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How a Kurt Vonnegut festival was born to Bloomington



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The Arts & Humanities Council presents Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence on May 10-12 in Bloomington. The festival will feature music, theater and film screenings. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Author Kurt Vonnegut once called Bloomington a "hell-hole," but nonetheless, the city and campus will celebrate his life and work May 10-12 at the Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence

The three-day festival will bring artists, such as Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter Father John Misty, Noname, Waxahatchee, the Oh Sees and others.

There will also be a variety of academic talks, a stage reading of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater" and hands-on creative activities around the city.

The festival's Vonnegut focus came from the minds of the Arts and Humanities Council’s director Ed Comentale and communications specialist Joe Hiland, who are both huge Vonnegut fans, Hiland said.

"I’ve always been a really big fan of Kurt Vonnegut as a Hoosier hero, and as a Hoosier hero who celebrated the arts as an everyday practice," Comentale said.


The American 20th century writer is known for his satirical and ironic writing in books such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat’s Cradle."

Vonnegut has deep ties to Indiana. He grew up in Indianapolis and was awarded an honorary degree from IU in 1973. IU's Lilly Library houses his collection of nearly 6,000 manuscripts, which will be on display during the conference. 

The Council wanted to start a large-scale summer event like the First Thursdays and Global Arts and Humanities festivals, which take place during the academic year. Conversations started a year and a half ago, Comentale said, and ideas from the community and campus came together to become Granfalloon.

The two declared Vonnegut the presiding spirit and godfather of the arts and humanities summer conference-festival hybrid. 

"Vonnegut is such a wild, inventive and really, I guess I would say, a promiscuous thinker," Comentale said. "He writes about science, he writes about religion, he writes about language and literature, so you really need all those liberal arts disciplines working together to gain something of like the full significance of his work."

Vonnegut also appeals to a range of ages. In creating the conference, Comentale said the council wanted to speak to the interests and values of 20 year olds. 

"He tends to transcend generations," Hiland said. "There are a lot of people who are 18-24 years-old and are just getting into Vonnegut, and there are a lot of people who are in their 60s and 70s who have been into Vonnegut for decades. He hits a cool cross-section of our community and our audience." 

Vonnegut’s iconic look of tennis shoes, bathrobe and mustache paired with his cynical and ironic writing classified him as the original post-modern hipster, Comentale said. 

The music lineup is a showcase of artists and musicians interested in Vonnegut and who represent a Midwestern spirit, Comentale said.

Music publications across the country, such as Pitchfork, Spin and Stereogum, have been buzzing about the lineup since it was announced. 

"This isn’t an accident," Hiland said. "This is because we have so much to offer. It’s awesome that we have Father John Misty, and I’m really excited, but if we didn’t have everything else to go along with this festival, we wouldn’t have the occasion to invite him."

One of the Council’s goals is to promote Bloomington and Indiana as a destination for the arts, Hiland said. People on the coasts lump together states like Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, and the Council wants to promote different stories about what Indiana is, he said.

"We think that we have programming and academic expertise that rival anywhere in the Midwest, and honestly, rivals any other public university in the country," Hiland said of IU. "It’s easy for us to say that, but we have to prove it, and Granfalloon is one of those steps in proving we are a mecca for the arts." 

The academic talks Friday and Saturday are free and open to the public. A weekend pass for every musical act and the stage reading are $90. There is also a $60 Clubfest Pass, which gives access to all of the musical acts except for Father John Misty. There are also individual tickets for each show. 

Find more information and purchase tickets on the Buskirk-Chumley Theater box office website.

The two hope the festival will become an annual music-literary festival.

"That would be the goal, to grow this in a way that speaks to both the cool, musical interest of the town, as well as its cool, literary sensibility," Comentale said. 

He imagines future focuses could be Hoosiers like David Letterman, The Jackson 5 or John Mellencamp.

"It’s really focused on his work this year," Hiland said of Vonnegut. "But we think he is the kind of person who would be very happy to have the work of other people brought into it in later years."

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