Vonnegut on His Days as a Police Reporter in Chicago

By: Greg Mitchell The famed novelist Kurt Vonnegut died on Tuesday night at the age of 84, due to brain injuries from a recent fall, The New York Times reports.

As Vonnegut might have commented: So it goes.

A lengthy obituary for the paper notes his accomplishments as a novelist since the 1950s -- first with a cult, then a mass, audience -- but also recalls that in the late 1940s, after returning from World War II in Europe, he worked as a police reporter for the legendary Chicago City News Bureau. He later said seeing all those stories day to day made him a novelist.

He described it this way: "Well, the Chicago City News Bureau was a tripwire for all the newspapers in town when I was there, and there were five papers, I think. We were out all the time around the clock and every time we came across a really juicy murder or scandal or whatever, they?d send the big time reporters and photographers, otherwise they?d run our stories. So that?s what I was doing, and I was going to university at the same time."

On another occasion he said that City News, which paid him $27 a week for starters, taught him "how to be a tough guy." This is an odd statement, since he had lived through the firebombing of Dresden just a few years before. He explained: "You know, it's something to boast about. I saw a lot of gory stuff. People dying in awful ways," he said. "I wrote one about a guy being crushed by an elevator. That's in one of my books.

"Sure, you saw gruesome stuff. And funny stuff.... We got to know the whole damn city and how to move around in it....

"There was a mystery, a man's head found floating in a canal," he said. "It finally turned out his wife had killed him. And fires. And all kinds of stuff."

Vonnegut later worked for General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., in the public relations department before writing full time. His novels, of course, included "Cat's Cradle," "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater."

In a 2004 interviews with The Progressive magazine, he said, "The polls show that 50 percent of Americans who get their news from TV think Saddam Hussein was behind the Twin Towers attack. Man, have they got ways for getting half-truths out right away now, thanks to TV! I think TV is a calamity to democracy."


Related E&P story: 'E&P' Editor Interviewed Kurt Vonnegut in 1974: Here Are Excerpts


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