Slaughterhouse-Five At 50

When Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five was published in 1969, it was an instant success. However, it took 25 years for the author to finish his masterpiece. Some of those years were spent in Iowa and the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a veteran of World War II, who is "unstuck in time"  and claims to have been abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. The book explores Pilgrim's life and the aftermath of his experience as a prisoner of war in Germany and how it affected his life.

Marvin Bell was on faculty at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop with Vonnegut when he was in the process of writing Slaughterhouse-Five. After returning from Germany to interview Nazi soldiers who experienced the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany during the Second World War, Bell recalls that Vonnegut found soldiers "...but nobody remembered a thing. In other words it was so shocking, such trauma to come up above ground again and see what had happened. And so in a way nobody remembered anything because of the shock of it. And that no doubt counts for the fact that Slaughterhouse-Five had to go into the imagination."

Sarah Prineas, is an author who also works in the children's department at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City. She explains why Slaughterhouse-Five is a book that a lot of people choose to read when they are teenagers. 

"You start getting this feeling that even though [this book] is kind of offhand and casual, everything has been planned by this genius author. Every single thing that happens in this book matters and has meaning, in a way that the meanings accure as you go along," says Prineas. "I think it is a book with a low threshold to entry and understanding, and it gives you so much as a reader and that is why it probably works and continues to work for young readers. "

In this book club edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe celebrates and discusses the anti-war novel inspired by Vonnegut's experiences during World War II.

Guest Include:

  • Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Interim Director American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom.
  • Jan Weismiller, Prairie Lights Bookstore.
  • Sarah Prineas, Prairie Lights Bookstore. 
  • Julia Whitehead, Founder and CEO of the Kurk Vonnegut Library and Museum.