With the passing of 2007, Indianapolis completes its year-long commemoration of native son Kurt Vonnegut. When the irreverent author passed away in April, the city had already unveiled plans to christen 2007 “The Year of Kurt Vonnegut.” Ironically, the author had once joked that he would be remembered in his hometown only by virtue of his familial relation to a longtime Indianapolis hardware store chain. The comment was only one of many digs Vonnegut made about the city, where he’d been born into a prominent German-American family in 1922.
Having made a fortune in dry goods, the family also produced architects responsible for some of Indianapolis’ most celebrated landmarks—including the L.S. Ayres building and what is now the Atheneum. Although his family’s cultural legacy in Indianapolis was significant, Vonnegut was convinced of the city’s provincialism. “The practice of the arts [there],” he claimed, “was regarded as an evasion of real life by means of parlor tricks.” After graduation from Shortridge High School, Vonnegut left Indianapolis for good, eventually settling in Cape Cod and New York.
In his 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle , Vonnegut introduced the notion of the “granfalloon,” which he defined as an absurdly “proud and meaningless association of human beings,” offering “Hoosiers” as an example. Although he alternately bemoaned and satirized his home state in print and conversation, Vonnegut conceded that his work was fundamentally Hoosier. He cited humorist Kin Hubbard as a formative influence and supported the progressive political tradition launched by the likes of Eugene V. Debs. Toward the end of his life, Vonnegut went so far as to assert, “All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis.