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Lilly Library shows off Kurt Vonnegut manuscript collection for festival



From being rejected to being revered, the Lilly Library’s new exhibit "Random Acts of Granfalloonery: The Art and Fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr." shows the progression of Vonnegut’s career through rejection letters, typewritten drafts of his novels, fan letters and more from the extensive collection. 

The exhibit opened May 10, the first day of Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence.

The Lilly houses the most extensive collection of Vonnegut manuscripts in the world, Public Services Librarian Isabel Planton said. The collection is made of 5,850 items, including rejection notices, drafts of novels, speeches, screenplays, letters and more. 

“You can really sense his presence,” Planton said. “You sort of feel closer to knowing him by being right there with the things that he touched and that he created.”

The collection came to the Lilly in 1997, a decade before the author died. Although the Lilly purchased the collection, Vonnegut was very involved in the sale and wanted it to go to the Lilly, Planton said.

The Lilly was a well-known archive at the time – and still is – he was looking for a place for his collection, Planton said, and Vonnegut was proud of being from Indiana.

The Lilly preserves manuscript collections for research, she said, which anyone can request to see and study at the library. 

“If you want to study Vonnegut in a serious way, you have to do it at the Lilly Library,” said Ed Comentale, festival organizer and director of the Arts and Humanities Council. “It’s a treasure on a global scale, it’s one of a kind entirely.”  

The “Slaughterhouse-Five” draft, written on a typewriter with handwritten edits and stapled together in the desired order, is one of the most requested items, Planton said. People also like to see the rejection letters, she said.

Planton’s favorite item is a book given to Vonnegut by elementary-age children in 2006. The students drew interpretive pictures for Vonnegut quotes and sent the book to him.  

All of these items are on display in the exhibit. 

The library will be the epicenter for the academic portion of the weekend’s festival, said Joe Hiland, Arts and Humanities Council communications specialist.

In the same room as the exhibit, speakers will present on Vonnegut’s life and work the Friday of the festival. 

The exhibit will be open to the public until late August. Hiland said he hopes it will offer students an introduction to the Lilly. 

“A lot of students walk by the Lilly, but don’t even realize what it is, and don’t realize how huge it is, and how extensive and expansive their collections are,” Hiland said.

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