In a newly discovered lecture given by Kurt Vonnegut in 1970, the author kicks off his talk with a joke that’d make more sense in a stand up routine:
"I left Indianapolis following puberty [...] I learned to walk around looking tough. Because everybody had to do that. They’re still doing it. Walking around looking very tough. Because something might happen, you know?"
The audience, a crowd of New York University students, laughs heartily. Between his jokes, Vonnegut flatly shares more tragic scenes from his life: he was raised by a maid, and his mother -- toward the end of her life -- was put on barbiturates. The crowd’s laughter trails off abruptly, then Vonnegut shifts gears again, telling an anecdote about an afternoon when his parents broke into a racetrack to drive endless laps around it in their Oldsmobile. It was, his father told him, the best day of their marriage.
Vonnegut’s ability to couch sadness in life’s funny absurdities -- a skill that comes to live in his novels, but which seems also to come to him naturally -- is on display in the lecture, produced and animated by Blank on Blank.
The lecture also reveals a few of his tips for writing. "I heard a writer is lucky because he cures himself every day with his work," he says. "What everybody is well advised to do is to not write about your own life [...] you will be writing about your own life anyway, but you won’t know it."
For more pithy wisdom, watch the video above.
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