Kurt Vonnegut's 1967 Letter Advised a New Teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Nov. 20 2012 5:51 AM

Kurt Vonnegut's 1967 Advice to a New Teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop

In 1967, Kurt Vonnegut corresponded with magazine writer and novelist Richard Gehman, who was about to head off to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to start a teaching gig. Vonnegut, who taught at the Workshop from 1965 to 1967, had many tips to share.

Practical: “Use the Cedar Rapids airport instead of the Iowa City airport! Fly United instead of Ozarks!” Personal: “Forget your lack of credentials! The University is perfectly used to barbarians in the Workshop.” Professional: “Vance [Bourjaily] is a poor teacher.” Interpersonal: “Run with the painters. I did. The best guy in Iowa City is painter Byron Burford.”

Vonnegut also seemed to know his audience; he told Gehman, who eventually married multiple times: “Don’t ball undergraduates! Their parents are still watching!”

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While Vonnegut, who died in 2007, never wrote an autobiography, he did leave letters—lots of them. The new book Kurt Vonnegut: Letters contains many previously unpublished missives from the author, who seems incapable of writing a boring paragraph. 

Kurt Vonnegut letter to Richard Gehman

From the book Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield. Copyright © 2012 by Kurt Vonnegut. Reprinted by arrangement with Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.

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