

  • svetka

    Oh wow, this so awesome. Nothing i love more then seeing someone getting their ass handed to em intellectually.

  • Eagleheart

    Fantastic, Make Those Ignorant, Book Burning Fools Look Like Bitches. I Want To Know Who Got Ahold Of The Letter So We Could Enjoy It.

  • Anonymous

    Fuck, yeah.

  • http://twitter.com/NextDoorCritic @NextDoorCritic

    Powerful stuff from one of my favorite authors

  • noegod

    I believe they made Slaughter house five into a movie?

  • KlausHeissman

    "I am a combat infantryman from WW2, and I hold a purple heart"….. Mr. McCarthy, your argument is invalid.

  • QTheLibertine

    I would have sent the school 33 copies of Fahrenheit 451.

  • Shat_Thrice

    Vonnegut is God.

  • andyp311

    Slaughterhouse Five has been my favorite book for about 20 years

  • Whipping Post

    Thanks Leo……………A good read !

  • Jerry V.

    Very Interesting im getting Slaughterhouse Five.

  • dadawg77

    Sadly this was my introduction to Kurt, but then again I was 12 or 13 when I saw the movie. http://movieclips.com/keGD-back-to-school-movie-i

  • https://www.facebook.com/CameronEcreighton Cameron Creighton

    I was in Drake ND yesterday. Not much there but pretty cool to see it on The Chive!!

  • http://www.funnypicturespro.com/13148/i-am-very-real-1-diatribe/ I am very real. (1 Diatribe) | Funny Pictures Pro

    […] November, Kurt Vonnegut sent McCarthy the following letter. He didn’t receive a reply.From: theCHIVE » Owned […]

blog comments powered by Disqus
Back to the top