so it goes: Kurt Vonnegut is up in heaven now

Noted writer, humanist, and social critic Kurt Vonnegut died last night at the age of 84. For factual overviews of his life and work, the New York Times obituary is here, and the Washington Post's is here. For a more personal take, try RJ Eskow's comments at HuffPo:

I mean no slight to the depth or profundity of Vonnegut's work when I say that I, like many others, was most struck by his novels between the ages of 13 and 15. That doesn't mean he wrote young people's books. It means he wrote books that dealt with issues that were big, deep, and profound. And for some reason, in our warped culture it's mostly young people who choose to deal with those big issues. "Adults" (as they're commonly known) seem to stop caring about them after a certain age.

Perhaps the finest way Vonnegut influenced me was by encouraging me to keep on thinking about those big issues as I moved through adulthood. And I mean the big ones: Why are we here? How will our race die? Can we be a good species?

In These Times magazine published Vonnegut's commentaries over the past few years, much of it collected in his 2005 book A Man Without a Country. That book features an essay entitled "Do You Know What a Humanist Is?" which contains this wonderful anecdote:

I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.

Accordingly, I will just say that "Kurt is up in heaven now."

So it goes.


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