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    Dear Kurt Vonnegut superfans, there’s now a museum you can visit in Indianapolis.

    Leandra Beabout

    November 8, 2019, 10:29am

    It’s a good time to be a Kurt Vonnegut fan. 

    While there’s never a bad month to dust off your banned book collection, November encapsulates all things Vonnegutian: the 50th anniversary of Slaughterhouse-Five, the grand opening of the permanent Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library (KVML) in Kurt’s hometown of Indianapolis, and a slurry of political moments to remind us that the author’s decades-old concerns are still relevant.

    Though Vonnegut fans can celebrate Slaughterhouse-Five and other works anyplace and any way they choose, there’s something truly special about the KVML opening on Nov. 9—a date that overlaps with VonnegutFest, Indianapolis’ annual celebration of its native son.

    Not unlike a writer’s brain, the KVML is hard to wrestle into a succinct elevator pitch. It’s a library, with first-edition copies of each one of Vonnegut’s books. It’s a museum full of artifacts like the author’s typewriter, his Purple Heart, and personal doodles and sketches. It’s a center for social justice work. It’s an educational resource, with a Corona Coronamatic 2200 replica for visitors to peck out tweets both acerbic and heartwarming. It’s a haven for 21st-century humans dismayed with the commodification of our lives. And it’s been in the works for more than 10 years.

    Founder and CEO Julia Whitehead first dreamed up a library brimming with Vonnegut’s works when she was reading God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater while rocking her baby to sleep in 2008. In 2011, she and a handful of supporters, including Vonnegut’s own children, opened a fledgling version of the KVML with $800 in funds and a borrowed storefront one-third the size of the new space. Since then, the collection of Vonnegut paraphernalia has grown. More importantly, the KVML has played host to workshops and exhibits about free speech, suicide prevention, and other human-centric issues. The staff often takes books out to local schools and prisons. And in the recesses of the library, patrons are encouraged to connect.

    kurt vonnegut library

    People show up in this cool environment where we’re supportive, we’re gathering information, sharing information, providing resources. And we’re all in it together. We know that everyone gets lonely. Vonnegut wrote about that—we all have that time in our lives when it just gets hard,” Whitehead told Lit Hub last week.

    This has been an auspicious year for the KVML’s work. First, the Slaughterhouse-Five anniversary. Then there’s the less quantifiable but no less influential swell of support for the environment (“We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey,” said Vonnegut), free press (“Our freedom to say or write whatever we please in this country is holy to me,” he wrote), and human decency in the grisly face of war and violent displacement. 

    Finally, the time was right to find a forever home for Kurt’s work and ideas. The only thing standing in the way was a $1.5 million price-tag. 

    Through Kickstarter and capital campaigns, 1,400 supporters met the first fundraising goal by May 15. First, 1,399 individuals or organizations pledged support; and a $500,000 grant by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment helped with the final push. The staff and board members celebrated what they call “Kurt’s forever home,” though fundraising for a future Slaughterhouse-Five exhibit is underway until Nov. 13.

    “People were saying, ‘I will never step foot in the doors of the Vonnegut Library. I live in Arizona or Washington state or wherever, but I want to know that I made a difference,’” said Whitehead of the hundreds of $10 and $20 donations that poured in before May.

    One key fundraiser? Comedian Lewis Black, who has devoured Vonnegut’s novels since he first got hold of Cat’s Cradle while working as a parking lot attendant in high school. Based on his recollection of the first read, it was life-changing. 

    “It was one of those things, kind of ‘Oh wow, there’s adults who actually see the world in a different way.’ It was an adult making fun of an adult world, and I hadn’t seen that. His perspective gave me perspective,’” Black said. “You hate to say this because people take it the wrong way, but you enter someone else’s reality when you read, and it’s kind of like taking a drug. And this was a really good drug. It helped shape part of who I am.” 

    According to Whitehead, Black, who is also a member of KVML’s honorary board, has gone above and beyond in his support of the new facility. In May, the comedian held a fundraising event for the KVML in Manhattan. And on October 23, Black stopped by the new building to record a quick promotional video—so quick that Whitehead and the other volunteers in the library didn’t know he was there. 

    “It was really in its infancy (when I got involved),” Black said. “I said that I would do whatever I can, and if I helped in any way, I’m pleased.”

    Over the last few weeks, staff and local Vonnegut fans have pitched in at all hours to get the KVML ready for visitors. Volunteers arrived to paint. A muralist donated time and artwork. A local nursery provided supplies for landscaping. 

    “This is not some shiny new corporate building. People are leaving their creative mark on this place, “ said Whitehead. “It has been fulfilling for me to see this vision from 10 years ago finally see the attention it deserves, the attention for the hard work so many volunteers and our very, very small staff have made happen.”

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