In a censorship battle, here is Vonnegut’s side of the story.
August 7, 2013
I have long wondered what an author thinks when he gets word that one of his books has been banned or censored..
Some may have expected it. They pushed the envelope on purpose.
Some may be confused, asking: What did I do wrong? What did I do to make you mad?
And some, I’m sure, are genuinely surprised.
In Dan Wakefield’s new book – Kurt Vonnegut: Letters – we know exactly what the author was thinking when he found out that his collection of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, had triggered a censorship battle in Canada.
He wrote a letter to a Canadian schoolteacher who supported him and his work in the legal fray:
William G. Kennedy,
Fenelon Falls Secondary School,
November 16, 1988
Dear Mr. Kennedy—
My publisher, Dell, has just sent me a copy of your letter of October 19 regarding the attempted censorship of my book Welcome to the Monkey House. You and R.A. Baxendale have my sympathy, and I am honored by your inclusion of some of my short stories in your curriculum. Your laws differ from ours in many respects, so I can offer no legal wisdom. I can only say that efforts by groups of parents to get certain works of literature withheld from an entire school community are common in this country, and have in every case been thwarted by decisions of higher courts.
Some primitive facts which may be of some slight use to you when talking about me to primitive people: I have seven children, four of them adopted. The six who are full grown are monogamous, sober members of their communities—a cabinetmaker, a television writer, a pediatrician, an airline captain, a successful painter, and a successful printmaker. They would have heard the word fuck by the time they were six, whether they had had me for a father or not. As for shit and piss: they spoke of almost nothing else when they were only three, which was surely their idea as much as mine. One man wrote me that he could learn more about sex from talking to a ten-year-old than he could from reading my collected works, which is true. Nowhere have I celebrated the use of any sort of drug, nor sexual promiscuity, nor bad citizenship.
I express dismay at violence and humorlessness in everything I write, and in my ordinary life as well. I celebrate compassion and tenderness, and parents of every persuasion should be happy to have me do that, and especially those who are enthusiastic about the Beatitudes. Speaking, as the censors do, of giving “a five year old a hand grenade”: do the censors allow lethal weapons in their homes, or tell war stories within the hearing of their children, or allow children to watch TV cartoons where the mouse blows up the cat, or drops a great weight on it from on high, or digs a pit for it lined with spikes! Do they shoot animals, and then show the bullet-riddled corpses as though they were something to be proud of? I never did. As I have already said, six of my children are full grown now, and are admittedly sexy with their legal mates, and are also toilet trained, thanks to all the talk early on about shit and piss. But they surely are not violent.