On Saturday afternoon, the first ever VonnegutFest took place at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, located on the corner of Senate and Indiana avenues. People of all ages packed the building and lined the walls to watch authors Tim O’Brien and Benjamin Patton speak about their works and life experiences.
O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, a semi-autobiographical collection of short stories about Vietnam, took the buzzing crowd into a contemplative and chilling silence when he described what he wished he had at his disposal when talking about war.
“I secretly stand outside and have a cigarette before coming in,” O’Brien said, “And wish I could give the speech with a corpse lying here—preferably a 6-year-old, preferably a 6-year-old with no head—and let you ask yourself the question: is it worth it?”
As O’Brien spoke, his voice rippled through the room with a trembling, emotional timbre. With some veterans in the audience as well, the speech was a painful reminder of the ill nature of war, and how it forever affects the lives of those who serve.
O’Brien also explained the writing techniques he used while writing The Things They Carried, and he spoke about his personal relationship with Kurt Vonnegut.
Prior to O’Brien’s powerful remarks, author Benjamin Patton, grandson of famed WWII general George Patton, spoke about his book Growing up Patton. The nonfiction piece elucidates what life was like for Benjamin Patton’s father as he grew up in the shadow of the elder George Patton, who was immortalized by George C. Scott’s performance in the film Patton.
Artwork on loan from the Carter Center was also on display at the Vonnegut Library, and featured pieces by the Dalai Lama, Hunter S. Thompson, Bono, and more. The artwork centered on the idea of human rights, a notion that Vonnegut himself was fond of.
As the event drew to a close and attendees dispersed to the next one—a talk about healing and the arts, moderated by Indiana native Steve Inskeep of NPR—spectators meandered around the exhibit, regarding the art that adorns the walls of the Vonnegut Library. Excited fans gathered around Tim O’Brien outside as he signed books as leaves swirled about on a sunny November morning.
Those who attended Vonnegutfest experienced a genuine moment of appreciation for those who have served in the armed forces—something that shouldn’t be confined to a single day on the calendar each year.