By Molly Reynowsky, IUPUI Museum Studies MA student
Before I took the position of Curatorial Exhibition Intern at the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library (KVML), I was like most other Indiana high school graduates: I had been assigned to read Slaughterhouse-Five in my junior-year English class. And that’s it, that was my only connection to Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five was the only knowledge I had of the author, and it was pretty shaky knowledge, seeing as it had been over 10 years since the one time I had read the novel.
Needless to say, I was a little concerned as I entered my internship, how could I curate anything that had to do with Kurt Vonnegut? I basically knew nothing about him or his writing. But, as I dove into my work with the museum, I was able to discover who Kurt was through research for the central project of my internship, an exhibition about freedom of expression. I spent weeks at a time reading through magazine articles, essays, speeches, interviews, and short stories all written by Kurt Vonnegut. I conducted this research to find one thing: links to free speech. What I found, though, was so much more than just freedom of expression; through this exercise, I learned about Vonnegut and myself.
Kurt Vonnegut was an ardent supporter of the First Amendment right to free speech, and I was shown time and again just how much he valued this freedom. Many of the objects on display in my exhibition titled, Freedom of Expression: Something You Give Yourself, provide direct insight into the writer’s thoughts. While many people know Vonnegut through his novels, after all, he published fourteen of them, I have gotten to know him outside of the veil of fiction. My deep dive into the KVML archives taught me things about Kurt I never would have learned from his works of fiction.
It has truly been fascinating, reading the candid words of a writer over the course of four decades, and seeing the ways he’s changed, or even how he’s stayed the same. I feel as though my time spent searching through Vonnegut’s nonfiction has given me a better understanding of the writer as a person. But what I think has been the most rewarding, is finding meaning in the searching. The joy and excitement I have derived from reading page after page of magazines looking for one little snippet about freedom of expression just further affirms that I am on the right path. In discovering Kurt Vonnegut, I have actually been feeding my own appetite for inquiry and investigation.