Best known as one of America’s most astonishing and enduring contemporary novelists, Kurt Vonnegut was also a celebrated commencement address giver. Vonnegut never graduated from college, so his words to any class of graduating seniors always carried the delight, and gentle irony, of someone savoring an achievement he himself had not had occasion to savor on his own behalf. “But about my Uncle Alex, who is up in Heaven now,” Vonnegut, an avowed Humanist, would say sometimes in a graduation speech, “one of the things he found objectionable about human beings was that they so rarely noticed it when they were happy. . . . We could be drinking lemonade in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’”
If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? includes eleven speeches and four pieces of journalism on related themes. Six of the fifteen are new to the second edition—on topics as wide-ranging as why it is that Kurt Vonnegut’s dog loves people more than Kurt Vonnegut does, and what it feels like to be the most censored writer in America—and much, much more.
In each of these talks and short essays, Vonnegut takes pains to find the few things worth saying and a conversational voice to say them in that’s funny and serious and joyful even if sometimes without seeming so.
About the Author
Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007) was among the very few grandmasters of late-twentieth-century American letters, one without whom the very term “American literature” would mean much less than it does now. Vonnegut’s other books from Seven Stories Press include his last major bestseller A Man Without a Country, as well as God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian and, with Lee Stringer, Like Shaking Hands with God.
In addition to these books, Seven Stories also publishes Kurt’s son Mark Vonnegut’s bestselling memoir, Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity, with a foreword by Kurt Vonnegut, and Gregory D. Sumner’s history of Vonnegut’s fourteen novels, Unstuck in Time: A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels.
A longtime friend of Kurt Vonnegut’s, Dan Wakefield edited and introduced Kurt Vonnegut: Letters. Wakefield is the author of the memoirs New York in the Fifties and Returning: A Spiritual Journey. His novel, Going All the Way, was made into a movie starring Ben Affleck. Wakefield also created the NBC prime-time series, James at 15. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.
"If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? is a spectacular read in its entirety, brimming with Vonnegut’s unflinching convictions and timeless advice to the young." —Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
“Like [that of] his literary ancestor Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut’s crankiness is good-humored and sharp-witted.” —A.O. Scott, New York Times Book Review
"Like so much of Vonnegut's work, these speeches combine absurdist humor, pessimism and countercultural politics, with improbably and disarmingly charming results." —Troy Jollimore, Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal
"If This Isn't Nice, What Is? is a blast of pure acid." —Entertainment Weekly
"These delightful scattershot commencement speeches offer fresh clues to what lay behind Kurt Vonnegut's twinkly visage—clues that are well worth celebrating." —Peter Matthiessen