Kurt Vonnegut at the Writers’ Workshop

From The Brooklyn Rail:

I was a student of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and we remained in touch from those years until his death. Vonnegut was not famous, when he taught there. He’d published four novels; Cat’s Cradle had been published two years before but had not yet become a contemporary classic. He was working on Slaughterhouse Five. He was no more or less awesome than other writers teaching at the workshop – Vance Bourjaily, Nelson Algren, Jose Donoso, William Price Fox, Eugene Garber, and Richard Yates. But he was my favorite.

What was Kurt like in class as a teacher?

He was passionate, indignant. He wheezed with laughter. He laughed at his own jokes. He was practical. He was shy. He amused himself, during workshops, by doodling. He was kind. He was entertaining. He was smart.

The first time I saw him (and I didn’t know who he was, hadn’t read his novels), he struck my funny bone. He stood in front of a huge lecture hall with all the other writers. He was tall, with curving shoulders (a man shaped like a banana, as he once described himself), and he was smoking a cigarette in a long black cigarette holder, tilting his head and exhaling smoke, with a clear awareness of the absurdity and affectedness of it: in other words, he had ­– as Oscar Wilde said is the first duty in life – assumed a pose.