Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules for Reading Fiction

This post originally appeared on Slate on 11/30/12.

Suzanne McConnell, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s students in his “Form of Fiction” course at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, saved this assignment, explaining that Vonnegut “wrote his course assignments in the form of letters, as a way of speaking personally to each member of the class.” The result is part assignment, part letter, part guide to writing and life.

This assignment is reprinted from Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, out now from Delacorte Press.

FORM OF FICTION TERM PAPER ASSIGNMENT

November 30, 1965

Beloved:

This course began as Form and Theory of Fiction, became Form of Fiction, then Form and Texture of Fiction, then Surface Criticism, or How to Talk out of the Corner of Your Mouth Like a Real Tough Pro. It will probably be Animal Husbandry 108 by the time Black February rolls around. As was said to me years ago by a dear, dear friend, “Keep your hat on. We may end up miles from here.”

As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. “This above all …”

 

Click here to read the full excerpt on Slate.

 

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