In this short letter from 1960, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. volunteers to work for the campaign of candidate John F. Kennedy.
Writing in a plain style, Vonnegut describes his writing career up to that point, quickly glossing his work in PR for General Electric and as a reporter, and describing himself as “a freelance” of ten years’ experience. (Other jobs from that period of his life that he doesn’t mention: teacher for special-needs kids, owner of a Saab dealership.)
By 1960, Vonnegut had written two novels, Player Piano (1952) and The Sirens of Titan (1959), but doesn’t mention them by name.
Vonnegut, a lifelong progressive, responded to Kennedy’s optimistic vision. Later in life, when asked about the space program in an interview in Playboy, he gave Kennedy credit for its inspirational power, saying of the President: “He was a tough, joyful athlete and he loved to win. And it wasn’t a bad guess, really, that this might cheer Americans up and make us more energetic.”
It doesn’t seem that Vonnegut ended up working for the Kennedy campaign (or, at least, the JFK library’s archive doesn’t contain a response to this letter, and two Vonnegut biographies don’t mention it).
As the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s Stacey Chandler notes, the best line in the letter has to be the modest “On occasion, I write pretty well.”
Previously on The Vault: Vonnegut offers advice to a fellow writer about to teach at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
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