When Indianapolis-born author Kurt Vonnegut tried to publish a particular story in 1958, his agent Knox Burger gave him a piece of advice. “Save it for the collection of your works which will be published when you become famous,” he said. “Which may take a little time.”
Fifty-nine years later, that short story, along with four other previously unpublished stories by Vonnegut from the Lilly Library’s collection are being published in the anthology “Complete Stories,” edited by authors Jerome Klinkowitz and Dan Wakefield.
One of those stories, “The Drone King,” is available for free on the Atlantic's website. The short story was one of Vonnegut’s earlier works, written in the early 1950s, before he had published his first novel.
“I’m excited to see these stories published,” said Lilly Library librarian Isabel Planton. “I’m glad they’re going to be getting out there for a wider readership.”
Vonnegut is known for his sympathy toward humankind and disdain for war, and he first gained acclaim with his novel “Player Piano” in 1952. Until his death in 2007, he continued to produce short stories and novels. Vonnegut published his most highly regarded work, “Slaughterhouse Five,” in 1969, which is the source of one of his most famous quotes: “So it goes.”
The process of publishing these stories began when Wakefield and Klinkowitz came across them at IU’s Lilly Library in May 2016. Among the letters, manuscripts, drafts and other stories available in the library’s Vonnegut collection, they chose five to be published in “Complete Stories.”
“Complete Stories” aims to be the first comprehensive anthology of Vonnegut’s stories. Not only will it include these five unpublished stories, but 93 others written between 1941 and Vonnegut’s death in 2007, according to IndieBound.org, the online retailer selling the anthology.
“The excitement out there with all the people who care about Vonnegut is absolutely real,” Erika Dowell, associate director of the Lilly Library and curator of modern books and manuscripts, said. “Vonnegut has a lot of very passionate readers. There’s definitely ongoing scholarly interest.”
Vonnegut often illustrated his writings with drawings of graves, people and simple objects or concepts, done directly on the manuscripts, Planton said.
“There’s lots of doodling,” Planton said. “The things he actually wanted to go in the illustrations are there. It’s all over the papers.”
In the past, the Lilly Library has had exhibitions of documents pertaining to Vonnegut. It presented first pages from drafts of his novels as well as fan mail, rejection letters and manuscripts of other short stories written by the author.
“Some of them he taped together into sorts of longer sheets and did interesting things with them,” Dowell said. “You can see the originals of these.”
The Vonnegut collection is available at the Lilly Library for research purposes and more.
“People can come use the collection for scholarly purposes, but also just because they are curious or excited about things,” Dowell said.
“Complete Stories” is available for pre-order and will be released Sept. 26.